Political candidates for South West Coast have criticised an apparent lack of state government support after Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Co-operative announced it was closing the Tower Hill visitor centre to the general public.
"It's extremely disappointing to hear the visitor centre will be closing," Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell said. "This is another example of the current government's mismanagement of Tower Hill, something I have raised in parliament several times over the past couple of years."
A primary reason for the Worn Gundidj board's decision is the upcoming forced closure of the visitor centre while it undergoes major refurbishments under an $11.3 million state government redevelopment of Tower Hill.
Worn Gundidj business development manager Clint Miller said the closure, scheduled for 2023, was unavoidable, but the organisation had run the visitor centre at a significant loss for decades with no assistance from the government.
Mr Miller said Worn Gundidj was merely a tenant, renting the visitor centre building from Parks Victoria. Ms Britnell said that had to change.
"It makes no sense that the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Co-operative has to pay lease fees to Parks Victoria when the government is not committed to proper upkeep of the reserve," she said. "We have a situation where there is only one fulltime park ranger covering a huge region."
Independent candidate for South West Coast Carol Altmann said she was "shocked" Worn Gundidj had no choice but to close the centre.
"This building must remain open to all visitors as it has done for the past 50 years and a simple first step is for it to be provided rent-free to Worn Gundidj which, incredibly, is a 'tenant' of Parks Victoria. Other immediate support should follow," Ms Altmann said.
South West Coast Labor candidate Kylie Gaston said the strong community reaction to the closure announcement showed how much people valued Tower Hill. "I think there's a lot of love for Tower Hill and it needs to be developed very carefully in consultation with the traditional owners," she said.
Ms Gaston said Labor's $11.3m "investment" was the right way to "preserve the cultural importance and great natural beauty" of the park.
Parks Victoria area chief ranger Michael Smith said the agency looked forward to continuing to work with Worn Gundidj, but did not comment on defraying its tenancy costs.
"Proposed designs for the visitor precinct will be shared later in the year. We expect works to start in early 2023, subject to on-ground and construction industry conditions," he said.