AUDITOR-GENERAL NEEDS TO AUDIT WESTERN GRASSLANDS RESERVES

It is now time the Auditor-General stepped in and audited the failure of the Victorian Government’s Western Grassland Reserves program. In 2009 the Brumby Labor Government dramatically increased Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary. There was a lot of opposition to this expansion on environmental grounds. The Government said the increase was needed due to Melbourne’s rapid population growth. The Government sought to win support for the expansion by announcing at the time “The creation of large (at least 15,000 hectares) consolidated areas of permanently protected native grasslands outside the Urban Growth Boundary in Melbourne’s west”. This was set out in the Delivering Melbourne’s Newest Sustainable Communities Program Report. It sounded good at the time, but it simply hasn’t happened. Answers to Questions I placed on the Notice Paper to the Environment Minister reveal that since 2010 the Government has purchased 1,275 hectares, and entered into a purchase agreement for a further 143 hectares. This makes 1418 hectares. “They are less than a tenth of the way there. At this rate, it will take a hundred years for the promise of the Western Grassland Reserves to be delivered!” In 2017 the Auditor-General advised grasslands campaigner Ian Penna that he had deferred the Auditor’s planned audit of the management of native vegetation in the western plains area till 2019-20. It is now high time this audit was carried out, and the Government was called to account for its failure to implement the promise made when the Urban Growth Boundary was extended. The Melbourne Strategic Assessment Program has failed to protect Victoria’s endangered grasslands, which are at risk of being paved over by urbanisation. Far too often Governments make grand promises of environment or heritage protection when they want to get something through, but afterwards the promises quietly slip away.