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Local waterways reform in tatters

29 Oct 2015

An agreement to reform the governance of Docklands’ waterways spectacularly collapsed last month.

After nearly a year at the table, the major stakeholders hammered out a compromise position, which pointed to the establishment of an independent single authority for local waterways.

But at the final meeting of the Lower Yarra River Use Future Directions Group on October 16, Parks Victoria (PV) unexpectedly withdrew support for the consensus position.

It is understood that PV chair Andrew Fairley and acting CEO Chris Rose would not accept the committee’s collective recommendation.

Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) representative John Ahern said PV’s move was an unexpected “slap in the face that had come from nowhere”.

Mr Ahern said industry representatives on the working group would not be putting their name to any final report which did not reflect the previously-agreed and minuted position.

Mr Ahern said he hoped to organise a delegation of industry representatives to speak about the matter with new Parks Victoria CEO Bradley Fauteux after he starts in the role on November 16.

The Docklands Community Forum has previously identified waterways governance as one of three priority issues for the suburb.

Docklands Chamber of Commerce president Joh Maxwell said great hope had been held that governance reform would result in a single independent authority.  Currently numerous organisations and multiple unco-ordinated pieces of legislation govern what happens on local waterways.

Mrs Maxwell said the current system was too complicated and Docklands would not reach its full potential without waterways governance reform.

“It is pretty clear to everyone that a single independent waterways authority is needed,” Mrs Maxwell said.

The Lower Yarra River Use Future Directions Group was chaired by Tony Kelly and was originally expected to report to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville, in May.

Mr Kelly did not respond to phone calls from Docklands News, but is understood that Ms Neville may be now be presented with competing options.

YRBA executive officer Tim Bracher said he was very disappointed and deflated that consensus had been abandoned.

Mr Bracher questioned why industry representatives had bothered to sit down with Parks Victoria in good faith for so long if the result was going to be “back to status quo”.

“And that’s not to the mention the two years spent getting them to the table!” Mr Bracher said.

Melbourne Passenger Boating Association president Jeff Gordon said local operators were “gutted” by the news that PV wanted to retain its power over them.

“We felt we had got to a position that we were not entirely comfortable with, but were accepting of,” he said. “It seems obvious now that Parks Victoria are not prepared to give up in any way control of the waterways despite their admissions that they have made a hash of it over the last 10 to 15 years.”

The working group had previously reached a position whereby an interim committee would be established to direct Parks Victoria’s management of the waterways.

The committee was expected to work towards an independently-funded and resourced authority to manage the river, potentially under a local port model.

Currently Parks Victoria manages aspects of the river upstream of Docklands, but the City of Melbourne manages certain functions closer to Docklands and within Victoria Harbour under delegation from Places Victoria.

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