March 27, 2018  |  Second reading

Parks Victoria Bill 2018

Mr Howard (Buninyong) (18:25:18) — I love being a Labor Party MP and I love being on the government side of the house. In my time in this house I have been excited by so many of the achievements of this Labor government and of previous Labor governments, whether that be in education, whether that be in health or whether that be in road and rail infrastructure or in many other areas. The Labor government has acted with this bill, and I am especially keen to talk about it because it reminds me of how much we have done and how strongly focused we are in protecting our environment and not destroying our environment.

It is always great to follow a National Party MP when speaking on a bill to do with Parks Victoria, because they hate parks. The fact is Labor has created many parks over the years, and on every single occasion Labor has proposed that we should create a new park to protect an area, The Nationals jump up and say, ‘No. We can’t destroy our cow paddocks’. They hate parks, so it is always amazing to get up and speak on progressive politics, on creating parks, on supporting our parks after a National Party MP, when you know how much they just hate what Labor has done in trying to protect our environment and to protect areas for future and current generations to appreciate. As far as they are concerned, all they know is that their cow paddocks are being spoiled.

Let me just go over some of Labor’s record in regard to parks, because in the 1980s in particular we did a great deal. It was obviously ahead of my time here, but we expanded our parks system in the East Gippsland area, in the alps and in the Mallee. We prohibited mineral exploration in parks in the 1980s. Then in the 1990s and in the time that I have been in this house we have done so much more.

We heard the shadow spokesperson speaking on this bill and talking about our wonderful marine park system. How do we have a wonderful marine park system? Because Labor created it. We have our box ironbark areas preserved and we have our Great Otway National Park created and preserved. We have stopped cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park. Of course we have stopped that twice, because in the four years when we were not in government one of the first things the coalition did — well, one of the only things they did — was to put the cattle back into the Alpine National Park. We know what damage that continued to do.

Since then, though, we have created the Cobboboonee National Park, we have expanded the river red gum parks and the protection area and done so much more. Of course I cannot go on much longer as the member for Buninyong without talking about the Woowookarung Regional Park that we have recently established in my electorate, protecting what was state forest, which we were concerned about. If the other side had been in government for another term, when the forest leases were given up on some of that area they would have seen that that land went off for residential or some other use. But Labor said ahead of the last election, ‘We think this land needs to be saved and protected for the people of the Ballarat region and others to come and visit’. We saved the park area now called Woowookarung — what was originally the Canadian state forest or state park — and that has excited so many people in my region. They now have a park that they can be excited about.

The people who have advocated for this, so many groups that live in the vicinity, have been excited about working with Parks Victoria over the last year and a half to develop a plan, a strategy, for the enhancement and protection of the park, and we know there is much to do to ensure that that park is more accessible and will be protected into the future. I am certainly excited to talk about parks, and I cannot go on talking about parks without talking about Woowookarung and what this government has done to create it.

We know that overall there are now 4.1 million hectares of parkland across the state which this government is responsible for managing. Again, I remember, prior to my election to this place, how many cuts were made to the staff of Parks Victoria under the Kennett government and how frustrated those hardworking people who were so committed to their work at Parks Victoria at the time were. They were so pleased, when Labor was elected, to see that not only did Labor do what Labor promised to do but it continued to support and to fund Parks Victoria.

Let us have a look at the record over recent years. In the 2015–16 budget Labor allocated an additional $56 million to the parks budget and an additional $38.7 million in 2016–17. In 2017–18 the budget provided an additional $31.8 million, which resulted in us now having 53 new rangers to support our parks areas and ensure that the management is working in a positive direction. We know that the parks not only provide a great opportunity for the people who live near them but they also provide a great tourism opportunity for those regions. They attract people from other countries as well as other parts of Victoria and Australia to explore and to appreciate them, and we have such a diversity of parks across the state. It is wonderful that we bring in those tourists.

But we know that it is also good for the health of local people using the parks. Certainly as a former teacher who taught environmental studies I enjoyed taking my students out to the parks. I love taking my kids out to some of our parks so they can appreciate our natural heritage and environment and see birds and animals in those parks as well as the natural vegetation and to just appreciate them.

It is fantastic that this government continues to be progressive in the way it wants to manage the parks. This bill will establish a strengthened Parks Victoria that will be a more independent management body which can be efficient and effective and ensure that as we move forward as a well-supported body it can work to address both our and community aspirations for the protection of our parks. As other members have commented, we know we have problems with invasive weeds and invasive animals in our parks that need to be managed in addition to the overall park management and enabling people, whether they be day walkers, campers or whoever wants to visit, to come in and appreciate those parks.

I certainly commend this bill. It is evidence that Labor continues to be supportive of our environment and our parks system to ensure that it can be there for people today and into the future. This bill, through its restructure of Parks Victoria, will ensure a well-managed body can protect and enhance our parks into the future.