FOBIF has made a submission to the Strengthening Parks Victoria consultation. The essence of the submission is set out below:
We welcome the opportunity to participate in this process, and offer our views under the headings supplied in the workbook.
Topic #1 – Connecting people and parks
Question prompt: How do you and your communities enjoy parks? What barriers prevent you from enjoying parks more? How can we create parks that are welcoming and inclusive for all Victorians and our visitors?
Our members enjoy parks for their natural and cultural values. Barriers to this enjoyment include destructive trail bikes, rogue prospecting, rubbish dumping and rampant environmental weeds. All of these are a problem partly as a result of the serious understaffing of Parks Victoria resulting in lack of supervision, inadequate monitoring and non existent or weak feral plant and animal controls.
Other barriers include over management of tracks by operatives with little or no appreciation of roadside vegetation, and some fuel management programs conducted without proper reference to ecological values.
How to overcome these barriers? Adequate resourcing would be a necessary start.
Topic #2 – Conserving Victoria’s special places
Question prompt: How can we best protect and celebrate the incredible natural, cultural, and historic places that we manage? What actions could be we undertake to get the best outcomes for these places? What stories should we be telling about these places, and how should be telling them
Victoria’s Nature based tourism strategy  pointed out that what visitors to our parks most appreciated was engagement with well informed park rangers. Unfortunately this species is rare in our parks today. You can’t tell a story if there’s no one there to tell it. The photo in your discussion paper of a ranger talking to a family must have been taken on an exceptional day.
We need more rangers. And we need a more ambitious community education and engagement program, properly staffed, so that visits to parks are not purely ‘entertainment’. And we need better management of signs; and how about a return to the good old A4 sheets we used to find in parks? These could be done as apps, of course: but first things first.
We need well prepared and practical management plans to protect and also enhance the assets of the parks. We need to work with local knowledge and expertise of the local community to both encourage “ownership” of and interest in the parks to get the best possible outcomes for the overall park management.
Topic #3 – Providing benefits beyond park boundaries
Question prompt: As we look to future trends (such as in physical and mental health, the ways we live and work, the influence of technology, changing climate conditions and changing economies), what role could parks have in addressing some of these factors? What initiatives could we undertake to make positive impacts on your community, our neighbours, local economies, and the environment?
We still see some great holiday programs in parks, run by passionate and skilled rangers. We need more of these, integrated with tourism facilities outside parks. As we know, parks are a tremendous tourism asset precisely because they are free of the kind of ugly spoliation seen in areas outside conservation zones. Above all, we should maintain this freedom by avoiding the temptation to introduce commercial operations into our parks.
We need to provide subtle, well planned/signed walking/cycling tracks and visitor amenities for recreational use with the emphasis on people rather than vehicle recreation. Once the standard of the management of the park and its facilities have been upgraded then we need an honest attitude, changing advertising program that promotes the values of the park – one that provides a balance to busy lives. Getting the balance between encouraging more people to use the parks and not allowing the park to be over used would be a challenge.
Topic #4 – Setting up Parks Victoria to deliver
Question prompt: What does a modern Parks Victoria look like to you?
A modern PV would be well staffed by people committed first of all to conservation as a public good. It would be backed by a sophisticated research capacity. It would be sensitive to indigenous understandings of the landscape it manages. It would not be sucked in by the temptation to be a profit making business. . It would be one that is appreciated and valued by the community.
Topic #5 – __________________________________________
Question prompt: What other relevant comments or advice would you like to pass along to the Strengthening Parks Victoria project team?
We note in your support material the information that the final report will be under three headings, the third of which is ‘a modern business in government.’ We find this kind of jargon sinister in the extreme, and it is unfortunately consistent with the jargon which infected PV’s annual report earlier this year, where the information that Parks’ budget for its core operations was severely reduced was swamped with gooey pronouncements like this:
‘At Parks Victoria, we believe the future is one of excellence, so we have changed how we operated during 2014–15 to significantly improve the way we deliver our services. … The deployment of a new operating model and a new structure in our regions, complemented by realignment across our Corporate Services divisions, has brought considerable transformation to our business…The Parks Victoria Board is extremely excited by these changes…’
We suggest that Parks Victoria would be greatly strengthened if it was honest enough to say to government and public what the strengths and weaknesses of its situation were and what it would actually take to fix the problems.
For the FOBIF committee
Strengthening Parks Victoria
Level 10, 535 Bourke Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000