With a State election due in November, candidates are starting to do a bit of spruiking about the place. We’ve drafted a number of questions it might be worth putting to them, should they appear on the horizon:
1. In 2012-13 the State Government embarked on a program of cutting 10% of Parks Victoria’s staff. This is on top of cuts in previous years by governments of both persuasions. We believe DEPI in Bendigo has lost a quarter of its staff in recent years. What’s your plan for the staffing of public land management, and what priorities do you see in this area?
2. Since coming to office the Coalition Government has cut more than a quarter of Government animal health and biosecurity jobs. Do you think a cut of 25% in the number of Parliamentarians would be good for Victoria? Would it improve MP’s efficiency?
3. The Royal Commission Implementation Monitor has criticised the Government’s policy of burning 5% of public land every year. He says the policy diverts DEPI resources to burning remote country when these should be deployed in dangerous areas close to settlements. A similar criticism of ‘targets’ has been levelled by Tasmania’s Chief Fire officer. Could you explain how burning 400 ha of bush in the remote Tarilta Valley is better at protecting human life than controlling dense gorse on the edge of Chewton, Castlemaine and Maldon townships?
4. The number of Phd and postgraduate students employed by DEPI has fallen by 22% since 2012-13, and the number of scientific and technical reports by DEPI officers supporting agriculture has fallen by 33% over the same period. In your opinion does this decline in research capacity affect DEPI’s ability to be an effective manager of our natural systems?
5. More than 500 jobs related to agriculture have been cut from DEPI since 2011. Is the Department as capable of managing agriculture now as it was 3 years ago? Or is the Farmers Federation right in expressing a lack of confidence in the Department’s ability to manage crises like disease outbreaks?
6. Past experience overseas shows that commercial development in National Parks benefits the private developer, but not the park or the public. Do you support commercial developments in National Parks? What effect do you think these might have on eco tourism businesses adjacent to Parks?
7. Whenever there are staff cutbacks in the Department of Environment and Primary Industry we are assured that no ‘front line’ staff are affected. Could you explain why research staff, who are usually the ones to be cut, are not important in enabling the Department to understand what it’s supposed to be doing? If you were running the Grand Prix, would you be in favour of cutting back on mechanics, as long as drivers were retained?
8.Victoria’s recent Waterways Strategy did not mention ‘climate change’, referring instead to ‘natural climate variation’. Environment commissioner Kate Auty claimed this year that Government employees have been instructed to avoid using the phrase ‘climate change’, and instead to refer to ‘natural climate variation.’ Scientists prefer the former term. Which one do you prefer? Do you think experts should be dictated to by politicians on this matter?