I have a piece in Quadrant on the wealth destruction and human endangerment policies being pursued by Victoria’s government. Here is an edited extract.
Victoria is the vanguard of states in major struggles over the control and use of public lands. These comprise around 35 per cent of the state, the majority of which is in parks and reserves that aim to minimise human impact. Such areas have long been seen as under-managed and infested with exotic flora and fauna. They are increasingly recognised as perilous host to ferocious and destructive fires.
The rest of the public land is state forest, traditionally available for forestry, grazing, mining and a whole range of leisure activities such car rallies, hunting, horse riding, camping and dog walking, none of which are generally permitted in National Parks.
Over the past 30 years governments have progressively constrained the use of the forests for timber harvesting and grazing. Grazing has been all but eliminated and annual timber harvesting area has been reduced from 25,000 hectares 40 years ago to just 3,000 hectares today. The Andrews government has announced a 2030 phase-out of all timber-getting in the state forests.
VEAC also hires economic consultants. Applying an alchemistic methodology called “contingent valuation” they estimate that the Victorian public would be willing to pay $247 million in order to convert 60,000 hectares of state forest in the Victorian Goldfields (the Central West) into National Park.
The valuation ($4600 per hectare) of restraining public use of public land is not based on some marginal change to land use. It would be equally applicable to the whole of the state. Its logic means people would be willing to sterilise all of the 3,100,00 hectares of state forest from commercial and most leisure uses and consider themselves to be $14 billion better off as a result!
VEAC’s consultants also argue against mining claiming that future mineral discoveries are well-nigh impossible. Yet, the Geological Survey of Victoria estimates that half the state’s gold is yet to be found. Moreover, entrepreneurs risking their own money are spending around $9 million a year in the 42 exploration licenses current in the area.
So, we have a double whammy. First, policies are being pursued to banish commercial and much leisure-use activities that have proven to be perfectly compatible with forest conservation. Secondly, requiring the cessation of commercial forestry also means eliminating many of the roads, and thereby heavy machinery, essential to fight fires. It would be hard to devise a more destructive set of policies.