The Victorian Farmers Federations (VFF) is the peak body representing the environmental stewards of regulated water courses – the licensees. Our members, and licensees more broadly, raised almost universal opposition to the legislative change to remove the prohibition on camping on licenced frontages.
The VFF opposed the legislative change but recognising the will of the Government to implement this policy our focus is now on protecting landholders and the sensitive riparian environment and the valuable partnership between farmers and government that has existed since the formation of Landcare in 1986. The manner in which the legislation and regulations have been formulated and the disregard for the concerns of licence holders has seriously damaged this partnership.
Despite the damage and the opposition, the VFF believes there are reasonable regulatory changes that can help to rebuild the partnership. This submission will outline these regulatory changes.
The VFF is concerned that the proposed regulations are not prescriptive enough, are based on regulations that operate in very different environments and pose unacceptable risks to farm businesses and the environment.
The prohibition on camping existed for a reason. It was recognised that these are unique environments and that camping interfered with the agricultural uses permitted. Since the introduction of the prohibition the Victorian Government has further recognised the sensitive nature of Victoria’s riparian environments and the unique role of licence holders. Licence holders and landholders have been encouraged to fence, revegetate and manage riparian land for its environmental values in conjunction with permitted agricultural uses. Riparian environments have also been recognised as areas of cultural heritage sensitivity. All the while appropriate and low impact recreational activity has continued to occur along licensed frontage, often in partnership with private landholders to facilitate access and share local knowledge.
The removal of the prohibition on camping is a backwards step in the Victorian Government’s commitment to improve Victoria’s riparian environments. How big that step is depends on the regulations and how they are implemented and enforced. The proposed ‘free for all’ regulations are a monumental back step, putting at risk the ‘Landcare’ partnership developed between farmers and the government. But it doesn’t have to be this way, pitting farmers against campers and fishers. This is not the way things have been done historically and the VFF believes there is no need to force a confrontational regulatory environment on licence holders, campers or fishers.
Our submission proposes sensible amendments to the regulations that would allow improved management, oversight and enforcement to protect the environment, licence holders, their farms and stock and campers and other recreational users. Our recommendations are based on Victorian Government best practice and have been developed in consultation with the licence holders, utilising their unique understanding of these riparian environments.
It is important VFF note our concern about the consultative process that has been conducted and recommend real and meaningful consultation with licence holders. Their only contact to date has been a letter in the mail. Licence holders are dismayed that their reward for stewarding this land for generations is to have this impactful change forced upon them.