Agitating for change

As somebody who enjoys photography as a pastime, and because my wife has launched a wedding and portrait photography business, the increasing number of restrictions being placed on photographers are becoming an increasing annoyance and concern.  Photographers should not have to pay for access to areas to which the general public have access.  One example is where bodies, such as Parks Victoria insist on small scale landscape photographers paying for permits.  Parks Victoria are currently in the process of revising their permit regulations.  It will be interesting to see whether I get any response to my email to David Petty at Parks Victoria:

Dear David,

I am writing to in connection with the the filming and photography policies of Parks Victoria. What is a concern to me is the nature of the policies which are outlined on the Parks Victoria website at, outlining the restrictions, which Parks Victoria places on small scale landscape photographers, engaging in landscape photography.

While there is no doubt that there is a need to ensure that large scale productions, which employ production crews, or parties wishing to access sensitive wilderness areas do not have an adverse impact on the sensitive areas under management by Parks Victoria, it is a grave concern to me that any restrictions should be placed on photographers, whether acting for monetary gain or not, who have no more impact than any member of the general public.

It is my understanding that Parks Victoria is in the process of revising its policies for photography and filming. I would thus like to raise a number of concerns which I have with respect to the current policies.

Firstly, I believe it is necessary to ensure that any policies with respect to photography be aligned with the broader context of the right of individuals to express themselves, hold opinions and disseminate information freely. Australia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 of the Covenant states that: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”. Similar rights are enshrined in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. Any policies, with respect to photography and filming should thus ensure that the rights of individuals to express themselves through art or otherwise are not impinged upon.

I would like to note at this point that there should not be a distinction made as to whether or not a person receives any financial compensation in regard of any images or artist work which they produce. To discriminate in this respect would create a situation where the freedom of individuals to express themselves is restricted by preventing them from freely covering the costs of the creation of any image or other work. Photographers engaging in speculative work, without a specific commission or paid brief may in fact often not receive any compensation for one or more photos. In fact for stock photographers, often only a small percentage of images submitted to stock photography libraries ever generate any revenues. Emerging photographers, who are starting to build a portfolio, typically do not have the funds to justify the expense of photography permits. It should thus become clear how the imposition of permit fees on small-scale landscape photographers becomes an obstacle which stands in the way of their ability to freely express themselves.

Small-scale professional landscape photographers largely use cameras which are not appreciably different from the cameras used by amateur enthusiasts. Thus, there is also no reason to discriminate against professional landscape photographers, since their impact on a park area is no greater than that of any other member of the public with a camera.

The restrictions currently placed by Parks Victoria on the “publication or public display” of photos taken within the areas managed by Parks Victoria are also discriminatory and unworkable. Increasingly, it has become the norm for amateur photographers to display their work in public for a such as facebook and flickr. Neither this kind of display of photographs nor any traditional exhibition of photos should be restricted by a permit system, since this impinges on the rights of individuals to freely express themselves.

Permits for photography and filming should ultimately only be required for the purpose of:

  • providing access to Parks Victoria staff which is generally not afforded to the general public;
  • obtaining access to parks outside normal opening times;
  • obtaining access to wilderness areas not open to the general public; and
  • managing the impact of large scale shoots involving production crews, temporary structures or several vehicles.

The relationship between Parks Victoria and photographers should be a symbiotic one. World wide, photographers have played a crucial role in promoting the need for the conservation of natural biodiversity. One need only think of the works of Ansel Adams to consider how the general public can be enthused to support national parks and conservation. It should be remembered that in the USA, small scale landscape photographers have the right to work in national parks without the burden of having to obtain any permits. This approach encourages the proliferation of images of iconic locations such as Yosemite, enthusing the general public about conservation and creating greater awareness amongst potential visitors, who bring much-needed economic activity to the communities in the immediate vicinity of national parks.

Given the current context in which the regulations for photography permits in Victorian parks are being revised, I trust that you will give careful consideration to revising and relaxing the current restrictions placed on photographers. I believe that a less restrictive regime with respect to permits for low impact photographers, whether commercial or otherwise only serves to benefit Parks Victoria and the tourism industry in Victoria by encouraging photographers to promote the scenic beauty of our parks more widely.

I look forward to obtaining more information regarding your progress in revising the guidelines for photography and filming in Victorian parks. I trust you will also favourably consider implementing a system which will ultimately result in a more fair dispensation for photographers.


Geoff Rehmet,


  1. Geoff October 18, 2010 at 9:57 am #


    to date I have found that it appears to be an Australia-wide problem of people being quite comfortable giving up their civil liberties. The bizarre nature of this became only too clear in an incident where some German friends of our were accosted by AFP officers at Brisbane airport for drinking alcohol outside a designated area. The way in which they were treated was incomprehensible to Germans, who are unused to being treated with such disrespect by police, and who also do not have the same pathological relationship to alcohol, which many Australians have.
    Another bizarre example is in the “move on” laws which exist across Australia. I have not seen anything so arbitrary or totalitarian since growing up in apartheid South Africa, where the police were very unambiguously an instrument of enforcing the will of the regime.

  2. Chris Tangey October 18, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Geoff, you may have seen the article in today’s Age
    (and throughout Australia in Fairfax Publications) touching on the Vic. National Park issue and others. Below is the post I would have made if the %$#%$%$
    Age website would let me, after several hours I gave up. Also I note, unlike some others fighting the fight,
    you include filmmakers. I believe Photographers should ALWAYS include your natural ally in all this, and vice versa. We need all the support we can get and leaving out at least half of your potential support base is seriously counter productive. OK, Arts Freedom Australia?

    Here’s the response I couldn’t give:

    “One of the reasons I left Victoria decades ago was my perception that that state was not just losing personal freedoms but that Victorians actually wanted things that way. Is this a crack in that “groupthink” mentality?

    Regardless Victorians are not alone with these sorts of restrictions. Geoff mentions Uluru, let me tell you a little story about that place, whose “Ulurules” are more akin to North Korea than outback Australia.

    I run a media production and service company in Alice Springs and can verify that more than 80% of all filming permits are refused at Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park due to a mind-numbing bureaucracy . Recent filming refusals include the Royal Ballet, BBC Natural History Unit and BBC Science. One of their Lawyers sent me a threatening letter to remove an image of Kata Tjuta “place of many heads” from my website as I “wasn’t showing more than 3 heads” and this was “offensive”. All this despite the fact that Google Earth can take you anywhere in the Park you like (including sacred sites) and that 300,000 visitors a year photograph what they like from any angle and post it for all to see on the internet. We have even had a Park Ranger explain to us that they don’t want to promote the Park for tourism and that the “purpose of World heritage areas is to exclude human beings, not to include them”.

    What will get you a criminal record there? (I’m not kidding!)”rolling a stone”, “hindering a Ranger”,”paint an artwork or record sound without a permit”, “break a speed limit”,”give wrong name and address to Ranger” and just to ensure there are no protests allowed “display a sign”. Don’t believe me do you? Download the Maoist-sounding PDF “Uluru Kata-Tjuta knowledge handbook.”