The Victorian Coalition Government will reform current policy to allow appropriate environmentally sensitive, private sector tourism investment in national parks.
The changes were outlined today in the government's response to the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission's (VCEC) final report into Victoria's tourism industry.
Treasurer Kim Wells said the move would bring Victoria into line with every other state in Australia, as well as New Zealand, which already allowed development in national parks.
"If we hope to attract more international visitors to Victoria, particularly from markets such as China, we must meet the rapidly growing demand for nature-based tourism," Mr Wells said.
Tourism Minister Louise Asher said that Victoria was competing with other states, the Northern Territory and New Zealand to gain market share in the lucrative eco-tourism sector, and needed to improve its offering to travellers to induce them to stay longer in regional Victoria."
The independent Tourism Forecasting Committee predicts that by 2020, Victoria will receive approximately 500,000 Chinese overnight visitors - almost double the current level and expenditure is forecasted to reach $1.5 billion," Ms Asher said."These changes announced today will capitalise on this, grow the tourism sector and improve access to Victoria's world-class natural assets."
Mr Wells said any investment proposals would be subject to tight environmental controls and approval from the Environment Minister.
"The Coalition Government will develop guidelines on the approval process and standard terms and conditions for a lease in a national park.
"The Minister will also be able to grant up to 99 year leases in national parks to provide greater certainty for investors to help encourage investments which enhance visitor experience.
"Lease conditions will ensure that proposals are consistent with the principles of ecological sustainable development and include conditions necessary to manage any environmental risks."
No investment proposals will be considered in areas classified as 'wilderness parks', 'wilderness zones', 'reference areas' and 'remote and natural areas' under the National Parks Act 1975.
"The guidelines developed by the government will consider values of public land categories, planning requirements for bushfire risk, climate variability and any native title implications," Mr Wells said.
Of the 17 recommendations made by VCEC, the Coalition Government has supported 10 in full, four in principle, one in part, referred one to the Taxi Industry Inquiry and noted that one has been superseded.
As part of the wider review conducted by VCEC into Victoria's tourism industry, the Coalition Government will also:
- Allow a wider range and scale of activities in the farming and rural conservation zones;
- Identify where current limits on beds and patrons can be increased and where prohibition of certain types of facilities can be removed; and
- Remove restrictions that prevent farmers selling value-added primary produce from the surrounding region to allow more regional branding and promotion and assist farmers to access alternative sources of income.