THE peak body for the Victorian national parks has slammed the state government for its push to open up national parks for prospecting.
Minister for Energy and Resources Michael O’Brien and Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith were in Ballarat on Tuesday to announce the initiative.
The government will ask the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) to investigate providing greater access for low impact prospecting in the state’s national parks.
But Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) executive director Matt Ruchel said there should be no prospecting or fossicking for precious metals in the national parks.
“Widespread prospecting comes at a cost to our natural environment,” Mr Ruchel said.
“Prospectors dig up areas wherever their metal detector registers scrap metal or minerals, and this can cause erosion or affect threatened plant species, including rare ground orchids.”
Mr Ruchel said the government was making decisions in an environmental policy vacuum.
“The government is setting up an inquiry to extend prospecting rights to nine of our finest National and State Parks, before there has been any assessment of the damage done to parks where prospecting already takes place.”
The government is seeking public comment as part of the VEAC investigation which is due to report by April 30 next year.
Mr Smith said VEAC’s independent investigation process would ensure consultation across government and with stakeholders, including key conservation groups.
Ballarat prospector Colin Wiese said he was delighted at the initiative.
“The gold prospectors leave the area exactly as they found it if not better,” Mr Wiese said.
“Prospecting gets the family to go out and be among nature, instead of just sitting around watching television.”
The Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria, president, Rita Bentley said they had been pushing for the move for more than 20 years.
“We are applauding the Baillieu government,” Ms Bentley said.
“There should be no concerns about what is a most low key activity.”