I rise today to speak on the Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Amendment Bill 2021, and my contribution will not be too long. As other speakers have noted in here and in the other place, this is the second of two bills dealing with the new Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority. The authority was a recommendation of the Great Ocean Road Taskforce about five years ago and has bipartisan support—or it did have back then. It was an idea that stemmed from the bureaucratic nature of having, quite literally, tens of bodies of committees having management roles in the same areas. This authority is supposed to reduce red tape, though many think it will do the reverse, which is worrying. The Great Ocean Road is in my electorate. It is about 20 minutes down the road, actually, from where I live, and living quite close to it I have been lucky enough to travel it many, many times. There are many statistics that the minister and members in the other place and this place have cited about its visitorship, its income generation and comments about its historical significance, including that it was built by our diggers, as we all know. I will echo all of these statements and sentiments. I will also say that if anyone in this place has not experienced its beauty with their own eyes, they have to do it. It is just magical. This bill therefore, I hope, will allow the governing of this incredibly important asset and make sure that it is preserved for generations to come. I do not think the bill is perfect, and in fact I have an amendment, which I will circulate now, if that is okay, which deals with the one imperfection of the bill. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendment circulated by Mr GRIMLEY pursuant to standing orders. Mr GRIMLEY: I have circulated information about this amendment, but it basically deals with the issue of the authority asking for tolls, fees and other charges for things like car parking and entry to attractions. This is something that was established in the first bill, and I am grateful to see that the first bill allows certain persons to be exempt. This ‘certain persons’ could mean locals, for instance. What this bill does not do is mandate that any of these fees, tolls or charges that are regulated been assessed against any financial burden on local communities. My amendment, if passed, will ensure that this happens. I understand that the government has the belief that these considerations and therefore the amendment will already be covered through the regulatory impact statement, and while this may be the case, the point remains that there is no current mandate. It is not legislated and therefore is not subject to potential oversight through the regulatory impact statement. The other reason for the government’s opposition to this amendment is apparently that it is not legal, due to the Governor in Council not receiving advice from the authority by convention. What the government will be very happy to hear is that the legal advice we have received is that this amendment is sound, and it is sound because the way that it has been drafted requires the Governor in Council to receive advice from the minister, who would in practice receive advice from the authority. This is how the regulatory impact statement would be formed anyway. My amendment simply requires the minister on advice from the authority, if any, to consider, and I quote: … any financial impacts or burdens on local communities of the …fees … This is really straightforward, and I am not sure how the government can dispute it. What might this look like in practice? Well, if you live in Torquay and you work in Lorne, and you have to pay to park your car out the front of, for instance, Chopstix every day, where you work, it will be a cost of $25. This should be considered by the minister on advice from the authority. If I want to go for a walk on one side of the coastal trail, I should not have to pay for it, and if the authority decide that they want to charge people to use this asset, they should have to assess what the financial impact on locals might be. I look forward to the chamber’s support of this amendment in the committee stage. There are a few other things about this bill that I am not particularly happy about, and they are not necessarily things in the bill—in fact they are things that should have been in the bill that are not. There is no asset register, for a start. How are we supposed to know which assets the authority will take over and which ones it will not? Councils are understandably worried about the financial position that they may be put in because of the authority’s seniority and the assets it may feel obliged to adopt. I would seek clarity from the government about what the processes for negotiations are when there are assets that the authority does not want to take over. The second thing missing that I thought would have been fairly important is a business case. I know I said earlier that this authority is bipartisan, but if we are spending public money, shouldn’t we have weighed up the benefits versus the costs of the authority, and further, shouldn’t this business case have flagged ways the authority will make money to stay self-sufficient in the future? For example, will we see every car park along the Great Ocean Road turned into a money-making exercise so the authority can buy investments and securities, as allowed by the bill? These are things that, as members voting on this bill today, should have been given to us. It is important that we have the full picture on exactly what we are voting for. In terms of the authority’s job to govern the Great Ocean Road, I have had a few members of the community and committees of management making it clear that the authority needs to represent all townships. My office is in Torquay, and this is where the authority has set up their office. Whilst Torquay’s township is amongst the biggest—if not the biggest—along the road, there are fears it will get all the funding. I am not able to say who should get the funding, but I will pass on those comments that the distribution of not only money but also time, energy and careful planning should go into the length of the road. The last thing I want to raise about this bill is its role in managing national parks. I have been given assurances by the government that the authority will adopt all obligations currently bestowed on Parks Victoria in relation to becoming the land manager for national parks. My office has spoken to the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA), who are concerned about the conflicting responsibilities of the authority to create and maintain tourism opportunities as well as preserve the land they manage. They are the same objectives on one hand and completely conflicting on the other. I concur that it will be a hard job to achieve both objectives at the same time, but I do commend the government on a few protections in the bill to ensure that national parks are held as the highest responsibility and the commitment that Parks Victoria staff will not be made redundant by the passage of this bill. The VNPA did wonder why a veto power or memorandum of understanding was not explored to allow Parks Victoria to have a say in the decisions made in regard to national parks. It seems like it would have been a good idea, given Parks Victoria apparently already has an obligation to cooperate with tourism bodies. I understand that this unfortunately was not part of the government’s plan for this bill, though. I just wanted to get on the record the handful of issues that I have mentioned. I do not think this was done perfectly, but our party does support the authority. We hope it increases good governance of the Great Ocean Road and surrounding townships, and I will look forward to reducing bureaucracy for locals, councils and tourists alike. I commend this bill to the house.
Clause agreed to; clauses 2 to 18 agreed to. New Clause (19:19) Mr GRIMLEY: I move:
- Insert the following New Clause to follow clause 18— ‘18A Further amendment of section 66 After subsection 66(1) of the Principal Act insert— “(1A) Before regulations are made for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) or (1)(c), the Minister must consider any advice of the Authority in respect of any financial impacts or burdens on local communities of the tolls, fees and charges.”.’.
I will just speak briefly on this one. The reason for this amendment is that there is concern amongst locals and community groups that the authority will need to implement a number of revenue streams to remain self-sustainable that will impact on them. This assumption is also supported by several sections in the act and the bill that allow the Governor in Council, on recommendation of the minister, to prescribe tolls, fees and charges, including for car parking and entry, for persons, vehicles and animals on their assets. This has left some people feeling as though they will be significantly financially impacted by the authority’s decisions. The amendment that we are proposing will fix the problem by requiring the minister to have regard to any financial impacts that regulations would have on local communities on advice from the authority. The authority does not have to consider the financial burden such charges may place on locals. There is no mandate currently, so this existing section in the act would support this amendment, by the authority taking into account any financial impact on local communities. We have canvassed widely on this particular amendment, which is supported by many local individual communities. The Corangamite Shire Council are supportive of this amendment as well. The amendment aligns also with the Greater Torquay Alliance’s views on tolls, fees and charges. The Surf Coast Shire Council also stated that we are supportive of the changes to this bill that consider the impacts of future decisions on fees, charges and tolls on our community. The latest draft of this amendment contains some extra words which make it explicit, rather than implicit, that the minister provide advice to the Governor in Council. On this I would just like to say thanks to the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for ensuring that this amendment is legally acceptable and meets the concerns that we originally had about this bill.