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Disengage Victoria

By 9 September 2019 General News

This is Parks Victoria planner Stuart Hughes at the Halls Gap “Community Meeting” last week. He states “We’ve got a plan for the South West. So, up the Southern part of the Grampians we’ve already got the management direction set.”

The management direction is set, yet climbers have not been consulted.

Parks Victoria instigated the biggest climbing bans ever, for anywhere in the world, yet climbers were not consulted. They were blindsided then mislead about the extent of the bans that were signed off. There is zero indication these bans will be overturned in the future. If Parks had any intention of that, or of fostering goodwill, they could take the opportunity which was provided to them last week.

No one is disputing that “the environmental and cultural values of the Parks need to be preserved”. Climbers care about these things far more than most. Making sensible, informed, balanced, practical decisions – decisions which are not counter-productive (like blanket bans) – is the trick. Parks are supposed to make evidence-based decisions, yet it has been repeatedly shown that parks have relied upon false information and there have been some individuals that have acted maliciously towards climbers. It doesn’t provide any confidence whatsoever that we’ll get a fair or sensible deal moving forward.

There needs to be meaningful discussions where the important issues can be discussed with those who need to know and can influence, even decide, things. So, what opportunities will there be for climbers to consult with Parks?

1) These “Community Workshops”? Don’t kid yourself. I attended the one in Halls Gap last week, the one in this video, and it was a huge disappointment. Much time was wasted with a Powerpoint presentation about the history of the Grampians. Only five questions from participants were allowed, only one of these was to do with climbing, and the answer was avoided. I encourage as many climbers as possible to go to these events but DO NOT be naïve. Just sitting there and going through the workshop activities might feel like you have had a say — but will change nothing. One climber reported some sort of excitement for being able to place three dots on a map for places that were important to him. What a joke. These workshops are dangerous and need to be called out for being nothing more that the “we consulted” tick the box exercise that they are.

2) The “Stakeholder Reference Group” meetings? There is only one climbing representative at these meetings which are shared with other stakeholders, obviously, so will not really provide the opportunity for major changes to rock climbing management to be properly covered. Still, it would have been good, and might have added some credibility to the exercise, if Parks had allowed a democratic representative of rock climbers to attend, but they made sure that this did not happen. We need someone in this position who is an experienced climber (in that they know climbing and most importantly know the areas), are fully across the issues, and are prepared to advocate strongly for climbing, but that hasn’t happened. Oh, plus it’s all “Chatham House Rules” secret squirrel business, Parks are managing the messaging from these meetings very carefully; climbers should not be agreeing to that.

3) The climbing “Round Table” discussions? These are the kind of higher-level discussions that need to be had. Participants includes the Chair of the Parks Victoria Board, Jeff Floyd, and the meetings are “independently” chaired by Deloitte’s. So this had potential but sadly Parks have once again have set this up in a way that is more about ticking the “we consulted” box, rather than a genuine effort to consult with those who should be involved in this matter. The criteria for inclusion is absurd. You have representatives from Facebook meet-up groups, University Climbing Clubs, business which get funding from the Government, and Sport Climbing Victoria and Australia. To his considerable credit, the Director of Sport Climbing Australia wrote a letter to the Round Table organisers and participants clarifying their organisation represented indoor climbing only, not outdoor climbing. It is important to have this distinction clarified – and thank you to SCA for that — because the last thing we need is a rep boasting about the growth of indoors climbing, lest this is misunderstood as being the same thing as what’s happening outdoors, when it isn’t. Now, of course you can’t blame anyone for attending these meetings if you’re invited, they will be interesting, but just because you are a rep from a club or a Facebook group, does not mean you’re experienced — particularly with regards to the areas we’re talking about — and are fully across the issues. It’s complicated, it takes months of following this very closely to really understand the issues and what’s going on; and even then, well there’s probably a lot more to it…. And disgracefully, the only democratically elected body dealing specifically with access issues, the ACAV gets only ONE representative. The ACAV has been working on a Climbing Management Plan which might be a solution to this mess but they get as much air play as everyone else. It’s a whitewash. And once again, the messaging is being strictly controlled (corrections to official meeting notes were completely rejected). Oh, and the next meeting? That’s not for another seven weeks. This is not serious. Parks Victoria contempt is palpable.

Please don’t be fooled by what is going on here. “The management direction is set”. Everything else is ticking boxes, window dressing and selling it to the masses.

Basically, we are dealing with bureaucrats, who in most cases don’t know anything about climbing, have never been to a cliff or visited any of the areas we are talking about. We can help work this out but they are not listening.

I actually hope this ends up in court because, sadly, that’s the kind of intervention that is now needed.

Please support the ACAV.

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