New waterfront camping laws will go ahead, but just how is yet to be decided

Following confusion surrounding the rollout of the state government’s new crown land camping laws, which will allow camping on land licensed to farmers for grazing, the state government has confirmed the legislation will go ahead, but its drafts were yet to be finalised. Photo: Phil Miller

Sarah Luke

THE state government has confirmed it still plans to allow camping on waterfronts licensed to farmers for grazing, but said details were still being finalised, and an announcement on how they will be enforced was imminent.
The confirmation follows an article recently published in the Weekly Times, which reported “two industry stakeholder groups” told the newspaper the government had opted to open up “25 pilot sites” instead.
The laws will allow campers to light fires and camp for 28 consecutive days 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 regulations are slated to begin from September 1.
A government spokesperson did not answer the Gippsland Times’ questions about whether a state-wide rollout would be substituted by pilot sites come September, but did say the government would deliver on the election commitment which was “welcomed by more than 800,000 fishers and campers”.
“The draft regulations – including how they’re going to be enforced – are still being finalised and we will have more to say soon,” the spokesperson said.
“The government is delivering on the election commitment to make more water frontage land available for all to enjoy through fishing and camping — any suggestion that we aren’t is misleading.”
The government maintains its regulations will require campers to behave appropriately and in a way which protects the environment, the interests of licence holders and adjoining landowners and Aboriginal cultural heritage sites and values.
Victorian Fisheries Authority will prosecute people who disregard the laws, operating a 24-hour hotline for reporting misconduct and working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Parks Victoria and Victoria Police to enforce the regulations.
While public consultation has finished, the government said it was still engaging with key stakeholders, including fishing, agriculture, environmental and traditional owner groups.
The Victorian Farmers Federation has called on the government to establish a dedicated stakeholder reference group to advise on the regulations’ implementation.
VFF president Emma Germano said farmers and the environment would be significantly affected by the camping regulations set to come into force in just over a month’s time, and it was only fair those affected had their voices heard.
“The Victorian government should have by now provided an official response to key stakeholder concerns and we remain hopeful that they will listen to the issues raised by the community,” Ms Germano said.
The VFF has led recent joint meetings on behalf of stakeholders including Environment Victoria, Landcare Victoria, Rural Councils Victoria, Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria and the Victorian National Parks Association.
“The overwhelming sentiment of those involved in the meetings is that the Victorian government must push back the implementation of the rules, undertake a proper assessment of risks and only proceed with low risk pilot sites, rather than on 17,000km of river frontage,” Ms Germano said.
“A pilot will ensure there is time for the government to conduct an appropriate risk assessment of how these rules will impact agriculture, the environment and make sure the welfare of campers is also considered.”
Last month, a parliamentary hearing revealed 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 be able to obtain adequate insurance.
Following the Weekly Times article, the state opposition claimed a backdown was a win for farmers
and environmental groups such as Landcare,
with shadow environment and climate change
minister Bridget Vallence saying the laws 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.
Victoria’s recreational fishing peak body, VRFish,
called on Ms D’Ambrosio to publicly clarify the
government’s position regarding access to licensed
public land for camping.
VRFish chairman Rob Loats said the article
was extremely concerning, and breaking access
improvement promises to recreational fishers and
boaters was not something any government should
entertain.
“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,” he said.