Second Reading: Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019

Today I rise to speak on the Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019. It is a bill that is actually going to attempt to streamline management responsibilities for the region along its whole length. The idea is very good in principle, and that is why prior to the last election that was an idea that we actually had as well—to make sure we got some streamlined activities. The challenge we have got here with this bill is there is just too much that is not clear. That is the concern that people in my part of the world, my electorate, have.

The Great Ocean Road ends in my electorate. Only a small portion actually is in my electorate, in the Allansford area, but the flow-on effects that we have in our region from the benefits the Great Ocean Road brings are enormous. That is why a lot of the councils in my electorate, such as Moyne, Glenelg and Warrnambool City Council, have been involved in the discussions over the years, trying to improve their situation.

What we have seen is the Great Ocean Road grow in popularity. I can remember that in about 2008 we had a girl from Austria working with us and living with us. She went down there and visited, and all the people who came to Australia and visited us did. When I was a Nuffield scholar, I often had people come back and stay at our place and explore our part of the world, as I had done in theirs. She came back—it must be a couple of years ago now—and brought her mum, dad and fiancé, as often happens with these sorts of family relationships that go across the oceans. She went down there, and she just could not believe the difference from 2008 to I think it was 2017 or 2018—it has just got so busy. That is why over the last few years there has been an enormous effort to try and capitalise on and optimise how we as a region display and demonstrate the beauty of our part of the world, using the iconic Great Ocean Road as a drawcard and having that flow-on effect to the beautiful areas that Glenelg and Moyne offer and that Warrnambool City Council understand the benefit of—hence their involvement.

I am afraid what worries me is that the way this bill is structured it really does not give clear definition as to where the parameters of responsibility will lie. Will the ‘Great Ocean Road’ mean that a few metres north of the road will be applicable to this authority or will it be 15 kilometres or will it be something that might be proposed, many kilometres away? Who will determine that and how will that be determined? I spoke to a group who sit on the RDA, the Regional Development Australia group. They suggested, ‘Look, we do want this, but we don’t want it in a way that doesn’t actually serve the purpose that we’re actually looking for, which is to make sure everything is streamlined and not more cumbersome’.

One of the Moyne councillors that I spoke with said that they had a consultation from government, but they were left with more questions than answers. One of the things that they were most concerned about was: was it just going to be another step in the bureaucracy? Would this authority actually have the ability to make the decisions? And when they did, if they did make decisions, would the Moyne shire, for example, in this instance, be left with the responsibility of taking charge of the problem? They used the wind farms as an example. The minister gets the opportunity on the wind farms to make the final decision, which is the same in this situation, with the minister making the final decision, but they then, as the Moyne shire have found, are left with the challenges, such as noise pollution and things that are brought to the Moyne shire’s attention by the community and constituents in my electorate. The Moyne shire do not have the capability within their organisation to actually deal with the situation. It will be a very similar situation if the minister decides on a situation but then the shires or whatever organisations are left to deal with that challenge and do not have the resources. That is why I am very supportive of the reasoned amendment my colleague has put forward as the lead speaker—because the concerns about the bill are that the geographical area of the new authority has not been declared. We are just not sure. It would be far better for it to be seen and for the public to have awareness of this now so that we can put some lines on the map.

The other concern I have is: what will happen to the strategic plan on which a lot of work people from my part of the world have undertaken, with the 2015 Shipwreck Coast Master Plan, which was released in 2015? The government has already invested $9.8 million to improve bridges, lookouts, information technology and the like along this highly visible stretch of the Great Ocean Road. My worry is: what will happen to this work? It took years to develop and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is not okay to simply push that to the side and have it superseded by this new strategic plan. So that is a question I have got which I cannot find the answer to.

I am worried about the exclusions as well. These are all addressed in the reasoned amendment, but I am worried about the exclusion of people sitting as directors. Essentially we exclude anyone who has relevant experience or knowledge of the region, so local government employees, catchment management authorities and people who sit on committees of management. These are the people who in our communities are the ones—you know, if you want something done, ask a busy person—who are the kinds of people who are on everything. They are knowledgeable, they have gained experience over the years with the different committees and they appear to be quite excluded from this new board.

We need to understand that the Great Ocean Road has enormous tourism value. It is also displays our agricultural community in a great light. You know, there is nothing better than driving along the Great Ocean Road and you have got dairy cows to the left—depending on what way you are going—and the ocean views to the right. I have to say I think my part of the world actually has the best part of the Great Ocean Road—I genuinely do. I have always thought that. It is not because now I am the member. It is the most beautiful part, with Childers Cove and that part of the world. It is far more beautiful—that is perhaps just my opinion! It is lovely, so it is a great opportunity—the growth in ecotourism where we can actually have people coming and spending their holidays.

I went to a conference in Tasmania a few years ago when I sat on the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority. The opportunities they were talking about there—where people actually spend their holidays working in the environment, planting trees and cleaning up areas—people are really enjoying them. We have got the best of those three areas just in that one spot with the Great Ocean Road.

The opportunity is enormous. We do not want to see what we are seeing at the moment, with the massive amount of congestion that my friend from Austria was shocked to see. She commented on how poorly we had managed that exponential growth that she saw between 2000 to 2018, or whenever it was—16, 17, 18, sometimes time goes too fast.

That is the thing that my colleague, the member for Polwarth, talked about, with the toilets overflowing. That is an issue that is real. We are talking 2020 and having those sorts of conditions that we are offering our tourists using the facilities.

I visited the Giant’s Causeway, just north of Belfast in Northern Ireland, a few years back. I was with my son, actually, and he said to me, ‘My goodness, look how well this is organised’. It did stand out. It looks very similar to the Great Ocean Road, but the way they coordinated it and the way they dealt with the tourists—in an organised manner, without the chaos—was a real opportunity to learn from. I am sure there are other examples around the world that we can learn from, but we are clearly not doing it well.

So whilst I endorse the concept that, yes, we do want to have a streamlined approach, I support the reasoned amendment that actually asks for the bill to be replaced and looked at until we have sorted out the issues around funds, to make sure we get the actual strategy right, to make sure the extent of the region is identified and defined, to make sure that the relationship between the local planning schemes and the overarching powers granted by the minister is reconciled and to identify that the councils and districts that are affected are actually able to be represented, so that all the decision-makers that need to be on the board are not excluded from the board.

The concept is right; we need to streamline it. The opportunity is immense that we have as a Victorian community to benefit from doing this well. We are clearly not doing that. We all recognise we need to streamline it.

This bill is a typical example of just putting something out there and saying, ‘We’re going to fix it’. It does not really demonstrate that the work has been done that shows me that it will fix it.