Coastcare volunteer Nick Glover (front) and Warrnambool residents are concerned about cuts to the program that helps conserve their beaches. Photo: Robert Gunstone
ENVIRONMENTAL experts looking after Victoria's endangered species and organising Coastcare volunteers are being shed as the state government's cuts to the public service bite.
Department of Sustainability and Environment staff have been told contracted positions will not be renewed unless senior managers intervene.
Jobs set to go so far include Coastcare facilitators in Victoria's south-west who help organise hundreds of volunteers doing unpaid conservation work on popular beaches along the Great Ocean Road and further west to the South Australian border.
Six scientists at the state's biodiversity research agency - the Arthur Rylah Institute - working on vegetation mapping, threatened species and the health of the Murray-Darling, were also told this week their contracts would not be renewed.
Volunteers are now protesting the loss of Coastcare organisers - with contracts to end on June 30 - which they say are the kind of front-line jobs the government says it will shield from the public service cuts.
Lou Hollis, a Killarney Coastcare volunteer, told The Saturday Age the group would have to scale back its work if it could not get support. ''Most volunteer groups rely on having somebody to access to help with projects and funding opportunities,'' she said. ''By taking away the facilitator it shows the government has a total disregard for volunteers in the community.''
Kristie King, a volunteer with Warrnambool Coastcare, said the decision to cut the facilitator was indiscriminate and would put undue pressure on volunteers to pick up the slack.
''Without access to a facilitator we are fearful we are going to see widespread volunteer burnout as they have take on more administration,'' she said.
Victorian National Parks Association said there was a general trend under the Baillieu government to walk away from programs protecting the state's unique environment.
''When that happens volunteers are left holding the ball,'' the association's executive director, Matt Ruchel, said.
Last month the ABC reported 10 threatened species officers, also in the state's south-west, had been cut, including experts on threatened orchids and the brush-tailed rock wallaby. It is believed staff looking after red-tailed black cockatoos, the orange-bellied parrots, wetlands, and swamp-scrub vegetation communities, will also be lost.
In December the government said it would slash 3600 jobs from the public service, which it says will help keep the state budget in the black.
The public sector union estimates the loss of about 200 jobs in the Environment Department, a figure the government disputes. The union says the Arthur Rylah Institute has up to 35 people on contracted and casual positions who are under threat. Parks Victoria, the Environment Protection Authority, and Sustainability Victoria will also suffer job cuts.
A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Ryan Smith said cuts to public service staffing would not apply to ''front-line service delivery roles'' and exemptions would also be made for specialist support staff.
''The measures announced include the lapsing of some fixed-term positions, these positions will be considered as they are due to expire and staff will be advised if the contract will be renewed at that time,'' she said.