A Leadbeater possum at Healesville Sanctuary. Photo: Justin McManus Melbourne could have a new national park on its doorstep within thi...
|A Leadbeater possum at Healesville Sanctuary. Photo: Justin McManus|
Environment Minister Lisa Neville has given her strongest signal yet that Labor could soon move away from old growth logging in favour of the proposed 355,000-hectare Great Forest National Park.
Environmentalists and scientists - including Sir David Attenborough - have been pushing for the park in a bid to protect the possum after the 2009 bushfires destroyed 45 per cent of its habitat in the central highlands, in Melbourne's northeast.
Asked if the proposal could become a reality within the government's first term, Ms Neville told The Sunday Age: "Yes, I think so. I'm hoping that's the case, but I also think that will come with a commitment and a plan around the protection of jobs and workers and their families."
In a broad-ranging interview last week, the minister also said:
* Tuesday's budget would provide $12million over one year for a range of climate change programs covering drought relief, flood risk, resource efficiency for businesses, and support for schools.
* Victoria is considering introducing a state-based emissions reduction target for greenhouse gases, with work currently underway to establish "what makes a difference and how we get there."
* The government was confident it would achieve its election promise to scrap the lease for the redevelopment of Point Nepean National Park signed by the former Napthine Government – without having to pay any compensation.
Since retaining her marginal seat in November's poll, Ms Neville has set a frenetic pace reforming the climate change, water and environment portfolios – three areas that many viewed were largely ignored under the Coalition.
In the past five months, she has sacked the state's water boards – citing a lack of focus on climate change - announced reviews into the Environment Protection Authority and Victoria's marine and coastal laws, and has begun work on a new Yarra River Protection Act.
But her comments about the future of the Great Forest National Park come at a particularly significant time, after the Federal Government recently upgraded the status of the Leadbeater's possum from "endangered" to "critically endangered" - the last step before extinction in the wild.
However, the push for a new national park stretching from Kinglake to Mount Baw Baw and back to Eildon is contentious, because it encompasses one of Victoria's primary native forest logging areas.
At the state election in November, Labor stopped short of committing to the proposal, instead promising an industry taskforce to come to a "consensus" that would meet conservation needs, as well as protect jobs and the forest industry.
The taskforce comprises groups such as the Wilderness Society, the Victorian National Parks Association, the Victorian Association of Forest Industries and the CFMEU, which last year warned that a new national park could threaten jobs at Australian Paper, a major employer in the Gippsland region.
Opposition environment spokesman Brad Battin said the former Napthine Government had already delivered a $11million plan to protect the Leadbeater's possum, and "the real question now is whether Daniel Andrews will stand up to the CFMEU on this issue."
Despite suggestions the union had intervened ahead of the election, Ms Neville this was "absolutely not true", insisting the CFMEU had "a genuine commitment to finding a long term solution – both in their interest, as well as the interest of the possum."
"The national park is the long-term solution here. That's where we hope this process gets to," she said.