FARMERS who own or lease land with river frontage have had a win of sorts this week.
But the fight to protect their properties from farm trespass, fires and other environmental damage caused by unwanted campers is not over.
The State Government announced this week that they are looking at 27 sites along the Goulburn, Broken, Ovens, Campaspe, Loddon and Murray Rivers as possibly being suitable for public camping from as early as September 1 this year.
But in so doing, Minister Lily D’Ambrosio indicated there could be hundreds more sites to follow.
“We’re reviewing potential sites to ensure environmental and agricultural concerns are considered and we’re partnering with Traditional Owners to ensure Aboriginal cultural heritage is protected,” Ms D’Ambrosio said, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change.
“We’re striking the right balance to make sure riverside public land is protected for generations to come,” she said.
But local MP, Melina Bath, has called on the Andrews Government to take the opportunity of pausing its “open slather” approach to camping on licensed river frontage by reopening consultation with stakeholders.
“Following a significant push back from many parts of the community, Labor is investigating 27 pilot sites along licenced river frontages, however it is imperative that farmers, Traditional Owners and Landcare groups be involved in the planning process,” said Ms Bath.
“These groups must have input in the site selection criteria, in who and how camping sites will be monitored and what resources will be allocated for monitoring and enforcement.
“It’s abundantly clear that the regulations will not be finalised by the flagged date of September 1, therefore the Andrews Government must delay camping on licenced river frontages until farmers, Traditional Owners and Landcare groups have reached common agreement with government.
“The multitude of valid concerns raised on biosecurity, farm trespass, public liability, waste management, bushfire risk and environmental degradation must be addressed.”
Ms Bath said Victoria has over 17,000 kilometres of licensed river frontage and the State Government’s plan to open it all up for camping was “environmentally irresponsible, unfair and fraught with risk”.
She revealed that at a recent Parliamentary Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), the Andrews Government admitted it had not provided any additional funding in this year’s State Budget to enforce its new camping regulations, before also acknowledging it had in fact cut 15 per cent from the Environment and Biodiversity budget.
Ms Bath said The Nationals actively support recreation and camping on public land, but there must be resources and laws to manage and safeguard it to protect farmers, campers and habitat.
“The draft regulations left Victorian farmers incensed when the Andrews Government made licensees responsible for managing campers who could light fires, defecate and stay for 28 days; all within 100 metres of their homes,” said Ms Bath.
“The government promised landholders powers would be given to Parks Victoria to enforce new offences such as interfering with livestock, damaging wildlife or native vegetation, or polluting the area with waste, but slashed the budget instead.
“While it’s important for Victorians to continue to have the opportunity to fish and camp on public land, The Nationals maintain farmers and habitat shouldn’t be worse off by Labor’s new camping laws.
“Already under resourced, Parks Victoria is struggling to properly manage our current public land. The government must provide adequate resources and address stakeholders’ concerns before introducing new areas.
“Victoria’s agriculture industry is world class and our food and fibre industry need to be supported, not put at risk by Labor’s poorly executed laws.”
The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region Melina Bath has called on the Andrews Government to include comprehensive consultation with stakeholders after it backtracked on its plans to allow camping on licensed river frontage.
Minister for Fishing and Boating Melissa Horne said the government was delivering on a promise to open up more sites for camping alongside the state’s rivers.
“We know Victorians already love to enjoy the outdoors in different ways, including fishing along our beautiful rivers.
“Applying this rigorous assessment process will ensure that people are safe, and our environment is protected,” Minister Horne said.
Bath MLC in parliament
What the Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said in Parliament last week:
Camping Regulation Ms Bath (Eastern Victoria): Labor has backed down on camping on river frontages to instigate 25 pilot sites along licensed river frontages. However, farmers, traditional owners and Landcare groups have the right to be part of this planning of the 25 sites. Stakeholders deserve to have input in relation to selection criteria, who and how camping sites will be monitored, what resources will be allocated and the monitoring and enforcement of these sites. The Andrews government has admitted it failed to provide any additional funding in the state budget this year for the monitoring and enforcement of these camping regulations. On top of that the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change has cut 15 per cent from the environment and biodiversity budget. The government has no plan to support the 10 000 farmers who hold licences to manage the land and who cannot get adequate insurance to cover the increases in pollution, fire risk and biosecurity hazards relating to these new laws. They are rightly concerned about the irrevocable damage to waterways and the environment. Farmers, traditional owners and landowners deserve to be part of the decision-making process on these pilot sites, and with only a few weeks until 1 September I call on the Andrews government to delay the start of camping on river frontages until there is proper consultation in relation to these 25 pilot sites.