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Lou sails into the Gold Coast’s loving embrace

30 Jun 2010

By Shane Scanlan

Docklands’ waterways took another hit last month with the announcement that restaurateur Lou Jovanovski is moving the last of his charter boats to Queensland.

Mr Jovanovski is a long-standing critic of how charter operators have been treated in Docklands and now says he has had enough.

“I’m tired of being screwed around and I’ve now given up trying.  I’m not interested in fighting any more,” he said.

Mr Jovanovski earlier this year relocated Saphire and Explorer to the Gold Coast.  Flagship Rivers Voyager conducted her last cruise in Melbourne in May and last month the company announced that Lady Lindeman would also be making the journey north.

The company says its last Docklands dinner cruise will be held on August 28.

Docklands’ charter operators have only month-to-month certainty over their berthing rights and have been trying for 10 years to obtain more permanent tenure.

Waterways in the precinct are controlled by layers of bureaucracy administered by VicUrban, Parks Victoria and the City of Melbourne.

Docklands offers the only available berthing in Port Phillip Bay for large charter vessels.  Other operators privately admit that they too would leave Docklands if they had other options and hadn’t invested so heavily in establishing their businesses.

Mr Jovanovski last year defied the City of Melbourne by berthing his Voyager vessel for several days at the commercial berth at the Waterfront City Marina. His action led to the council running a failed nine-month expression of interest process which resulted in no operators winning tenure at Waterfront City.

Mr Jovanovski said the commercial marina at Waterfront City stood as an empty monument to the council’s incompetence.

He said, by contrast, the Gold Coast had welcomed the addition of the Rivers fleet to its tourism offer.

“The Harbour Master held a party for us.  He said he hoped that we were not only the biggest operator in the Queensland, but also the most successful,” Mr Jovanovski said.

Mr Jovanovski said he had previously hoped to bring two boats from Queensland to Docklands but excessive bureaucracy had destroyed any hope of this happening.

“If they (the council) can’t see the biggest fleet leaving as a problem, then they are stupid,” he said.

In response, a City of Melbourne spokesperson pointed to the success of the public section of the Waterfront City Marina, saying it contributed $1.5 million annually to the Waterfront City economy.

He said commercial operators had the right to book times for set-down and pick-up of passengers from the marina.

“All vessels operating charter or party boat services to Docklands can and do use this facility and then return to their permanent berth overnight,” he said.

“We are currently working with the State Government and VicUrban to deliver a crown land licence for wharf berthing tenants that provides longer term tenure in Victoria Harbour."

“Council must balance the term it offers tenants with the availability of appropriate infrastructure over the coming years, as outlined in the Docklands Waterways Strategic Plan 2009-2018.”

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