Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019
I rise to speak on the Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. This bill relates to the management of Crown land—that is, government-owned land in Victoria. It proposes to do a few things, some of which are good and others that have raised concerns from the community. One of the good things this bill does is create the Yallock-Bulluk Marine and Coastal Park on the Bass Coast, a beautiful stretch of coast between San Remo and Inverloch. This is a good initiative and one the Greens support. It is great to see new funding put into this area so more people can benefit from improved walking tracks and enjoy the area’s pristine beaches. I look forward to seeing the additional land purchased to make this park a reality. The bill also adds two important national parks, the Errinundra and Great Otway national parks, and creates new reserves. I am also excited to see it create the Yellingbo Landscape Conservation Area, home to our beautiful and threatened helmeted honeyeater. We are so lucky to have beautiful natural places and wildlife in Victoria, and I am sure that I am not alone in being excited about getting out and about after the year we have had.
However, in having such a beautiful state at our doorstep the Greens and I are incredibly mindful of our responsibility to care for our special places, especially our rivers. One aspect of this bill which has attracted significant attention is the move to enable camping on licensed riverfrontages. This is a commitment that the Andrews Labor government gave at the 2018 election in response to lobbying from the Victorian recreational fishing lobby group. It is one of many commitments this government has given to fishers and hunters in Victoria. In speaking on this aspect of the bill, I want to make one thing about the Greens position about nature and camping really clear. We absolutely support people having access to nature and being able to get out and enjoy our beautiful state. We want to see more people enjoying and connecting with nature, whether it is walking, camping, birdwatching, canoeing or other activities that engage with nature but do not destroy it. However, we are very concerned about this plan the government is trying to rush through the Parliament to enable camping in many new areas along Victorian rivers, without it seems having properly thought it through.
Over the past few weeks my office has been inundated by local landowners, residents, Landcare groups and others incredibly concerned about the potential impacts of this change. On Monday my team put out a survey asking for the community’s views ahead of this debate today. In less than three days more than 900 people had filled in this survey. Of the people who have responded, 60 per cent do not want these changes to pass, 10 per cent do support them and the remaining 30 per cent say it depends on where and how the camping is managed. The response to our survey shows that people want to have a say and to be heard, and it is incredibly disappointing that the Labor government has not consulted with them and is rushing through the change in law before starting a process of consultation.
People who have contacted my team and completed the survey are, like the Greens, supportive of people enjoying nature and our rivers. Many of them have let us know that they are already happy to see people going fishing and walking along our rivers, and many of them even indicated their support for camping, provided it is in appropriate places and appropriately managed. Yet overwhelmingly what we are hearing is that they are incredibly disappointed, upset and angry that the government has not consulted with them or thought through the real-world implications of these changes.
Let me just list some of the issues raised by more than 800 people who have contacted us: fire risks from escaped camp fires; impacts on trees and vegetation, especially where efforts have been made by dedicated Landcare volunteers to restore riversides; noise and safety; shooting and impacts on wildlife; rubbish left behind; lack of toilets and risk to water quality; impacts on stock; introduction of weeds; and biosecurity concerns. There are many legitimate questions people have asked, such as: what is the blanket rule? Why isn’t the government identifying and setting up appropriate camp sites properly? What about the impact on businesses like regional accommodation and caravan parks, who have already been hit hard by the pandemic? Why isn’t the government focusing on existing areas of camping and improving those instead? And who do people go to if something does go wrong? Will extra rangers be created to manage all this new camping? For some weeks we have been contacting the government to try and have many of these very valid concerns answered and addressed.
It is disappointing that we have not had adequate responses from the government to these questions from the community and that the government is instead trying to rush this change through the Parliament. Only yesterday did the government finally acknowledge the ridiculousness of making this significant change on 1 December this year. I note they will be moving an amendment to delay it until September next year. However, today we are being asked to vote on this change with absolutely no detail but with the assurance that the government will sort that all out between now and September next year apparently. Well, I really do not feel that is acceptable. In recognition of the significant concern from the community and many, many questions that remain unanswered, I will be moving a reasoned amendment to this bill. I am happy for that to be circulated now. I move:
That all words and expressions after ‘this bill’ be omitted and the following inserted in their place:
‘be refused to be read a second time until the government has:
(1) undertaken comprehensive consultation with landowners, local communities, Landcare groups and other Victorians potentially impacted by the proposal to enable camping on Crown land riverfrontages;
(2) drafted and consulted a set of regulations outlining:
(a) areas that are included and excluded from camping;
(b) how camping will be regulated;
(c) the risks to biodiversity, biosecurity, water quality, fire and safety; and
(d) other relevant matters identified during consultation.’.
We believe that this bill should be delayed until the Labor government have done their homework, consulted with the community and shown us in detail how this new camping will work so that everyone here can make an informed vote. On the amendments circulated by the opposition, we are sympathetic to what they are attempting to do with these amendments in finding a way forward. However, we will not be supporting the substantive amendment. We have been contacted by landowners concerned the amendments would create an unreasonable responsibility on them to police the activities and are concerned about the potential for conflict. As I said, we believe the best thing is for the government to hold off, get it right in the first place, talk to landowners and then pass the legislation.