Divisions in coalition over proposed Mount Clear park

September 25, 2014 – 3:45PM

Words by Keryn Reynolds. Pictures by Kym Vanderharst.

Greens Tony Goodfellow (centre, green jumper) and Labor’s Geoff Howard (centre, red jumper) at the launch of the multi-use park proposal.

Greens Tony Goodfellow (centre, green jumper) and Labor’s Geoff Howard (centre, red jumper) at the launch of the multi-use park proposal.

Divisions have emerged in the coalition state government over the proposed new park on the former Canadian State Forest at Mount Clear, eight kilometers south of Ballarat.

Three candidates for the state seat of Buninyong, including the National Party, have declared their support for establishing a new park, but the Liberal candidate says there has been inadequate consultation and that the money Labor is promising to set it up is grossly inadequate.

If the park is built it will include picnic facilities, walking tracks and mountain trails over 629 hectares of crown land, about half of which used to be pine plantations.

A community event was held to launch the park at Mount Clear last Saturday, and was attended by state election candidates Geoff Howard MP (Labor), Tony Goodfellow (Greens) and Sonia Smith (Nationals), all of whom expressed their support.

In 2011 the company East Gippsland Logging handed the plantation land back to the state government. Trees and stumps have been removed leaving a large areas bare and at risk of erosion.

Since 2012 the Friends of the Canadian Corridor (FoCC) have been campaigning for the creation of the park to protect Ballarat’s eastern skyline from development and shelter local wildlife.

Victorian Labor Leader Daniel Andrews pledged $2 million last Friday to set it up and rehabilitate the land.

‘If Labor is elected they will protect all of this land for community use,’ Mr Howard told UniPollWatch on Saturday.

Liberal candidate Mr Ben Taylor was unable to attend the launch but told UniPollWatch that Labor’s announcement had ‘thrown me a bit’ because there had been no discussion about turning the land into a state park.

Mr Taylor said the park was a natural resource for the community but any proposed plans needed wider community consultation, a detailed strategy and an action plan to achieve the right vision.

Mr Taylor said Labor’s $2 million dollar promise was ‘a drop in the ocean’ given the work needed to restore and maintain the park.

‘I’m not going to do anything rash leading into the election,’ Mr Taylor said adding that neither the Ballarat council, Department of Environment and Primary Industries or the Country Fire Authority had been involved in the FoCC proposal.

‘Mount Clear is one of the 52 highest risk locations in the state so whatever goes there needs to be aware of the consequences of fire risk in the area,’ Mr Taylor said.

But the National Party’s Ms Smith told UniPollWatch that the park was a ‘green lung’ for the city. ‘I can’t make a funding announcement now but I intend to bring the National Party Leader Peter Ryan here in late October to have a community event so he can see what a great asset this park is.’

‘There are differences between the Greens Party and the National Party but I believe our similarities and our fundamental shared interests are greater than our differences and I would like to see an informal alliance based on those shared interests,’ Ms Smith said.

FoCC spokesman Mr Bob Hartmann told UniPollWatch that 40 community groups had united to make the proposal possible. ‘I’m staggered and pleased by Labors commitment to the park.  It’s a start, it will get the planning up and running and some of the work started,’ Mr Hartmann said.

‘This park will take generations to rebuild.  We will need ongoing support from the DEPI to maintain the park,’ Mr Hartmann said.

‘We hope all the candidates will come on board; we’re having discussions with them now.  We want this to be a bipartisan project for Ballarat,’ he said.

Greens candidate Mr Goodfellow told UniPollWatch said the area was a valuable green corridor, and the development of the park would help tourism and jobs, as well as encouraging healthy living.

Mr Bryon Powell of the Wadawurrung people conducted a traditional smoking ceremony prior to the launch of the community proposal.

‘You need to think about the environment and the land. The bush is a magical thing to hear and it is a place we collectively have to look after,’ Mr Powell said.

A number of locals at the launch expressed support for the proposal and said that at the moment there was ‘terrible’ rubbish dumping happening in the area.

keryn.reynolds@unipollwatch.org.au ( @kerynbuninyong)