Walkers and riders face heavy new fines for not using government-sanctioned trails in Victoria, while swimmers could be barred from using some waterways without a necessary permit.
The planned new Andrews government regulations, affecting more than 50 city and regional parks, have been criticised as “nanny state” measures.
They also allow for the wider imposition of fines for rock climbers and other adventurersadven who fail to adhere to strict controls over the way they pursue their sport.
The draft regulations include fines for anyone who fills a chainsaw with oil and petrol on a soft surface such as grass and dirt and a ban on “intrusive” scientific studies and visitor surveys in parks.
The controversial moves are outlined in the government’s proposed Metropolitan and Regional Parks Regulations, which also lay the framework for the wider use of permits, user-pays systems and restrictions to access, which are already among the toughest in the world in parks in parts of the state.
When enacted, they will affect some of Victoria’s best-known parks, stretching from near the NSW border in the east, across Melbourne and politically sensitive regional centres including Ballarat, Bendigo and Shepparton.
The regulations state that land managers may set aside tracks for walking or riding and that “a person must not, in a park, leave a track set aside for walking or riding…’’
The penalty for walking off the track is $924, $1840 for filling a chainsaw in the wrong place, $1472 for conducting “any intrusive research” such as a scientific study and $1840 for breaching rules where public land is set aside to ban sport or recreational activity.
The reforms follow an unprecedented campaign by the government in its parks to gut rock climbing in Australia’s two key destinations – the Grampians and Mt Arapiles in western Victoria – where participation has dived in the past three years, including after the pandemic lockdowns ended.
Under the government’s timeline, the regulations, after being reviewed during the consultation process, are due to come into force by the end of this month or next month, in the lead-up to the November 26 election.
Australian Climbing Association Victorian president Mike Tomkins said the decision to include Macedon Regional Park, just outside Melbourne, in the regulatory list could affect some of the best rock climbing close to the city.
The proposed regulations read that a person must not rock climb, abseil, hang glide or paraglide in any park unless with the use of a special permit or if an area is set aside by the government for the pursuit. “Everything is leading to the point of more and more control,” Mr Tomkins said.
A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the reforms would be pursued only to preserve parks or heritage.
“The regulations do not restrict any activities that are currently allowed and will only be used to restrict an activity if it is necessary to protect the environment, cultural heritage and safety,” she said.
“(The department) is considering the submissions and will develop recommendations for the minister in coming weeks.”
Opposition environment spokesman James Newbury said the government was failing to find the balance between protecting parks and intruding on liberties.
“Instead, Labor takes a nanny-state approach and has repeatedly taken extreme measures which lock land away from the community,” he said.
“Conservation relies on the community being involved and invested in the future of our unique lands.”
The new regulations, if enacted in full, have been framed for a wide number of parks in Victoria that aren’t currently covered by such laws. It includes for the first time special set aside provisions in the parks that enable certain activities to be banned or restricted.
The clampdown comes after the government has overhauled rock climbing in Victoria under the guise of protecting cultural heritage, which includes separate heavy penalties for wrongdoing under the relevant legislations.