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August 09 Edition Cover

It’s time to get serious on governance

04 Jul 2018

By Shane Scanlan

It’s ungracious to say “I told you so”. But Parks Victoria was always part of the problem when the state government three years ago gave it “one more chance” to fix our local waterways.

As a regulatory agency (read “ticket inspector”) it lacked the vision, foresight, capacity and general wherewithal to bring the lower Yarra to life.

What was always needed (and still is) was a cut-through, nimble, single authority – a one-stop shop where people who shared the dream of a dynamic waterway would be encouraged and empowered to give it their best shot.

Such an authority would be given the mandate and the power to get things done – to achieve results and give Victoria the economic return that is crying out to be leveraged from such a down-trodden and underperforming asset.

This is what all the participants (including Parks Victoria) unanimously asked for at the conclusion in 2015 of the Lower Yarra River Use Future Directions Group (LYRUFDG).

Among other things, LYRUFDG asked that a new local port be established for the navigable sections of the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers (excluding the Port of Melbourne).

A list of other, quite pressing, practical necessities were called for to help prevent the immediate collapse of Melbourne’s charter boat industry.

Instead, Parks refused to let go and manipulated an outcome whereby another committee was established (the 15th to examine this issue in 20 years!) – this time called the “Lower Yarra River Management Advisory Committee”.

This committee finished up on June 30 and it is difficult to see that it has achieved anything since the conclusion of the LYRUFDG nearly three years ago.

Former Minister Lisa Neville said in April 2016 that she was “not ruling out” the eventual establishment of a single waterways authority but said more work needed to be done to determine a long-term solution.

“More work will be needed to get the long-term management right, but these first steps get key groups at the table to ensure consistent and clear decision making and accountability,” she said.

Parks regional director Chris Hardman told a group of angry boaties in May 2017 they should get over not getting their way with the LYRUFDG recommendations.

“Everyone should get on board and see if we can make a good show of this. If we can, then the problem is solved,” he said.

“What’s the problem we are trying to solve? We need to activate the waterways, get the investment in the waterways and those sorts of things.”

“So we can work together and do that of we can lament a recommendation that wasn’t taken up by the government of the day.”

“And, you know what? If it doesn’t work and you’re not satisfied, then re-prosecute the case in the future,” Mr Hardman said.

So what has been achieved in the interim and what does the future hold? Docklands News asked Parks Victoria what the Lower Yarra River Management Advisory Committee would be recommending.

“In particular, what is its recommendation regarding an ongoing governance model for the lower Yarra?  The LYRUFDG recommended a local port authority be established and funded.

Other outstanding recommendations of the LYRUFDG when it was wound up in November 2015 include:

A $2 million floating wharf for Southgate (with the cost to be recouped from the industry itself);

20-year leases for boat operators;

Land and funding set aside for back of house facilities;

Parks to complete a dredging study by October 2015 and the government then fund a dredging program for the river; and

Streamlined approvals process for events.

Can you please tell me what progress has been made on these items in the last two and a half years?”

A spokesperson for Parks Victoria replied: “The Lower Yarra River Management Advisory Committee (LYRMAC) is due to wind up at the end of June 2018. The committee will provide a report to the Minister for Environment at the end of their term. Once the minister has reviewed the LYRMAC report, a public update will be issued.”

A more accurate answer would have been “nothing”.

The president of the Melbourne Passenger Boating Association Jeff Gordon said the LYRMAC had not been in touch with the industry.

“We’ve been led up the cul-de-sac of good ideas and there they all sadly stay,” Mr Gordon said. “Many of us in the Industry feel we’ve given it our best shot and no one is listening.”

“No one in government is in our corner and fighting for us. We haven’t heard from Parks Victoria or the reference committee, so I doubt they will report anything of worth to the Minister.”

“Melbourne is supposedly the best Ccty in the world, but I have been to many great river cities that understand and obviously support their vibrant water based industries.” 

“It’s time the death grip of Parks Victoria was removed from the waterway and an inner port proclaimed with an emphasis amd understanding of the maritime issues,” Mr Gordon concluded.

The government has been playing political games with our waterways when our third-world charter fleet has been (metaphorically) sinking.

It’s time to tailor-make an organisation that can actually make the waterways work. Had an independent local waterways authority been established at the end of 2015, it could have advocated against further government plans to choke the river and Victoria Harbour with three more bridges.

As it stands, no one in government, it seems, attributes any value to the water. Docklanders know that our economic future is directly commensurate with the numbers of boats on the water.

The ways things are going, the Victoria Government might as well announce that it intends to fill in Victoria Harbour and subdivide the reclaimed land.

This would be totally consistent with its policy settings and shameful neglect of our local waterways.

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