This Easter weekend some state and national parks are facing industrial action by Parks Victoria rangers belonging to the Community and Public Sector Union. Most likely this will involve the locking of gates to parks which have single points of entry. The union has been in ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Victorian Government, having stated that Parks Victoria staff have not had a pay rise in almost two years. The sticking point is that the Baillieu government is refusing to increase its offer of a 2.5 per cent annual pay rise, plus whatever trade-offs can be obtained via productivity improvements. What makes this all the more unpalatable to the rangers is that 48 executive officers in the Department of Sustainability and Environment (the department that overlooks Parks Victoria), have shared a windfall bonus of $655,000 for the last financial year. That is an average of $13,645 for each officer.
Interestingly, the Baillieu government has declared that they will have no hesitation to putting on non-unionised strike breakers’ to re-open the park gates to the public. Environment Minister Ryan Smith commented that “It’s extremely disappointing to hear that the unions are trying to lock Victorian families out of our parks this Easter weekend”.
On the surface this may appear to be a simple wage dispute, but in fact it’s just a symptom of a larger and much more serious disease. It’s no secret that Parks Victoria is suffering from chronic underfunding. Parks and reserves across Victoria are seeing the results of decades of government cut-backs. These funding cuts effect our parks and reserves in many ways. From the supply of basic amenities (such as toilet rolls), all the way to establishing and maintaining user facilities such as walking and mountain bike trails as well as creating new management and environmental plans for the future. Looking after our public spaces is, quite simply, a massive job and if it is to be done correctly it will require substantial government funding.
The Cathedral Range State Park (just outside Melbourne) is a good example of just how much things have changed. Fifteen years ago there were three rangers looking after this very busy park (and the nearby small Buxton Gum Reserve). Over the intervening years the number of rangers have been reduced until today there is only one ranger visiting the park on two days a week. Other Parks, such as Mt Beckworth Scenic Reserve and Mt Alexander Regional Park are good examples of public lands that have been all but abandoned due to lack of funds.
Regular readers of this blog know that although I’m a big supporter of Parks Victoria I’m also very critical of the gradual disintegration of our parks and reserves. Many Parks Victoria rangers do an amazing job in increasingly difficult circumstances. One of my ranger friends commented that ‘productivity improvements’ was in fact government speak for ‘saving money’. For bushwalkers this usually means letting walking trails and signage vanish. Fewer trails and lower maintenance means less money spent. Projections indicate that Melbourne will have a population of 5 million by 2020. With increasing numbers of users visiting our parks the question we should be asking is how exactly are Parks Victoria supposed to do a good job with correspondingly less money to spend.
Over the Easter period the following parks may be closed. Before we start getting angry with the rangers who are closing these parks perhaps we should consider the much bigger picture.
1. Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens
2. Braeside Park
3. Buchan Caves Reserve
4. Cardinia Reservoir Park
5. Churchill National Park
6. Coolart Historic Area
7. Dandenong Valley Parklands
8. George Tindale Memorial Gardens
9. Lysterfield Park
10. Maribyrnong Valley Parklands
11. Maroondah Reservoir Park
12. Mount Buffalo National Park
13. National Rhododendron Garden
14. Organ Pipes National Park
15. Pirianda Gardens
16. Point Cook Coastal Park
17. Serendip Sanctuary
18. Silvan Reservoir Park
19. Tower Hill Reserve
20. Upper Yarra Reservoir Park
21. Werribee Gorge State Park
22. Wilsons Promontory National Park
23. Woodlands Historic Park
24. You Yangs Regional Park