Waterways reform back on the table

An agreement to reform the governance of local waterways is back on the table after major stakeholders agreed on a new comprised position last month.

It comes after Parks Victoria (PV) withdrew from a consensus position on an initial agreement at the final meeting of the Lower Yarra River Use Future Directions Group (LYRUFDG) on October 16.

It is understood that PV chair Andrew Fairley and acting CEO Chris Rose would not accept the committee’s collective recommendation and it was subsequently feared that all hope for reform was lost.

However, following a report published in last month’s Docklands, LYRUFDG chair Tony Kelly met with members from the private sector and hammered out a renewed compromise position pointing to the establishment of a single authority for local waterways.

Mr Kelly said he expected to present the final recommendations to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville, in December.

“Negotiations had taken longer than I expected but I believe the stakeholders have arrived at a workable and pragmatic solution that I can confidently take to the Minister,” he said.

“I will now be presenting the report to the Minister, who I anticipate will consider the findings and consult with relevant ministers, government agencies and other key stakeholders in determining her response.”

The final report recommends an agreed vision for the river, a plan for the renewal of berthing licences, strategies for new infrastructure to support on-river activities, investing in dredging of the Yarra River and an improved process for event approvals.

Docklands News understands that the recommended governance arrangement would be led by an independent and interim advisory body consisting of three government appointed members, who would work with regulator Parks Victoria to manage the waterway.

With a suggested name of the Lower Yarra Port Board, the new committee would employ a CEO and would draw support from Parks Victoria and the City of Melbourne.

Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) representative John Ahern said, if adopted, the new arrangements would help to transform Melbourne’s waterways.

“The proposed governance arrangements when adopted by the Minister will create for the first time a body that is dedicated to activation of the river, one that takes a strategic approach to economic development and tourism and provides a focal point for private sector investment in on-river activation,” Mr Ahern said.

The LYRUFDG now has 18 months to establish a business case for the model and it is understood that Parks Victoria would be given the option of having a fourth member on the new committee.

The group remains unanimous in its desire to establish a single independent authority to govern the waterways and Melbourne Passenger Boating Association president Jeff Gordon said the recommendations were a step in the right direction.

“The negotiations were challenging but in the end we have reached a compromise position that will give the current commercial operators on the river confidence into the future but still with the hope that we can transition to a fully independent board,” he said.

“We trust the Minister will ensure the interim board is properly funded to carry out its work and new arrangements are put in place early in the new year.”

After talks spectacularly collapsed and arrangements appeared to be heading back to the status quo, Mr Kelly thanked members for their perseverance.

“I would like to thank all the group members for their time and contribution,” Mr Kelly said.

 The key thing that kept the group going through the difficult part of the negotiations was everyone’s commitment to revitalise the rivers to ensure they reflect Melbourne’s enviable status as one of the world’s most liveable cities,” he said.