THE SMOKING GUN

"There is currently a requirement for commercial operators to obtain a permit to conduct group activities on public land, while no such requirement is placed on other groups. Representatives from the ORC Committee have expressed support for the need for all groups accessing public land to adhere to and be assessed against the same minimum standard of operation." - 'key observation' of the 2001 Strategic Advice Report

Under the Freedom of Information Act we have obtained the 2001 Strategic Advice Report provided by the Outdoor Recreation Centre (ORC) to the Department of Sport and Recreation (DSR), requesting $400,000 to roll out the Adventure Activity Standards (AAS) .

What is most remarkable is that this report contains the genesis of the contentious aspects of both the Adventure Activity Standards and the Licence Reform Project/Nine Point Plan.

Why worry about a 2001 document?

You might recall that we were long in pursuit of the documented aims of the AAS. But we have established that there aren't any, which is why the ORC can morph them into anything that suits any opposing argument.

But we have continued to seek supporting documentation that would shed light on the reasons that the AAS were funded. Critically, we sought the report of the publicly funded AAS Pilot Project that was supposed to include a survey of similar schemes here and possibly overseas. It was reasonable to expect that it would contain some critical assessment and the justification for rolling out the project. The 2001 Strategic Advice Report includes that report and the study in question.

This Strategic Advice Report, prepared by the ORC, includes:

1. Not one whit of critical analysis of the need, efficacy or risks of such a scheme of standards.

2. A "survey", that concluded that minimum activity standards do not exist anywhere else. The fact that no minimum activity standards could be found anywhere is used as the major justification for creating them. That there might be very good reasons for their non-existence was not considered.

3. This quote: "The Outdoor Recreation Centre –Victoria Inc was formed in 1986, making it the earliest established State Outdoor Recreation peak agency in existence in Australia." This is utterly false. The ORC was established in 1986, but as a shared secretarial resource, most definitely not as a peak agency.

4. A flimsy report on the MAS pilot project, which produced AAS (then known as MAS) for River Rafting and Caving. Release of the MAS themselves was refused to us under our FOI, because "it would not be in the public interest".  Yet somehow this same material was used to justify additional funding to the tune of an extra $180,000 for the next two stages.

5. This quote:

“It was appropriate for the ORC to limit the degree of consultation with industry during the pilot project, as the outcomes were not known and we wished to avoid raising unrealistic expectations within the industry.”

So, despite all the claims now of consultation, the ORC is reporting that the industry, and everyone else, was kept in the dark, deliberately, about its plans for the AAS, until after it had got its money. That goes some way to explain why most of us had not heard of the AAS until 2002 or 2003 when it was, as the ORC likes to say, "a fait accompli".

6. A one word reference to insurance among a string of unsupported assertions about safety. This is more or less consistent with the ORC's March 2004 position that the AAS "has nothing to do with insurance".

7. And, the Smoking Gun. The central problem we have identified with the AAS turns out to be a "key" basis upon which funding was sought:

“There is currently a requirement for commercial operators to obtain a permit to conduct group activities on public land, while no such requirement is placed on other groups. Representatives from the ORC Committee have expressed support for the need for all groups accessing public land to adhere to and be assessed against the same minimum standard of operation.”

Conclusion:

The "Strategic Advice Report" supports the view we had already formed, that the AAS concept is poorly conceived and researched. It was designed to achieve objectives which differ from the purpose of the funding (to address a commercial insurance issue according to internal memos that we have obtained).