Victorian Peak Climbing Body? Have Your Say

Moves are afoot to initiate a climbing peak body in Victoria. Sport Climbing Victoria (SCV) in conjunction with Outdoors Victoria (OV), and with support from Sport & Recreation Victoria, has just released a draft report investigating the options for the form the peak body may take. We speak to Phil Goebel from Sport Climbing Victoria, and Andrew Knight and Chris Ali from Outdoors Victoria about the report and its recommendations, and how climbers can give their feedback.

Why does Victoria need a climbing peak body?
Participation in climbing has grown substantially in recent years and this growth has not been met with proportional industry development, support and investment to ensure this growth happens positively. We have so far been ineffective in mobilising the necessary community investments into climbing to better develop the human resource and infrastructure capability and capacity so that we can proactively address issues, rather than respond to crises. The creation of a climbing peak body focused on outdoor recreational climbing is needed to make the case to all Victorians that climbing has benefits for communities, that it is a sport and recreation for everyone and that it can be conducted in a responsible way that mitigates impact. No one is currently making this case to all Victorians.

What are the main benefits of having a professional peak body with paid staff rather than volunteers?
The development of climbing in Victoria has so far been dependent on passionate, engaged and highly motivated volunteers. It’s incredible the amount of good work that is done by these volunteers and this work can be amplified by professional staff working full time to accomplish the shared goals of the climbing community. Some of the things that will improve will be: consistent progress on projects and timely execution on priorities, a large span of business hours to meet and work with external stakeholders, institutional memory so that vital knowledge and relationships aren’t easily lost and the ability to fill skill gaps that are missing in our volunteer pools.

Can you outline the options looked at in your report for what form the peak body would take?
Four implementation options were evaluated:

Option 1: Create a de facto climbing peak body within Outdoors Victoria (OV);

Option 2: Restructure the existing Sport Climbing Victoria (SCV) to include outdoor recreational climbing;

Option 3: Create a new organisation as the Victorian climbing peak body;

Option 4: Maintain the current status quo (do not set up anything new).

Can you outline the main reasons why the report recommends Outdoor Victoria becoming the peak body for recreational climbers?
A complete evaluation of the options can be read in the report, but I think there are three big reasons to highlight:

  1. OV’s track record in effective advocacy for outdoor recreation, which has resulted in policy change.
  2. The ability to hit the ground running in supporting the climbing community quickly by leveraging existing relationships with key stakeholders and utilising resources already setup.
  3. OV can serve as an incubator for a climbing peak body that could become more independent over time. This then does not preclude other implementation options in the future. OV has a history of performing this incubator function.

Who put the report together?
This project is being completed as a partnership between OV and SCV, supported by Sport and Recreation Victoria. Andrew Knight (CEO of OV), Philip Goebel (Chair of SCV) and the Climbing Development Officer – a role co-sponsored by OV and SCV, have been the major contributors to the report.

Can you outline what Outdoors Victoria currently does and some of its successes in advocating for outdoor recreation?
OV is the recognised peak umbrella body for all outdoor activities in Victoria. OV’s purpose is to build a valued and sustainable outdoor sector for the benefit of the community and natural environment by enhancing, connecting, and advocating on behalf of professionals and businesses in outdoor education, outdoor recreation, state activity peaks, Bush Adventure Therapists and nature-based tourism businesses and organisations.

OV has a history of creating and hosting initiatives such as the Nature Stewards program where a need has been identified by established conservation organisations, OV was chosen as the host, with the end goal of the program being to become independent. A peak body for climbing in Victoria could work in a similar way. 

Some examples of where OV has supported the outdoor recreation community are having a Bill paused and amended before reaching the Victorian Upper House that would have had devastating consequences for the canoe and kayak guiding industry and schools. More recently OV has been significantly involved in working with other peak bodies and government in the decisions to allow schools to return to camps and outdoor activity excursions, in line with the return to onsite learning after the lockdowns in Victoria devastated the outdoor recreation industry.

What will be the relationship between the existing climbing representative bodies and OV?
At this stage housing a de facto peak body for climbing within Outdoors Victoria is a recommendation and to move forward it needs to be supported by the wider climbing community and be approved by the OV board. 

If that happens, it will be up to individual clubs and organisations as to how much or how little they want to actively engage with a peak body. This could look like anything from just having a formal relationship via affiliate membership in order to be consulted with and provide input to peak body activities, or it could be having a more active role by having representatives sitting in working groups contributing to the day to day activities of the peak body.  

Part of the next step would be for OV to engage with existing climbing clubs and representative organisations, as well as other stakeholder organisations with interest in climbing related activities. Stakeholder organisations would include but not be limited to Licenced Tour Operators, Community Activity Organisations, the ACIA, Registered Training Organisations, Educational Institutions, Traditional Owner Groups and Land managers. 

Who would be realistic targets for membership of the peak body?
Initial target for membership will be climbing organisation affiliation and current members of climbing organisations. However, this represents a small proportion of the total climbers in Victoria. There will likely be a membership structure that enables individuals to become members, which we hope many climbers in Victoria will do. Additionally, potential early activity of a peak body could include support for establishing new local climbing clubs.

How will a peak body speak to the interests of all of the different types of climbers; recreational, outdoor, indoor, competition, guides etc?
The options put forward for a peak body outline a proposed structure that includes the establishment of working groups or sub-committees. These would focus on key issues identified by the Victorian climbing community and would include but not be limited to environmental impact mitigation, diversity and inclusion, access, training, promotion of climbing activities and club support. Working groups would aim to include representatives from existing clubs, organisations and individuals that would bring with them a wealth of experience and history of working within their specific focus areas. This would allow the peak body to complement and support existing initiatives.

Consultation indicated the desire for a peak body not to be involved in indoor and competition climbing, as such Sport Climbing Victoria would remain independent while maintaining a strong formal relationship with the peak body.

There has been some suspicion from the small number of climbers that it’s mainly a funding grab. Secondary to that is the concern that because some money will be government funding, OV will be beholden to the government. How would you respond to those concerns?
Regardless of the model, the report asserted that all money raised to support peak body climbing activities should be used to support climbing in Victoria. Peak bodies are not for profits and there is no incentive to grab funding for the sake of grabbing funding. It would be easier for example, for OV to focus on helping resolve numerous other outdoors sector issues and not help with the complex issues facing the climbing community today, so this suspicion is misplaced and demonstrates little understanding of how the sector operates. Funding from national, state and local governments is dispersed to support the activities of state and national peak bodies because there are aligned objectives, not to keep these organisations beholden to government. The view that every organisation that receives money from the government receives restrictive policy directives is not grounded in reality. The current strategic priorities of Sport & Recreation Victoria include supporting active recreation leading to healthier Victorians, jobs and economic growth, community cohesion and a more livable state. These are objectives the Victorian climbing community can make meaningful contributions towards.

From the outside it appears that the impetus for a peak body has been driven by access issues in Gariwerd/Grampians and Dyurrite/Arapiles, is that a fair assessment?
Yes, that’s a fair assessment. The access issues that have emerged in Western Victoria have been a catalyst for us to reflect on the current state of climbing governance in Victoria and whether we could be doing a better job in working with stakeholders and facilitating the growth and development of climbing in Victoria. However, the issues that a peak body will address are broader than access, we need an organisation that will be proactive in addressing issues before they become a crisis.

Will the establishment of the peak body happen in time to represent climbers in the draft Gariwerd Landscape Management Plan, for which public comment closes for comment in January next year?
No, but OV and SCV will be working in partnership on a submission.

Does Outdoor Victoria have a philosophy that would inform its work on access issues?
Outdoor Victoria actively advocates for the benefits of outdoor recreation to the broader community. A key component of this advocacy is collaboration with all stakeholders. This spirit of collaboration would drive access advocacy work, which will first and foremost bring all stakeholders together, in order to come to mutually beneficial solutions and solve issues sustainably.

Does OV have existing relationships with Traditional Owner groups as they appear to be key in access issues in Western Victoria?
For several years OV has worked with a number of Traditional Owner groups on the Nature Stewards program (local people learning and acting for their local environment). The Traditional Owners have contributed to and reviewed the curriculum, are involved in every Welcome to Country ceremony at each course’s commencement, and they facilitate a cultural awareness and land management day on Country for each course.

Last year’s annual OV conference was themed Diversity, Inclusion and Care in the Outdoors. Half of the Keynote speakers were from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and several played prominent roles across the two-day conference held at Federation University.

As part of the consultation process for the Draft of the Governance Review and Recommendations, OV has engaged with Gariwerd Wimmera Reconciliation Network, which has publicly expressed its support for the peak body concept. OV sees this as a positive step towards engaging in a dialogue with TO groups in Western Victoria to develop a positive and mutually respectful relationship based around listening and learning.

Who or what groups are you hoping will respond to your Climbing Governance draft plan?
We are looking for any and all feedback and constructive criticism from all climbers and associated stakeholders in Victoria.

What is the process of deciding how it will go ahead and who makes that decision?
Ultimately, the success of any initiative to improve the governance of climbing in Victoria will lie with every member of the climbing community through thoughtful and careful engagement in existing and new Victorian climbing organisations. The finalisation of this document, its recommendations and the subsequent action plan will lie with the board of directors of OV and SCV based on all feedback and the entire consultation process that has underpinned this project.

What is the timeline for responding to the draft and what are the milestones in terms of what will happen when?
The feedback survey closes on the 13th of December 2020. The feedback received will then be analysed and considered before finalising the Governance Review and Recommendations document. Once the document has been finalised we will then create an action plan for the creation of a peak body for recreational climbing in Victoria. We expect this to be ready and available for release in February 2021. 

Can you tell us about OV and its history and achievements? 
Outdoors Victoria has been the peak body for outdoor activities in Victoria for eight years when it was formed as a culmination of the long standing bodies of the Victorian Outdoor Education Association (VOEA) and the Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC). OV exists to support the community, to advocate the benefits of outdoor activity to the broader community.

OV’s purpose is to build a valued and sustainable outdoor sector for the benefit of the community and natural environment by enhancing, connecting and advocating on behalf of outdoor education, outdoor recreation, outdoor therapy and nature based tourism.

We outlined in a previous question some of the advocacy achievements OV have had working with the government to enact change that supported and benefited the outdoor sectors and the wider community. Some other achievements of OV have been:

  • The launch of the first ‘careers in the outdoors day’ for Victorian school students. 
  • Ongoing work on the Australian Adventure Activity Standards (Aust. AAS) of which climbing and other roped activities are a major part. 
  • Facilitation of the annual Education Outdoors Conference 
  • Work on the review on the Department of Education and Training Safety Guidelines for Education Outdoors (SGEO).

How is OV currently funded? And how would this climbing peak body that sits within OV be funded as part of that?
OV’s funding follows a similar model to most other peak bodies in Victoria and is made up of a combination of Affiliate Membership Support, Key Supporter Sponsorship, event revenue and funding to complete projects from a number of federal, state and local government agencies.

As is outlined in the draft document, OV would need the financial support of the climbing community, clubs and organisations through a climbing affiliate membership in order to move forward with option 1. While this would still leave a shortfall, OV is currently working with supporters of the concept of a climbing peak body to make up this shortfall to ensure the de facto peak body is sufficiently resourced in order to best represent the climbing community.

Where can climbers find the survey so that they can respond to the report?
A link to the online survey can be found at the end of the document on Page 39. The link is a QR code that can be scanned with a mobile device. The Survey questions are designed to gauge the level of support for the recommendations put forward in the document from individuals in the Victorian climbing community. It takes less than five minutes to provide a response.

You can read the report here and more information and a timeline on Outdoors Victoria’s website

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