Conservationists are sounding the alarm over the status of Victoria’s national parks, as environmental threats and funding cuts threaten to derail the state’s largest environmental projects.
In its most recent annual report, Parks Victoria revealed funding from the state had declined from $122 million in 2011-12 to just $76.8 million last year.
As a result, Parks Victoria decreased spending by 16 per cent over the same period. While some funding was made available via trusts and other sources, total income nevertheless declined by nearly 20 per cent all told, meaning the organisation sustained losses of some $6.2 million.
The Age‘s coverage of the story includes unnamed sources from within Parks Victoria who say ‘the organisations has been “running on the smell of an oily rag”, with easy efficiency gains long since exhausted’, leaving budgets cuts to begin impacting infrastructure maintenance.
The coverage also includes a ‘leaked confidential report’ on staff morale at the organisation, which reveals faltering performance and increasing dissatisfaction as a result of cuts, with nearly one half of surveyed staff admitting to have considered leaving.
Interviewed in The Age‘s story is spokesman for the Victorian National Parks Association, Phil Ingamells, who stressed that the degradation of Parks Victoria would only have negative impacts on the success of the state’s national parks, which make a significant economic contribution.
“Our parks already more than pay their way. They contribute over $1 billion each year through tourism, $330 million in water services and $180 million in avoided health costs,” Ingamells is quoted as saying.
Cam Walker, spokesperson for environment group Friends of the Earth Australia, recently told Wild that there is growing sentiment to increase funding for Parks Victoria and the state’s national parks, particularly in those areas that are perceived to have been historically under-funded.
“The number of national parks has grown over the past decade, even when funding in Victoria was already insufficient,” he said. “For instance, the creation of the new ‘Red Gum’ national parks system along the Murray River – which was a fantastic conservation outcome – was not matched with increased funding.”
Walker said it is these new ‘Red Gum’ national parks (Barmah National Park, Gunbower National Park, Lower Goulburn River National Park, and the Warby Range-Ovens River National Park) where the Friends of the Earth group is likely to focus its attention, but with the hope that overall funding soon returns to pre-2011 levels.
“Environment minister Lisa Neville has said that her government will re-invest in national parks. It is not yet clear whether there will be an increase in core funding in the state budget expected in May 2016.”