A NEW representative body for rock climbers still wants answers from Parks Victoria, after receiving access to emails detailing the lead-up to climbing bans in the Grampians.
Concerned climbers got one of two Freedom of Information requests back from Parks Victoria on Thursday - some of which they have made public.
The requests were submitted just after Parks Victoria barred individual climbers from accessing eight areas in the national park in February, following concerns sites of significant Aboriginal cultural heritage were being damaged.
On June 28, Parks Victoria granted tour operators three-month licence extensions to run climbing activities in Summer Day Valley near Laharum.
The first of the emails is dated July 13, 2017 when a Parks Victoria representative mentioned: "Drawing a line in the sand because the climbing community self-regulation... hasn't work (sic)."
Australian Climbing Association Victoria president Mike Tomkins said the emails showed Parks Victoria "didn't consult properly" with the climbing community.
"There was no warning of the February 2019 announcements," he said. "The only indication was in October 2018 when ... Cliffcare suggested climbers didn't do any new climbs.
"That indicates there was insufficient consultation going on. Parks Victoria was under pressure to do something about climbing and it's simply regarded it as a disposable activity it doesn't need to have in the park."
Mr Tomkins said 90 per cent of the documentation relating to the FOI request had been redacted.
"It was declared not suitable under Freedom of Information, on cultural heritage and commercial grounds," he said.
"There are a lot of correspondence items we would still like to see related to commercial issues at Parks Victoria and Aboriginal Victoria over rock climbing responsibilities."
Mr Tomkins said ACAV was still waiting for the return of a second Freedom of Information request concerning the "risk assessments, report or studies" that Parks Victoria used to justify February's bans - particularly in the Gallery and Millennium Caves sites.
The requests were submitted on March 4, and the State Revenue Office of Victoria states responses to such requests must be no later than 30 days.
"We still receive negativity from Traditional Owners because Parks Victoria mounted a strong campaign from March to May to justify the bans being put in place, and that includes allegations climbers have drilled painting and put graffiti on a rock," he said.
"Those allegations are still out there. They have not been refuted and no apology given so people who skim the news around the world are assuming climbers in the Grampians are environmental and cultural vandals."
Call for council support
Mr Tomkins also urged the Wimmera's climbing community to continue agitating Parks and their councils about the bans.
"We would like to see recognition among councils that climbing is a valuable asset in the area and it brings a lot of professional people and strong community," he said.
"At the moment that recognition is not there and there is no understanding of what climbing brings to the area and could bring further.
"We are also meeting with Grampians Tourism soon to shortly to see what assistance they may be able to give us in promoting the region as an adventure tourism destination. Currently that is a unique drawcard the region has that is being neglected."
Horsham Rural City Council mayor Mark Radford rejected Mr Tomkins' claim.
"Our council does appreciate the worldwide attraction to the climbing community of both the Grampians and Mount Arapiles, and how it is an important part of our community from a business and social point of view," he said.
"I'm pretty sure the chief executives of the councils around the Grampians have met with (Grampians Tourism chief executive) Marc Sleeman and expressed their concerns. We did have a Parks Victoria representative visit council a few weeks ago, and rock climbing wasn't one of the reasons he came, but it was mentioned."
The Mail-Times contacted Parks Victoria seeking an interview with chief operating officer Simon Talbot to address ACAV's claims.
In response, Parks Victoria issued a statement saying restrictions on climbing were enforced "holistically", rather than being based on climbing routes.
"Special Protection Areas are places that are particularly special, or are at significant risk. This could be because it is a protected Aboriginal site, or have a threatened species of plant or animal that is vulnerable to human activity," it said.
"We're continuing to talk with rock climbers, tour operators and park users on how they can continue to enjoy the park in a way that ensures it is protected as a national treasure. There are still hundreds of known climbing sites in the Grampians National Park available for people to enjoy."
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