The Victorian Government awards a $750,000 grant to 4WD Victoria, strategic plan on the way
Victoria has long enjoyed the best access to 4WD tracks in the country, and now the future of the state’s 4WD touring looks more secure than ever.
Track access is the cornerstone of offroad touring, and there’s a simple reason why Victoria boasts the best range and variety of tracks in the country – the peak body for 4WD clubs, 4WD Victoria, has a close and ongoing working relationship with the government, from parks managers to environment departments.
In previous elections, both major parties have released 4WD-specific policies, and now the Victorian government has committed $750,000 over three years [ $250k/year ] for “Four Wheel Drive Victoria to deliver safe and sustainable camper education programs, improved volunteer services and new touring routes in the state”, in partnership with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Parks Victoria.
Exactly how the money will be spent is to be determined, and a big part of deciding the programme will be the new Ministerial 4WD Advisory Committee, the members of whom are shown in the title picture. From left to right – Andrew Marshall from Parks Victoria, the President of 4WD Victoria, Damian Stock, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, the general manager of 4WD Victoria, Wayne Hevey, Sarah Crute and Richard Wadsworth from DELWP. There will be other experts brought in as required.
The Committee are pictured holding the newly released official guide to four wheel driving in Victoria, a booklet produced by 4WD Victoria as a condition of its government funding.
After the official launch we had a chat to Minister D’Ambrosio, with 4WD Victoria president Damian Stock and 4WD Victoria general manager Wayne Hevey.
The first question was the scope of the committee. Would it be land use only, or also cover issues like roadworthiness and vehicle modifications? Damian said “So far, use of public roads. No scope beyond that at the moment”.
So how often will the committee meet? Wayne said: “Four times a year, for an afternoon, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t meet on other occasions.” The Minister added that “a lot of work happens in between”.
We asked if that was four times a year with the Minister, and she said “I’ve only just started as the minister for the environment, but I think the previous minister was involved in those other meetings. It’s not just about me. The quarterly meetings set the agenda for the work that happens in between those meetings”.
So who exactly will the Committee be advising? Wayne answered: “Well, the Minister”. Damian added: “You’re our touchpoint into the House, but there are things like tourism that may be influenced by the work we do”.
There’s a lot of 4WD users in Victoria, so we asked how the Committee was going to ensure what the general 4WD population wants is represented. Wayne said: “That’s why we’re [ 4WD Victoria president and GM ] on committee, making enough noise for people to come to us, and put their point of view in.”
Damian continued: “We’re working on value added…some of the work we’re doing at national council is to provide greater value to our members, and give the clubs greater power to attract more members, and for us as an association to attract more clubs, with the idea that we are returning a real value to them as members, beyond keeping the tracks open.” The Minister said: “Having the Advisory Committee really gives some authority for the key stakeholders to reach out to new organisations and groups. The idea is to have a Strategic Plan that adequately represents the broad 4WD groups.”
We asked the Minister what the most important outcome of the committee work would be. She said “If we can increase the number of people experiencing our natural environment though the 4WD experience and camping, balanced with responsibilities, conversing our natural environment, and the fantastic economic outcomes that go with it. All those three things coming together.”
In a similar view, we asked what might happen in two or three years time, and she told us: “That will be in the strategic plan. But certainly stronger support from our government for the recreational 4WD sector.”
When will the plan be available? Wayne Hevey: “When the draft is done we’ll announce it, probably in a couple of months. Still a few things to do on it, but it’s very close”.
And what’s going to be in the plan? Wayne again: “Track access, ethics, funding, encourage greater participation in clubs, living up to our code of ethics, travelling in groups.” Damian: “Encouraging greater participation in affiliated clubs, getting them to think about living up to our code of ethics, make sure their footprint in minimised.”
Are there any principles, guides already in place? “Too early to say” said Wayne. “It’s too early to put out there right now, it’s not formulated. It’s certainly being worked on”. Damian explained: “An important aspect of it is engagement with the community…we’ve got to increase the profile of the like-minded 4WDers, and we want to live by the idea of healthy parks where people have ready access”. The Minister continued: “And with that comes responsibility. The economics, the access.”
That’s great, but to many people it’s not obvious. Is there a place for education in the plan? Wayne said: “It’s about educating people, changing attitudes, change people’s behavioural patterns…clean up the bush programme, don’t throw rubbish in the bush for no reason [for example]. Everything we do is about education, we’re just a minority. Trying to change the attitude of people to look after things otherwise we lose them. And that’s why we’re the envy of the rest of the country, we have done a great job, whereas other states have locked down, we have a great rapport with the government.”
Is this about all 4WD users or just club users? Wayne: “All 4WD users, really for all users of public land.”
A big part of the plan and the Government’s interest is the economic impact of 4WD touring. Wayne says that at the start of the holiday seasons the 4WD Victoria phone “rings off the hook, around say Easter” with interstate travellers wanting to know about permits, track conditions, “where to go to get the best adventure” and the like. He noted that Victoria doesn’t charge for track access, unlike South Australia for example which issues permits for Simpson Desert crossings, and that “If we could put gates on our tracks we’d make a fortune, we’ve got to get some dollar value back in the government”.
So is 4WD tourism something the government is looking at? The Minister said that the government wants to “Make Victoria a desination, not just for 4WDing, but also using 4WD for other pastimes [ fishing, touring, camping ]”. This also applies to overseas vistiors, as she said that “people come from overseas looking for the adventure experience”.
A hot topic at the moment is the Great Forest National Park, the proposed re-desigination of large areas of what is currently state forest into a very big national park. We asked the Minister what her views are on that with respect to 4WDs. “There is obviously a government taskforce that has been established, and all the key stakeholders are working through all of the issues, and we’re not going to pre-empt what they may recommend to government. I imagine the Advisory Committee will be very keen to reflect on the recommendations”.
In a press release, the Government noted that “Four-wheel driving is one of the most popular recreational activities across Victoria’s parks and forests, which cover some eight million hectares of public land, ready to be explored.” They also acknowledged the work 4WD Victoria coordinates, saying “Four Wheel Drive Victoria has a longstanding commitment to protecting and improving our environment, reflected through volunteer work such as track clearing, driver education and litter collection.”
The official statement by Minister D’Ambrosio was “The passionate work of [ 4WD ] volunteers and club members is estimated to provide the state with more than $2.8 million each year in direct benefits” and “We’re proud to promote the work of Four Wheel Drive Victoria and the great opportunities that exist throughout our state for nature-based tourism.”
Also in attendance was the local member for Yan Yean, Danielle Green, who said “Four wheel driving is a fantastic way to see the great outdoors and Victoria has some of the most stunning four wheel driving opportunities available anywhere in Australia”. She also described herself as a 4WD enthusiast, so I asked if she’d be interviewed on that basis somewhere deep in the bush, just as we did with Ricky Muir last weekend. She said yes, so watch this space!
Disclosure: Robert Pepper is an active club member of 4WD Victoria, involved in driver training, and has contributed to the official Parks Victoria / 4WD Victoria booklet Discover Four Wheel Driving.