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Waterway without boats

04 Dec 2019

Waterway without boats Image

By Jeff Gordon

Imagine visiting a major capital city in Europe or Asia or North America and not being able to access the water, not being able to get on a boat and enjoy the city and its views from the water.

Imagine not being able to access the water in London or Paris or Stockholm. Then ask yourself why Melbourne’s commercial boats are disappearing off our waterway – our two rivers, the Maribyrnong and the Birrarung/Yarra – and the Port of Melbourne.

Commercial passenger vessels are the means by which the people of Melbourne are able to access their waterway in a safe and enjoyable manner. Safe because in Australia all commercial vessels have to comply with stringent safety regulations, both in the way the vessels are built and maintained and the way they are operated.

Add to these regulations, food and liquor service regulations, Port of Melbourne regulations, City of Melbourne and Parks Victoria regulations and you are beginning to understand the complexities of operating a commercial passenger vessel in Melbourne.

All the commercial boats operating in Melbourne have tried their hardest in an increasingly difficult economic climate.

But they are asking themselves, why carry on? It is just too hard to do business with all the government overlords, squeezing the life out of the Industry?

New operators coming here are soon made aware of the complexities of operating on these waterways. In Docklands, Development Victoria has just shutdown Central Pier and removed all the commercial craft leaving less space in Victoria Harbour. Upriver, Parks Victoria has recently gone through a tender process for berthing alongside Southbank.

This reallocation has resulted in one long-term operator pulling the pin, another losing his back-of-house area and another being cut out of the process altogether.

Over the past 25 years the members of the Melbourne Passenger Boat Association have been to many forums and attended many meetings, but have rarely seen positive outcomes.

They have pressed their case for recognition for better terms and conditions, but the bureaucracy has only been interested in increased regulation and increasing the collection of fees.

It’s all very well to want a world-class tourism experience on the water, but it’s simply un-achievable with temporary short-term licences, inadequate infrastructure and poor management practices and decisions.

Operators have asked for typical common retail leases over their berths, but they still exist under a “David and Goliath” licence arrangement that puts all the power in the hands of the bureaucracy and gives them nothing other than a place to temporarily call a home or pick-up berth.

Parks Victoria had an opportunity to create leases upstream on the Birrarung/Yarra, but in the end it only offered 10 year licences. All other capital cities in Australia offer leases for their commercial craft, giving them tenure and an opportunity to renew their vessels and to improve their products.

The Melbourne Passenger Boating Association feels that to properly recognise the waterway and to give it the value in the community that it deserves, a single management authority and local port should be established from Herring Island to the Bolte Bridge including the navigable reaches of the Maribynong. With the present multiple waterway managers, how can they all be on the same page?

A single government authority that has the City of Melbourne, Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria in support, will have commercial and environmental outcomes for the rivers and the city and most importantly the people that live and visit.

# Jeff Gordon is the president of the Melbourne Passenger Boating Association.

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