Victorian Farmers Federation wants registration system for campers along rivers

Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath and cattleman Will Paul and Dane Martin are among the voices calling on the state government to address complexities in licensed river frontage draft regulations.
Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath and cattleman Will Paul and Dane Martin are among the voices calling on the state government to address complexities in licensed river frontage draft regulations.

THE Victorian Farmers Federation has called for a registration system for campers in its submission to the Victorian government's proposed Regulated Watercourse Land Regulations.

The VFF's submission outlined a need for a registration system for campers and outlined its concerns about "the strained relationship between farmers and government".

Under new laws, campers will be able to access land through private properties (across government tracks).

But the VFF says for farmers who have licences to use these waterfronts for livestock grazing, the potential environmental, biosecurity and legal liability issues "are significant".

The VFF initially opposed the legislative change, but recognising the will of the government to implement the new laws, has shifted its focus to protecting landholders, the sensitive riparian environment and the partnership between farmers and government that has existed since Landcare was formed.

Federation president Emma Germano said without a means to trace when campers arrived on properties and where they went, farmers and the authorities would have no way of knowing exactly where they have been and for how long.

"The government has already created an app that we think should include a registration function," she said.

"Under the proposed rules, farmers will not be able to meet the traceability requirements under biosecurity quality assurance systems.

"We're calling for a simple, easy-to-use registration system to be introduced to ensure a level of accountability from campers and easier enforcement of rules by authorities when issues arise."

The federation also harbours concerns about the damage the process has inflicted to the Landcare partnership formed between farmers and the government.

"The VFF played a pivotal role in forming Landcare in the 1980s that has since dedicated an enormous amount of time improving the environmental health of Victoria's riparian environments," she said.

"There's little doubt that poor consultation from government and the failure to listen to the concerns of landholders has seriously damaged this relationship."

Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath has also voiced her concerns after a recent meeting with farmers at Glenfalloch Station, Licola, who will soon be faced with the task of managing public access on their licensed river frontages.

"The draft regulations in their current format raise more questions than answers," Ms Bath said.

"Questions relating to waste management, water quality, bushfire risk, vulnerable species, biosecurity, public liability and protection of stock need addressing.

"There will need to be some compromise by all parties to achieve an acceptable outcome.

"Looking specifically at the Macalister River system there needs to be consideration to ensure that public accessibility will not negatively impact on soil erosion, river bank stabilisation, native vegetation regeneration and water quality."

Ms Bath said currently licence holders were undertaking significant environmental rehabilitation on behalf of the state government, but if public access was not adequately managed, important restoration work could be put at risk.

She added farmers were also concerned that the draft regulations failed to mention the landholder or issues such as trespass and public liability.

"Allowing public access on licensed river frontages is a complex issue, and frustratingly Labor has pushed through the legislation without comprehensive analysis of the consequences," she said.

"Many fear, in the absence of adequate resourcing including additional authorised officers, farmers will be left to do the policing - in effect becoming park rangers."

Ms Bath said while she was a passionate supporter of public land access, any regulations must be well researched, negotiated and balanced to avoid unnecessary conflicts between interested parties and impacts on sensitive environments.

"Many landholders like Glenfalloch Station hold a genuine commitment to enhancing dynamic river ecosystems, and it is imperative that the Andrews government gets it right," she said.

State parliament recently passed amendments to the Land Act 1958 to remove the prohibition of camping on licensed river frontages, with the government creating consistent regulations for these licensed areas to support the changes.

The public can already lawfully access licensed river frontages for recreation such as fishing, hiking and picnicking.

The government maintains the consistency will help allow recreational users better understand what can and cannot occur when accessing these areas.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has drafted proposed regulations to govern the recreational use of Crown Land which has grazing licences and water frontage.

Public submissions on the draft regulations closed on Monday, and the government is aiming to allow for camping in appropriate areas from September 1.

Law firm marshalls+dent+wilmoth is lobbying the government on behalf of farmers concerned for their businesses to make some changes to proposed legislation to allow camping on Crown land nearrivers.

To find out more informatin, or to work with marshalls+dent+wilmoth lawyers to develop a farm risk policy, phone the Benalla (or Melbourne, Mornington or Williamstown) office on 03 5746 4500, or visit www.mdlaw.com.au.

Fore more information about the proposed draft regulations, visit engage.vic.gov.au/regulated-watercourse-land-regulations.

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