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Labor ignore farmers and landcare pleas on licensed water frontages change

The Labor Government with support of cross bench members have ensured that unrestricted camping access to thousands of kilometres of licensed water frontages in Victoria will go ahead.

State Member for Eildon, Cindy McLeish is deeply disappointed in the outcome as the impacts on both farming and the environment have not been fully assessed and understood.

Ms McLeish said, “I have been contacted by many local farmers and landowners over the past few months who are strongly opposed to this legislation because they know the damage that it could cause, and the risks involved.”

The many risks include threats to biosecurity, farms gates being left open, dogs attacking stock, campfires left unattended or un-extinguished and access to and from waterways through a landholder’s private property. Environmental concerns include debris & rubbish being left behind, broken bottles and damage to riparian areas that Landcare groups have spent years establishing.

It was clear during the parliamentary debate that the Labor Government had conducted zero consultation and ignored the genuine and reasonable concerns from the farming community and environmental groups about the potential for waterways to be polluted with human waste and litter, agriculture and native habitats to be destroyed and wildlife harmed.

Ms McLeish continues, “I don’t think the State Labor Government has taken into consideration these very real risks. There has been no consultation”.

Establishing liability following an accident by a camper has not been fully explored.

“All it takes is for someone who has had too much to drink to step into a wombat hole and break their leg. Who is responsible for that if they venture on to your property?”

“We already have so many great and established camping spots on the banks of rivers.”

The Liberal Nationals support more Victorians enjoying fishing and camping on public land but also want to safeguard the native habitats on water frontages and protect farmers, their livestock and crops.

Around 10,000 farming families who hold water frontage licenses with the State had not received any consultation from the Government, with Labor conceding it would conduct consultation but only after the bill had passed into legislation.

Feeling the community backlash, the Labor Government has been forced to push out the date when campers can begin camping on licensed water frontages from 1 December 2020 to 1 September 2021.

“As this rolls out, landowners and interested parties will need to be particularly vigilant in documenting any poor behaviours, misconduct, littering and polluting from campers”. Ms McLeish concludes.

Licence holder, Peter Ingham from Yea said, “The recently enacted legislation allowing camping on licenced river frontage land will have serious consequences: bushfire risk will be greatly elevated, the riparian environment will suffer and farmers and others with adjoining land will be severely impacted. No matter what regulations the Government imposes, there is no way they can be enforced and irresponsible campers will do what they please – campfires will be left burning, food and toilet litter will left behind or thrown in the river, native vegetation trampled on, gates left open, private land accessed and farms exposed to biosecurity risks. We have experienced all of this when illegal campers have set themselves up on riverfront land adjoining our farm.

“It is proposed that since fishers can legitimately access licenced riverfront land then so should campers; but setting up camp for overnight and extended stays is a totally different proposition, with toiletry and other needs being on a different level altogether. State forests and National Parks either have facilities for camping or provide the opportunity for compliance with regulations to be monitored. The same can certainly not be said for licenced land adjoining private property.”

Licence holder Stuart Gilmore of Thornton said, “There’s real concerns around emergency services and access to some of the proposed water frontage camping areas.” “Whether it be ambulance access in the event of a medical emergency or the ability of a CFA tanker to even get to the site of a fire, it only takes a small delay for a tragedy to unfold.” “Add to the fact there are no proper toilet facilities, bins and fire pits, this proposal just makes no sense.” “That’s why we need to ensure camping only remains in regulated sites throughout Victoria,” Mr Gilmore concludes.

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