Farmers and Greens have lined up against the State Government to fight new rules that will allow free camping on rivers that run through farmland.
Greens Deputy Leader Ellen Sandell joined farmers on the steps of Parliament in a recent rally against the changes.
Ms Sandell said there were few issues where environmentalist and farmers could agree, “but this was one of them”.
“The Government’s decision to open these areas, particularly for camping, is ill-conceived right from the beginning,” she said.
“This issue is uniting so many people.”
“We know that Labour is doing this to unfortunately appease the Shooters, Fishers [and Farmers] and, the fishing lobby, and it is absolutely not the right way to go.”
I think they underestimated the amount of backlash they’d get on this issue.
The Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill, which comes into effect in September, will allow recreational camping on river frontages that are Crown Land, but licenced to the farmer whose land runs alongside it.
The Victorian Fisheries Authority states that this legislation will bring licensed river frontages in line with unlicensed frontages, which people can already camp on recreationally.
However, rally organiser Judy Caldwell said it would be a disaster for the environment and for farmers.
“There is no fence between the frontage and private land. So people will not know whether or not if they’re going to be trespassing on private land,” she said.
The width of Crown Land from the river to the farm boundary, can range from 20 to 100 or more metres.
“It’ll be a dangerous situation, and either campers are going to get hurt, or livestock will get hurt,” Ms Caldwell said.
“Many farmers have fenced off and revegetated riverbanks that provide corridors for our native animals, and there are risks of being damaged.”
What will happen to the nocturnal native animals, the frogs, snakes, fish, turtles, platypus, and birds who all require undisturbed habitat to breed and survive?
The impact on the physical environment can be considerable.
“[Campers] can collect the equivalent of three heaped wheelbarrow loads of firewood per day per person, despite the fact licensees are not allowed to collect wood themselves,” she said.
CFA Volunteer Greg Mirabella said the changes added to fire danger.
“One of the most common call-outs we get is for campfires which have gotten away,” he said.
When I first heard of these legislation, all I could think of is that is another 17,000 km of river frontage for people to start fires.
In response to the continued opposition of farmers, The Australian Deer Association published an editorial on their website claiming that the Victorian Farmers Federation was spreading misinformation.
“[The amendment] will, in fact, make no changes to conditions on the ground,” the association said.
“What it will do is enable the Government to write regulations which will enable better access for camping where it makes sense to do so.”
“Our experience over many years is that regulations are made with consideration for the views of all stakeholders and that there is an opportunity for genuine concerns to be properly considered and addressed.”
Rally attendee Julie Tyrell, who is from Albury-Wodonga, said campers could leave a lot of mess.
“From personal experience living along the river, people have come and left toilet paper on the riverbank, condoms, nappies, faeces,” she said.
“I’d like to see some accountability of when people come along. Who they are, so that when there’s something gone missing from your property, cattle being damaged, gates being left open, etc, that you have some way of tracking them.”
“I’d also like to see proper facilities—toilets, and garbage.”
Mitta Mitta artist Felicity McDonald said she wants the environment supported.
“I’m really just concerned about the rivers and waterways and the future, when in 10 years time 17,00 km of Victorian waterways are continuous campgrounds,” she said.
“How is our ecology and environment going to cope with that?
“Waterways are special places. They’re pristine environments up there in high country, but they won’t be because you can camp anywhere right up to the national park.”
Farmer Robert Patterson said the problem is that traditional farmers are conservative in their land use, “but there is a brigade of people coming now that will run riot”.
“We’re going to get a lot bigger presence of urban people out in the bush, and that’s okay, but from a management point of view, it’s going to be very difficult.”
The amendment was passed on November 12 last year and is due to come into effect on September 21 this year.
Under the current Land Act 1958, it is illegal to block access to licensed land, and penalties exist for dumping items on Crown Land.