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Bush Users Group petition Vic Gov’t to stop national parks


Bill Schulz and Melina Bath

About 400 Victorians a day have been signing a petition calling on the Victorian Government to halt converting another 486,412ha of state forests into national parks, locking out hunters, firewood collectors, prospectors, horse and trail-bike riders, according to The Weekly Times. Sources: The Weekly Times, Timberbiz

As of Tuesday, 11,346 people had signed the Bush Users Group United’s petition, 30 days after its launch. Group founder Bill Schulz told The Weekly Times that he hoped it would beat the all-time record for an e-petition of 27,545 by the time it closes on 8 August.

Gaining more than 10,000 signatures automatically means the petition must be debated in parliament, rather than tabled.

The petition states: “The Victorian government has shown disregard for the interests of bush user groups who participate in traditional recreational activities, which not only contribute to rural and regional jobs, but also have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing and the natural environment.

“Locking up public forests increases the risk of bushfires, placing communities and the environment in greater peril. Neglecting public land leads to overgrown tracks, the proliferation of invasive weeds and feral pests, which degrade the environment and pose a threat to native flora and fauna.”

The powerful Electrical Trades Union has also called on its 20,000-plus members to back the petition and urged other blue-collar unions to join the fight on retaining access to public land.

“It’s of utmost importance that ETU members and every Victorian worker have the opportunity to explore our state’s magnificent bush, coast, and bays, engaging in the activities they cherish with their loved ones,” the union said in a recent Facebook post.

The Liberal-Nationals Coalition has already promised to stop the creation of more parks if elected in 2026.

The government is charging ahead with the formation of more parks, after terminating native forest timber harvesting across 1.8 million hectares on 1 January 2024.

The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action’s Future Forests website states the timber industry’s demise means Victoria is now “home to an area of native forest that is protected from logging that is larger than the entire land mass of Tasmania”.

The Weekly Times says the government has set up an eminent panel, chaired by former South Gippsland Labor branch president Karen Cain and Victorian Environmental Assessment Council chairwoman Melissa Wood, which in partnership with traditional owners:

  • has recommended the government lock up 24,000ha of the Strathbogie Ranges in a Cultural Reserve, plus a small 420ha lot at Mirboo North into a Conservation Park, which would ban recreational hunting, firewood collection and prospecting.
  • has overseen community consultation on the future use of 390,000ha of the Central Highlands state forests, with its report and recommendations due to be delivered to the government this month.
  • Is due to oversee another round of community consultation on the future use of 72,000ha of East Gippsland, including the Errinundra and Kuark regions, plus Bonang, Yalmy, Murrungower, Club Terrace, Bemm, Cann Valley, Buldah, Drummer, Tamboon and Wingan state forests.

Mr Schulz and Nationals Upper House MP Melina Bath told The Weekly Times they were both concerned about the independence of the panel, due to Ms Cain’s political background with Labor and Ms Wood’s role as chairwoman of VEAC, given the body’s long history of recommending the state government lock up more crown land in parks and reserves.

The government failed to respond to questions on the panel’s independence, nor why it had failed to appoint any recreational forest users to the panel.

Environment Minister Steve Dimopoulos has instead responded to growing community concern over public land access by establishing a Great Outdoors Taskforce, chaired by former Labor Minister Lisa Neville and on which Ms Cain, Ms Wood and traditional owners sit, alongside Victorian Fisheries Authority chair Graham Dear and Destination Gippsland chief executive Terry Robinson.

In launching the taskforce in April, Mr Dimopoulos said it would “investigate ways to support more Victorians and visitors to explore the great outdoors, protect biodiversity and create new recreation opportunities”.

The minister, however, has given no indication of how the taskforce interacts with the work of the existing eminent panel.

Ms Bath told The Weekly Times the taskforce appeared to be no more than an attempt to re-badge the process.

“At the end of the day it’s just another con by the Victorian government to say it’s looking after the best interests of forest users, when it’s just doing the bidding of inner city voters,” Ms Bath said.

Mr Schulz said the taskforce was nothing more than “smoke and mirrors”.