Calls for clarity over riverfront camping laws announcement

Just how much waterfront Crown land will be made available to campers and whether the state government has moved away from a statewide rollout is still unclear following its announcement regarding the new laws last week.

THE state government’s announcement on allowing camping on licensed river frontages has caused “more uncertainty and confusion” and must be clarified, according to a local politician.
Last Friday, the state government announced it was assessing 27 sites for suitability of its new regulations, with “hundreds to follow”.
No local rivers were named among the sites.
The controversial new laws, which will allow campers to stay on strips of Crown land alongside rivers and streams for up to 28 days, have drawn criticism from many farmers who lease the land from the government to graze livestock, as well as Landcare and Aboriginal advocacy organisations.
According to Friday’s announcement, the government is still finalising its draft regulations, but 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”.
Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was reviewing potential sites to ensure all concerns were considered.
“We’re striking the right balance to make sure riverside public land is protected for generations to come,” she said.
The government’s original 2018 election promise was to add camping to the list of permitted activities on riverfront Crown Land, alongside picnicking, fishing and bushwalking — thereby allowing camping on 17,000 kilometres of riverfront around the state.
The previous draft regulations allowed 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.
It is currently unclear whether farmers’ insurance issues will be taken into account during the state government’s site assessment process.
The legislation was slated to roll out statewide from September 1.
A government spokesperson recently did not answer the Gippsland Times’ questions about whether a state-wide rollout would be entirely substituted by the pilot sites, but reinforced it would deliver on the election commitment to make more water frontage land available to all to enjoy for fishing and camping.
Just how much land is still unclear.
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said many of his constituents were concerned about the new policy, which would put campers directly in conflict with farmers, their stock and the environment.
Mr O’Brien described last Friday’s announcement as a “significant departure” from its previous proposals to allow camping on 17,000 kilometres of riverfront.
“This is a dumb policy that would cause significant issues for farmers with riverfront licences and should never have been enacted,” he said.
“It’s clear the government has felt the heat provided by the Nationals and many groups including farmers, environmentalists and Aboriginal organisations who are concerned about the impacts to farming, our riverfront vegetation and cultural heritage.
“However the decision to now look at only ‘suitable sites’ creates more confusion.”
Mr O’Brien said while the government’s lists of sites did not include any local rivers, its media release did say more sites would be considered in future.
“Clearly the regulations that the government had planned to have in place by the September 1 have now been thrown out, and it looks like the government is starting again,” he said.
“While it would be better for the government to simply scrap this idea, the government should now clarify exactly what it will mean in future.
“There are enormous safety, biosecurity and fire issues, not to mention rubbish and other concerns, raised by this policy, and naturally farmers with those licences are very unhappy.
“If the government won’t simply scrap this policy, it should at least water it down and give farmers and other landholders a much clearer say.”
The Victorian Farmers Federation has also called for clarity on the announcement, with president Emma Germano sharing concerns farmers were in the dark until more 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.
“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.”
A 24-hour hotline (13FISH) will be available for the public to report illegal or antisocial behaviour.