- October 2020 sees climbers vs PV in court
- VCC submits a formal complaint to Victorian Ombudsman’s Office
- ACAV submits formal complaint to Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists
- New FOI documents reveal dodgy archeological procurement from PV
- Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines launched
Climbers to take PV to the Supreme Court
This week two renowned Australian rock climbers, Kevin Lindorff (current Victorian Climbing Club President) and Glenn Tempest (Guidebook publisher and photographer) commenced a court case against Parks Victoria to review its decision to deny them permission to rock climb at world-class climbing areas at the Gariwerd/Grampians National Park in Victoria.
The two climbers have recently attempted to make applications for permits to climb at specified areas within the banned areas of the Gariwerd/Grampians. Their applications were refused by Parks Victoria. In their opinion the refusal of their requests to climb denied them procedural fairness as they were not given the opportunity to comment before their applications to climb were refused. This legal challenge will be partially funded by combined donations from ACAV and VCC. If you would like to donate please do so urgently at the VCC Access Fund donation page.
Kevin had this to say about the application:
The challenge is based on PV refusals of all (separate) applications to climb at 6 different sites (including a bouldering area) in the Grampians. All sites are in SPAs. Most (but not all) sites have already been assessed by PV. Reasons given by PV were very general and, we believe, not adequately detailed/informative to allow for / provide procedural fairness.
I would add though that this step has not been taken lightly. We have held off and held off since early this year from taking the legal option (and copped a lot of shit from some uninformed climbers for our approach); we have participated in every forum with PV (and organised some meetings with PV off our own bat to try to tease out possible win-win-win solutions) and have explored every non-legal avenue available but feel that our constructive suggestions as to how PV might meet their legislative obligations to protect the cultural heritage and environmental values in the Park without the need for huge exclusion zones have not been given serious consideration. As I noted in a recent post in the Vertical Life website: “As one of my indigenous friends said to me (and these are the sentiments only – I don’t pretend I can remember her words verbatim):“if you challenge any of the current climbing bans, some indigenous folk will automatically hate you for it; you have to remember that if the current bans on climbing in SPAs, for example, are stripped away, then they will feel naked – they feel they would be left with no protections for cultural heritage”. “Others in our mobs will be more sanguine. Some of them are not too happy themselves with how PV have gone about things. They understand that there might well be other, better alternatives that still provide the cultural heritage protection that is needed. If there are legal challenges and PV are asked to change things, then most indigenous folk will work with that and get on with it. So be it.”
Regarding relationships with PV, I’ve had numerous conversations with PV staff including rangers and head rangers and asked them specifically about whether a legal challenge would cruel relationships with them – they were pretty much in agreement that, whether or not a legal challenge was mounted, they would be keen to continue with the sorts of collaborative works that VCC and PV had traditionally done and which I and they were still keen to do – they saw any legal challenge as querying the appropriateness of decisions taken by the PV organisation (i.e. by ‘head office’), not anything directed against individuals. It was clear that they, like VCC, realised that we all need to be able to work toward developing and articulating win-win-win alternatives that address the key concerns of Traditional Owners, land managers and recreational users. And we need to do it respectfully and with a willingness to listen. But that is not to say that we should put our critical faculties on ice just because some might not like what we have to say.
The originating form for judicial review can be downloaded below.
The case is listed for a directions at the Supreme Court on 28 October 2020.
VCC’s Ombudsman Complaint about PV Conduct
VCC has also recently submitted a formal complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman’s Office about what they believe to be Park Victoria’s inappropriate handling of the planning, announcement and implementation of the climbing prohibitions in the Grampians/Gariwerd. Download and read it in full below or read the How PV Misled the Minister article on the VCC page. It’s a “best hits” list of Parks Victoria’s mismanagement of these climbing bans. It is well worth a read if you haven’t been following this multi-year saga in detail.
We are still to hear back from the Ombudsman’s office about whether this matter will be investigated further. Their office needs to prioritise or triage the many complaints it gets – its decisions on what it will follow up are predicated, in part, on whether specific wrongdoings or failures to follow appropriate processes can be identified by the complainant(s) and, also, on the number of people complaining about and effected by the alleged wrongdoing.
So folks, please seriously consider lodging a complaint of your own to maximise the chance that the Ombudsman’s office will investigate the complaints (lodge complaints via https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/complaints/ – there are word limits that constrain what you say when you outline the complaint but additional documentation can be uploaded to this site to substantiate the complaint(s) made). You don’t need to make as lengthy a complaint as the VCC’s – but feel free to pick just one of the issues they list (or something else) and make your voice heard. Don’t ‘spray’ or ‘vent’. Do be specific. Good luck!
Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines
Over the last 9 months a bunch of long term Victorian climbers have been busy writing the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines. Currently 101 pages long, this important document not only records the amazing past efforts by the Victorian climbing community to take care of the areas we climb in but also documents world’s best practices, ideas and solutions for a respectful climbing future. It also includes a revised Victorian Climbing Code of Conduct.
We are indebted to Matt Brooks, who took on the lead role of pulling all this information together, managing the consultation process and closing out this major piece of work to produce a high quality document and a forward plan for rock climbing and bouldering in Victoria, Australia.
Victoria also has a new stewardship organisation, Crag Stewards Victoria, described in the Victorian Climbing Management Guidelines.
This document has been sent far and wide to the Victorian Government, Gariwerd Traditional Owner Groups, Parks Victoria, MPs, GWRN, MUMC, VCC, ACAV, Outdoors Victoria and more. It is envisioned as an evolving document that will change as climbing practices improve and feedback is gained.
Archaeologist Complaint lodged by ACAV
The following is taken from ACAV’s news page.
Blanket bans on rock climbing in Gariwerd/Grampians National Park and Tooan/Arapiles State Park have been introduced by Parks Victoria under the advice of one consultant archaeologist [Ben Gunn]. When a site has been assessed by this archaeologist, the Aboriginal Heritage Act comes into play and the barriers go up. This has brought about climbing exclusions on a scale never before seen in the climbing world. To date, all sites that have been closed remain closed. No reviews, no questions, non negotiable.
In May 2020, ACAV made a formal complaint to the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists. No substantive response has been received.
The procurement process for archaeological advice is highly questionable. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Parks Victoria claims that only this particular archaeologist can do the work; allegedly the “sole supplier in the market” and “the only qualified person to complete this task in the state”. In fact there are multiple highly qualified consultant archaeologists willing and able to carry out work of this nature. The “sole supplier” reasoning may have been inappropriately used by Parks Victoria to avoid following a competitive tendering process. It makes the paperwork easier and Parks Victoria is clearly happy with the outcomes. No peer reviews have been carried out.
An audit application has now been submitted to the Victorian Auditor General – Audit application. [see their response below]
Supporting paperwork includes procurement documents recently obtained from Parks Victoria under the Freedom of Information Act – FOI applications and responses.
Further revelations within these FOI documents will be of interest to climbers piecing together how bans on this scale have been able to occur in Western Victoria but nowhere else in the world.
While the procurement paper trails have been released with heavy redaction, Parks Victoria has flatly refused to release any information surrounding archaeological reports, findings and recommendations. The two FOI requests seeking reports have been rejected or have stalled. The Aboriginal Heritage Act gives some justification for this, since a degree of discretion is required over site locations. That’s why we need the Government auditor to step in to cut through the veil of secrecy. If everything is above board then Parks Victoria has nothing to worry about. If malpractice has occurred there will be serious consequences and remedial action will follow. The forthcoming Grampians Landscape Management Plan has been drafted under the assumption that the archaeological advice is sound.
ACAV have redacted point 5 from the audit application form as this relates to a connected matter raised by ACAV and currently under Ministerial review.
Victorian Auditor-General’s Office Rejection
ACAV have now received a response to their audit application about archeological procurement from the auditor general – and they fobbed it off to the Victorian Ombudsman. The cogs of bureaucracy screech to a halt once again.