An Eminent Panel will lead conversations with Traditional Owners and the community

An Eminent Panel for Community Engagement will lead conversations with the Victorian community, and will include formal representation from Traditional Owner Corporations

The panel includes people with strong standing in the community and experience.

Formal representation from Traditional Owner Corporations on the panel is a critical step towards self-determination.

State recognised Traditional Owner groups with interests in specific Immediate Protection Areas will be asked to nominate members for appointment to the Eminent Panel for each region at the outset of each engagement.

This new governance model was developed in partnership with Traditional Owner Corporations and supports self-determination

The panel’s terms of reference

The panel is required to produce written reports for each of the:An overview of the panel's processes

  • Immediate Protection Areas in the Strathbogie Ranges and Mirboo North, and
  • State forests in eastern Victoria including Immediate Protection Areas in East Gippsland and Central Highlands

Each report will provide advice and recommendations to the Minister for Energy Environment and Climate Change. This may include land classification of State Forest, permissible uses in those areas and proposed timing for the advice and recommendations to occur.

Advice and recommendations will be formed after listening to communities and stakeholders. This includes for future forest uses, access and protections.

In its work, the panel will consider:

  • findings of scientific assessments of the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council
  • opportunities for management of public land by Traditional Owners, and managing to cultural values
  • environmental protections including protecting habitat and for biodiversity
  • the potential for cultural overlays
  • commitments of the Victorian Forestry Plan and other key policy
  • providing for the wide range of community uses of forest areas

The panel’s recommendations and advice will support Aboriginal self-determination. This includes acknowledgement of Traditional Owner rights, interests and aspirations for these forests and lands, and enabling Free, Prior and Informed Consent which may occur outside the community engagement period.

Panel members

Karen Cain (Chairperson)

Karen CainKaren has significant senior experience working across government, leading strategic innovation, and developing and implementing policy in the public sector.

Karen’s career in education as a teacher, principal and senior public sector manager in two states, Victoria and Tasmania, led to experience in working across communities to link and to build partnerships that harness capacity and growth.

These roles, particularly in regional areas, has led to a strong understanding and commitment to role of the public sector based on system leadership practice that involves and benefits those that it serves.

Her experience in developing and delivering on issues that reflect what matters to community and government led to her appointment as Chief Executive Officer at the Latrobe Valley Authority, which she held from April 2017 to December 2021.

As CEO she led industry and community transition across the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland and contributed to state and national transition debate, practice and policy.

In addition, as Director Community Transition Forestry with the Department of Jobs Precincts and Regions for two years, Karen successfully led engagement with communities across Victoria as part of the Victorian Forestry Plan implementation.

Karen is a fellow of Leadership Victoria’s Williamson Community Leadership Program and was also a member of the Gippsland Regional Managers Forum for six years.

She was awarded the Institute for Public Administration Australia Victorian Top 50 Public Sector Women Award in 2018.

Melissa Wood Chairperson of VEAC

Melissa WoodMellissa Wood has over 30 years’ experience in leading and providing scientific and strategic advice on sustainable development; resource and environmental management; food, land and water systems; and their interconnectedness. She has held senior leadership positions with the Australian Government and internationally, including UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and CGIAR. Her international expertise covers Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, SE Asia and the Pacific.

Mellissa has extensive domestic and international public sector governance experience. She recently moved to Victoria after retiring as General Manager, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and as member of CGIAR’s System Council and System Management Board and Chair of Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes (APAARI). She was Director of the Australian International Food Security Centre (2015-2012), worked at the FAO, Rome as a Director, Global Crop Diversity Trust (2012-2007) and spent 15 years at the Bureau of Rural Sciences, Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries providing scientific advice to support natural resource management decision-making.

Mellissa holds a Master of Public Policy (Development Policy) from Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Bachelor of Science (Resource and Environmental Management) from the Australian National University and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD).
Mellissa is a Visiting Scientist CSIRO, Food Systems and Global Change, Expert Evaluator for the international AGFUND, Independent Advisor, University of Queensland and a member of international and domestic Advisory and Steering Committees, including the Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Reference Group.

Nicola Pero – Chief Executive Officer at Food & Fibre Gippsland

Nicola PeroWith previous private, public, not-for-profit, and Government experience, Nicola has a comprehensive background in stakeholder engagement and management. Her global leadership and strategic expertise comes from executive roles across multiple continents in economic and community development, visitor economy, education, complemented by double Masters degrees and Lean Six Sigma qualifications.

Nicola brings connectivity from across the Gippsland region, sitting on multiple industry sector Boards and Committees and as the CEO of Food & Fibre Gippsland. She is experienced in methodologies that support and nurture collaboration and innovation including Smart Specialisation, circular economy engagement, and clustering, using quadruple helix contribution of industry, community, Government, and academia.

Consistently drawn to not for profit sectors, Nicola is committed to systems of collective critical inquiry and reflection to drive strong communities of practice for enhancing regional strengths and outcomes.

Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation nominee - Lisa HockingPanel member Lisa Hocking

Lisa is the nominee of Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Council, and will represent the group for matters affecting Gunaikurnai Country, including Mirboo North and the Central Highlands Immediate Protection Areas.

Lisa is a public affairs professional with more than three decades’ experience in government relations, issues management, corporate and social responsibility, policy advocacy and strategic communication. Lisa joined the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation in the inaugural role of Policy and Program Manager to facilitate positive outcomes for People and Country. Prior, Lisa worked with the Victorian Government as a strategic advisor, most recently as part of Victoria’s response to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan including working with First Peoples Nations to give voice to Nation objectives and desired outcomes for water.

Taungurung Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation nominee - Mike NursePanel member Mike Nurse

Mike is the nominee of Taungurung Land and Waters Council, and will represent the group for matters affecting Taungurung Country, including the Strathbogie Ranges and the Central Highlands Immediate Protection Areas.

Mike is Director, Cultural and Natural Resource Management Policy and Programs. In this role, he develops and manages TLaWC’s Cultural and Natural Resource Management policy and program agenda through a range of strategies and partnerships to support Taungurung community cultural objectives and strategic priorities in land management.

Mike is a community livelihoods and natural resource management specialist with over 30 years’ experience in Indigenous and local community led natural resource management in temperate and tropical Australia, the Pacific, South and South East Asia, Central and Eastern Africa and Latin America.

Mike has experience of working for a cross section of NGOs, the private sector and government.

Page last updated: 08/08/22