Want to buy a premium penguin product?

The State Government’s decision to open National Parks to commercial development [see above] has its origins way back in the Kennett era, but surfaced more recently in a report published by the Labour Government in 2008. It’s called Victoria’s Nature based tourism strategy 2008-12 . This report was enthusiastically endorsed by then Conservation Minister Gavin Jennings and Tourism Minister Tim Holding in 2010. A critical account of it can be found here.

The report pointed out that over 28 million people visit our parks every year [a figure which puts paid to the idea that parks ‘lock out’ people]: the problem is that they don’t spend enough money. The strategy devoted its attention to ways we can attract rich people to our parks and get them to spend. Among other things it enthusiastically endorsed the idea of ‘products’: for example, it liked a ‘premium penguin viewing product’ available at Phillip Island. This involves getting people to pose for faked photos making them look as if they’re up close and personal with penguins. Similarly, the report talks, not of encourageing people to go for a walk, but of getting them to ‘buy a walk product’.

It’s worth comparing this kind of objective with the purposes of parks, as set out in the National Parks Act first passed by a Liberal Government in 1975. In this document Parks are

(i)  for the preservation and protection of the natural environment including wilderness areas and remote and natural areas in those parks;

(ii) for the protection and preservation of indigenous flora and fauna and of features of scenic or archaeological, ecological, geological, historic or other scientific interest in those parks; and

(iii) for the study of ecology, geology, botany, zoology and other sciences       relating to the conservation of the natural environment in those parks; and

(iv) for the responsible management of the land in those parks;

These aims sit uneasily beside the tourism document and its successor, a Competition and consumer commission report recommending ‘unlocking Victorian tourism’. All such documents seem to acknowledge, ironically, that the best places in Victoria are in National Parks. They don’t seem to notice that one of the reasons for this is that Parks have, till now, been protected from commercial exploitation.


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