The Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019 – Second Reading Debate

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I rise today to speak in support of the Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019, another Andrews Labor government landmark bill—a bill that recognises the state significance of the Great Ocean Road and its landscapes. I do this because I care deeply about the Great Ocean Road and its stunning coastal landscape, as well as wanting to support the people who live and work in the communities along the iconic road.

Firstly, I would like to thank the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change for the work that she has put into this bill and acknowledge the work of her office and department to ensure the high level of consultation with stakeholders and local communities that has occurred. I would also really like to acknowledge the considered and well-thought-out contributions of members of this house. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this very special part of the world from a range of members, including the member for Geelong and the member for Lara. I was really interested in the Minister for Public Transport’s contribution about the Lorne pier and the timber industry, and also in the member for Burwood sharing with us that important translation from a First Nations language that has gone into this bill. It is really, really important that we hear those voices of the people who have cared for and nurtured the land for thousands and thousands of years.

Families from my electorate of Wendouree love going down to the coast, particularly down the Great Ocean Road. I often remark in January that there are more Ballarat people down the coast than actually in Ballarat. It is where families take their caravans and others pitch a tent or rent a place to enjoy a summer at the beach. Our 243-kilometre Great Ocean Road’s beaches and coastal townships are places for spending quality time, making memories with family and friends and even making new friends. It is a place where the students I used to teach flocked for schoolies; concertgoers love to go down to the Falls Festival; keen swimmers love to compete in the pier-to-pub at Lorne; and runners undertake the challenging Great Ocean Road marathon at Apollo Bay. The Great Ocean Road is loved by many, and for very good reason. We have a responsibility to protect it.

This bill will give our spectacular Great Ocean Road, its coast and its parks, the proper management and safeguards it deserves now and into the longer term future as well as protecting the coastal landscape for future environmental challenges. As a result of this, this bill will be well supported by many members of the Wendouree electorate.

The Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Bill 2019 is another example of the Andrews Labor government living its values and delivering on its commitments to Victorians. The Great Ocean Road is on the lands of the traditional custodians, the Eastern Maar and Wadawurrung people, and I welcome that this bill recognises that sovereignty of our First Nations was never ceded. Ballarat is also a part of Wadawurrung land, and I pay my respects to all of the Gilson family and members of the Wadawurrung clans that live in my community. I was pleased to see that this bill strengthens and embeds traditional owner knowledge and culture into the management of the landscapes of the road and also, as already mentioned, that the traditional owners’ languages are embodied in the bill. This is very, very important. The bill also ensures an ongoing involvement of the traditional owners by guaranteeing a seat on the board of the parks management authority for traditional owners.

This important bill is for all Victorians, today and into the future, as it protects our Great Ocean Road for generations to come. We will look back, and we will be proud. We will tell our children and our grandchildren that we supported this bill—that when people did not want to do the work, did not want to take the action to support the Great Ocean Road, we did. That is a legacy that we will all be incredibly proud of.

The area and the environment of the Great Ocean Road is a world-renowned treasure that must be protected, and that is what we are going to do. With its unrivalled beauty, it is no wonder that the Great Ocean Road is an iconic international tourist drawcard for Victoria and Australia. Annually the Great Ocean Road attracts 17 million visitors to marvel at the unique landscapes of this stunning piece of coastline as well as the awe-inspiring engineering feat. It is our top tourist attraction.

Last year visitors to the Great Ocean Road spent more than $1.3 billion and provided employment for more than 11 200 people. I note with interest that this is more visitors than Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef combined, a very significant fact. However, the popularity of our iconic Great Ocean Road and booming tourist numbers are creating significant pressures on the landscape and the seascape, which are also experiencing the effects of natural processes and the impact of climate change. The reforms being introduced in this bill are about addressing these pressures whilst guaranteeing the road continues to bring visitors to Victoria. By getting this balance right—and it is a very important balance to get right—we will deliver the economic and environmental benefits for regional communities. Consequently it is vital that we act to give effect to the management reforms in the government’s Great Ocean Road Action Plan: one, to protect our treasured coast and parks; two, to ensure the livability of our local communities; three, to encourage tourism by improving the visitor experience; and four, just as importantly, to boost jobs on the Surf Coast and in south-western Victoria.

I love the Great Ocean Road, and it is undoubtedly great for so many reasons, including the history of its construction by returned soldiers from the Great War. The first part of the road, from Eastern View round to Apollo Bay, was built by 3000 soldiers who had just returned home from World War I and is a lasting memorial to all those who served. Photos taken from the time when the road was being built in the 1920s show men hanging from ropes and using shovels, sledgehammers and picks to move mud and small explosives to get through the rock to construct the windy and dangerous road that grips our magnificent coastline. Men who had bravely served our nation on the other side of the world had returned home to then be a part of a landmark construction project that would further build our national identity and create a permanent memorial to all those who served. Further, the Great Ocean Road has been officially recognised as the longest war memorial in the world. We have an obligation, we have a duty, to preserve this memorial, and we will.

I love spending time at the beachside towns and communities along the Great Ocean Road, and it is very special to me and all members of the Dickinson family. Growing up in landlocked Ballarat, a highlight of each year was for my family to head down to the Great Ocean Road during the January school holidays for a two-week coastal holiday. Mostly we stayed at Anglesea, but we also spent some summers in Lorne. Some of my happiest child memories are swimming at Point Roadknight, visiting Aireys Inlet lighthouse and eating fish and chips at the beach. We also loved going to see the kangaroos at the Anglesea golf course, bushwalking in the Otways and riding the rapids at Lorne. Therefore I support the moves in this bill that will enshrine increased transparency and public accountability in the management of the Great Ocean Road’s coast and parks. It is one of my happiest places, and I want to make sure it stays that way.

It is also a place that I love to share with others. Whenever we have international visitors, especially Mike’s family when they visit from the UK, a trip along the Great Ocean Road is a must. It is an early start from Ballarat but well worth it. We undertake the ultimate drive from Port Campbell along the Great Ocean Road to Torquay before heading home. It is a massive day but a wonderful way to showcase our special corner of the world, including admiring the Twelve Apostles, a coffee stop at Apollo Bay, lunch at the pier at Lorne and so many stops along the way to take photos of the views. Regardless of the weather or the time of year, our visitors always leave in awe of the Great Ocean Road and are so pleased that they have had the opportunity to tick it off their bucket list.

I am proud to be supporting this legislation that recognises the importance of the Great Ocean Road and the need to protect our beautiful asset through the Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority and ensuring stricter planning controls. So I am so pleased to commend this bill to the house. It will reform the management of the Great Ocean Road and protect our uniquely beautiful assets for future Victorians and the world.