River frontage camping laws reported backdown

The Thomson River. Photo: Phil Miller

THE state opposition is celebrating after media reports leaked the state government has backed down on its proposed legislation to allow camping on licenced river frontages.
Last Friday, the Weekly Times published an article asserting the government had dropped its election commitment to allow camping and campfires on 17,000 kilometres of river frontages licensed to farmers from September this year, prompting proponents of the legislation to ask for clarification.
The article cited “two industry stakeholder groups”, which told the newspaper the government had opted to open up “25 pilot sites” instead.
The laws would allow campers to light fires and camp for 28 days straight within 200 metres from farmers’ homes, collect half a cubic metre of firewood per day (despite farmers not being able to collect firewood themselves on the same land) and in some instances, void farmers’ insurance policies given the risk of biosecurity hazards, pollution and fire.
The news of a reported “backflip” follows last month’s parliamentary hearing discovering the government failed to provide any funding in the 2021-22 state budget to monitor and enforce its new camping regulations, instead cutting 15 per cent from the environment and biodiversity budget.
During the hearings, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio confirmed there was also no plan to support 10,000 farmers holding state-issued licenses to use the land who could no longer obtain adequate insurance.
The opposition claims the backdown is a win for farmers and environmental groups such as Landcare, which also slammed the government for ramming through its new laws without consultation.
The opposition claimed the government “ganged up with the crossbench to ram through these poorly-planned laws, arrogantly ignoring genuine concerns of farmers and environmentalists”.
But following pressure from farmers, environmental groups such as Landcare, and Liberal and Nationals MPs, it says the government has admitted its new laws were flawed.
Shadow environment and climate change minister Bridget Vallence said the lawns were “botched from the start”.
“Whilst we support more opportunities for recreation on public land, there must also be strong safeguards that protect people, our native environment and wildlife, and farms,” she said.
“It’s clear that Daniel Andrews and Labor have failed to get the balance right with their waterfront camping regulations and have no plan to protect Victoria’s environment.”
On Friday, Victoria’s recreational fishing peak body, VRFish, called Ms D’Ambrosio to publicly clarify the government’s position regarding access to licensed public land for camping.
VRFish chairman Rob Loats said the body’s expectation with the passing of the Land Act amendment to allow for camping under regulations was that improved access to public land would be the outcome.
“Breaking access improvement promises to recreational fishers and boaters is not something any government should entertain,” he said.
“This Weekly Times article is extremely concerning to the peak body and hundreds of thousands of recreational fishers.
“It would be good if Minister D’Ambrosio could also explain why public roads under unused road licences, that lead to crown water frontages, are currently being closed hand over fist, and what the Andrews Labor Government intends to do about this urgent issue.”river