Camping on licensed waterfronts announced for 27 sites so far

A brown, muddy river flows past a lone gum tree in the relaxing, quiet, Australian countryside.

THE state government has announced it is assessing 27 licensed waterfrontage sites for suitability of its new regulations allowing camping on licensed Crown land river frontages, with “hundreds to follow”.
As media reports leaked last month, the state-wide rollout from September 1 has been replaced by pilot sites along the Goulburn, Broken, Ovens, Campaspe, Loddon and Murray rivers.
The government says it is finalising its regulations “following extensive community consultation”, and that camping would only take place on suitable sites determined by “a rigorous assessment process applied to ensure sites will be safe for camping, with environmental and agricultural impacts considered, as well as any impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage”.
The new laws will 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.
Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was reviewing potential sites to ensure environmental, cultural and agricultural concerns were considered.
“We’re striking the right balance to make sure riverside public land is protected for generations to come,” she said.
Fishing and Boating Minister Melissa Horne added the government was delivering on its election promise to open up more sites for camping alongside rivers.
“Applying this rigorous assessment process will ensure that people are safe, and our environment is protected,” she said.
More than 1100 submissions were received during consultation on the draft regulations.
The government says its final regulations will reflect the “expectations of the entire community, providing a fair balance between providing opportunities for recreation while ensuring the environment and Aboriginal cultural heritage are protected and the interests of adjoining landowners and licence holders are considered”.
The regulations will be enforced by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victorian Fisheries Authority and Parks Victoria to ensure the protection of the environment, Aboriginal cultural heritage and the interests of recreational users, licensees and adjoining landowners are considered.
The public can already lawfully access licensed river frontages for recreation such as fishing, hiking and picnicking, but the addition of camping has been slammed by farmers, environmental groups such as Landcare, and the opposition.
Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano described the announcement as “a positive step forward”, but was concerned farmers were in the dark until further information was released ahead of the implementation of the regulations on September 1.
“Ensuring camping is only permitted on appropriate sites and agricultural impacts are considered is a step in the right direction and recognises the potential impact of this change on agriculture,” she said.
“It’s pleasing to see the enormous efforts and hard work of not only farmers, but all impacted stakeholders is beginning to pay off.
“Now we need to see the detail on the actual rules before they begin in a matter of weeks. We can’t understand and implement what we don’t know.”
Ms Germano said attention would also turn to ensuring impacted stakeholders are consulted throughout the next steps.
“It’s critical license holders are consulted and kept informed as part of the site assessments,” Ms Germano said.
“We look forward to working with the Victorian government to ensure the agricultural impacts are appropriately considered at each and every one of these sites.
“The VFF would like to thank our members and other members of the community for voicing their concerns and continued support to ensure a fair outcome for Victorian farmers and the environment.”
A June parliamentary hearing uncovered 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, Minister 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.
It is currently unclear whether insurance issues will be taken into account during the state government’s “rigorous assessment process”.
A 24-hour hotline (13FISH) will be available for the public to report any illegal or antisocial behaviour.