Dear Minister D’Ambrosio,
We write this public letter in reply to your response to David Limbrick’s question to parliament about the Grampians rock-climbing bans. It is plain to see from your response that you need to be better informed about the issues. After waiting five weeks for your reply it contained the same recycled “talking points” that Parks Victoria came up with in February 2019 (which we have from FOI requests).
This response is disappointing, especially considering the recent meetings, questions to parliament, petitions, media attention and letters sent to you from climbers across Australia. Many of these initial PV statements from February have been subsequently disproved, even to the point where Simon Talbot did a public apology on ABC television for the infamous “bolts in art” false claim against climbers (it was a bolt placed by land managers in the 1930s!).
Some facts you may not be aware of…
The Grampians rock-climbing bans (by your government) are the world’s largest climbing bans. Nothing else comes close. You have gutted the Victorian climbing community overnight. This has also been big international news in the outdoor community and the multi billion dollar outdoor equipment and tourism industry. Even Oscar winner and US athlete Alex Honnold has spoken out about these bans. More than 25,000 people have a signed a petition to have these bans overturned. They have featured in newspapers such as The Australian, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, plus ABC online, radio and television, and numerous local papers and radio stations. This blog is read by thousands of Americans, British, French, Singaporeans, Japanese and New Zealanders. The climbing community has been awakened and is utilising its many lawyers, journalists and others to get involved. A world-class ban has created a world wide reaction.
SPA bans are probably not legal. Simon Talbot has admitted in meetings with climbers that the SPA areas were created way back in 2003 and there is little internal departmental information about the details of how they were created. Apparently the specific locations have not been gazetted. With so many legal unknowns, should PV be announcing that climbing is prohibited in these areas? Our legal research shows the basis for these bans is flimsy at best. We believe PV has no right to prohibit rock-climbing over large areas of the Grampians and our lawyers will prove this if required.
Thousands of school kids will now miss out on outdoor education in the Grampians. One of the major areas banned is Summer Day Valley, a cliff designed to teach school-kids and other groups such as the Armed Forces and Scouts the basics of rock-climbing and abseiling. There is no equivalent site in the Grampians (or Victoria). Removing an opportunity to teach the younger generation about the outdoors and the environment is a great loss. The lack of any information about the future of this site is disappointing,
The bans are damaging the Grampians regional economy, and job losses are real. The climbing guiding industry employs over 50 locals and some businesses have already seen a 30% decrease in income. Even worse, the long term damage to the reputation of this industry by the introduction of these bans is far reaching. Many in the general public now have a negative reaction towards climbing after seeing the bans in the mainstream news. A yearly climbing festival has been cancelled this year that had previously brought in significant income to the region. Accommodation and restaurants are being affected as thousands of climbers go elsewhere. You can expect legal compensation claims for loss of income if these bans continue.
The bans have cut elite climbing by a drastic 93%. Yes, that is not a misprint. These climbing bans have removed almost all the high level routes (grade 28+) that Victorian Olympic hopefuls use as training routes on their way to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. These routes are also the famous ones – if we use a surfing comparison, not everyone wants to surf huge Hawaiian sized waves, but those waves create a halo effect over all of Hawaiian tourism and draws the visitors in. The same can be said about the elite level climbing routes in the Grampians. People will travel from afar to experience them. The video below has over a million views and features climbing in a now banned area.
There has been no explosion in the growth of climbing. The ten fold growth rates of climbers and rock-climbing sites in the last 15 years claimed by your government is based on flawed data from one climbing website (thecrag.com). The administrator of that website has been in contact with your people about correcting these inaccuracies. The climbing industry refutes all these wild claims with more accurate data (such as climbing guidebook sales figures) which show no exponential growth rates. By far the majority of climbing sites in the Grampians were first established in the 70s and 80s. Rock climbing is not a new thing.
There are no safety bolts that have damaged art in the Grampians. Despite attempts to misrepresent the situation by Parks Victoria and yourself, there has been no damage done to any aboriginal art in the Grampians by rock-climbers. The photos you published as “proof” are of safety bolts many meters off the ground at a secretly listed quarry site that was not revealed to the climbing community until March 2019 (more than a month after the bans were announced). The safety bolts were installed in the 1990s and the cliff was a well recognised climbing area that Parks Victoria listed as open to climbers in 2016 (in a document they have now removed from their website). PV even constructed an access track for climbers to this cave in the early 2000s. The quarry site remains undamaged despite decades of climbing activates in the area. PV retrospectively kicking up a fuss after a long history of mutual management has confused many climbers.
There is no threat to visitor safety from rock-climbing. Virtually all climbing is practiced away from tourist areas. There has been no history of injury to the non-climbing general public caused by the activities of rock-climbing. The sport is actually very safe with the use of modern climbing equipment and techniques and is practiced by many as a fun family activity. Some of the safest climbing areas in Australia have been included in these bans, forcing climbers to go elsewhere to more dangerous locations with poorer quality rock. Climbers have the knowledge, experience and equipment to navigate mountainous terrain in the Grampians – unlike the average tourist who scrambles onto a rocky ledge for a selfie or backflip above a death drop.
The bans have been put in place because of a fear of litigation, not because of empirical evidence. It is obvious to most, and freely admitted by Simon Talbot, that these bans are put in place because of the legal threat from Aboriginal Victoria to enact financial damages. The bans were enacted without consultation with the public and there has been no release of official reports to back up claims made against the climbing community. It is not fair or due process to ban something first, then try and find reasons for the bans afterwards. Damage caused by climbers pales into insignificance compared to infrastructure installed for tourists (roads, lookouts, carparks etc).
You need to stop referring to these bans are only applying to 8 sites. The original 8 banned sites were a smokescreen for larger bans. The press releases from your own department clearly state the bans apply to all Special Protected Areas that cover 33% of the Grampians (551 square km), and includes the majority of cliff-lines in the National Park. Imagine if the State Government shut a third of beaches in Victoria to surfing, with no warning and then were unwilling to reveal the paperwork involved with why these bans were made?
PV have poorly managed the implementation of these bans. We still don’t have detailed maps, listings of banned areas or proper signage despite four months since the underhanded announcement of these bans. PVs own website page (which you asked us to check) is being updated every week on the sly in an attempt to show the government had all the details sorted back in February. The reality is the release of information has been slow and sometimes chaotic. The “February Update” Fact Sheet PDF for example has maps labeled as being produced in late April. Even worse, the department “accidentally” released documents in October last year previewing these bans – but then denied the documents were real and blamed rogue rangers. This was clearly a well orchestrated lie.
There have been conflicts of interest with your staff. Some people working for the department are not managing the park for all citizens and have a long standing grudge against rock-climbers. This is despite over 70 years of rock-climbing activity in the Grampians (pre-dating the National Park by many decades). Some of these staff members were actively working to further their own agendas – financial and otherwise and have now quit. You would know more about the details of this. The push to commercialize National Parks is causing a rift with the community and the government. Climbers want to keep the bush wild, not build luxury lodges and new walking trails so wide you can drive a car down them. Are climbers to be collateral damage for profit?
The climbing “problem” isn’t going away. We hope you have allocated some decent funding this financial year to help manage rock-climbing as (in your own words) you “acknowledge the importance of rock-climbing as a recreational and sporting pursuit” that brings “a contribution to the local and regional economy”. Do you have a plan for where tens of thousands of climbers are going to go now you have closed 40% of the available climbing? A ban this big isn’t going to cost nothing and will create a management nightmare for PV. Their reputation as a fair and balanced land manager is in tatters and a quick Google search shows similar conflicts with other users groups.
It can be done better. All over the world, from Yosemite to Cape Town, we have seen successful climbing management plans enacted between land managers and rock climbers. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, the hard work has been done by others and we can all learn from these. Queensland has an excellent relationship between their land managers and climbers and we suggest you investigate that case closely.
Climbing representatives (VCC/ACAV) wish to work with your government to balance the environmental and cultural needs of the Grampians with the legitimate sport of rock-climbing. These groups are working on a Grampians specific climbing report to present to you. Lily D’Ambrosio, you control the levers of power. Rather than copy/paste some talking points from your PV’s media team – let’s have a proper conversation.
Please make more of an effort to reply to your constituent’s unique questions and concerns. Social media allows the sharing of your repetitive statements and it is clear that you have not read each letter sent to you, nor responded to the questions they contain.
The Save Grampians Climbing Team
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