These responses have been compiled with the assistance of Landcare groups, the VFF and the input at various community consultations in the past two months. They are by no means exhaustive and you should, where possible offer personal examples of your experience and fears should these regulations come into force.
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FILLING OUT THE SURVEY
Restricted, or prohibited access, and temporary closure of regulated land
During wetter months of the year, land beside waterways and unused road access can become boggy. Vehicles may cut up the ground and are likely to get bogged causing damage to regulated land. Licensees would have the additional cost of restoring pasture so these areas could be grazed as intended. How will waterfrontages be preserved and protected for future generations if unlimited numbers of campers can stay for 28 days?
I believe there should be no access along closed or unused roads that cross private property. No vehicles are allowed at the camp site, including motor bikes.
The penalty units (20 x $165.22) applied to infringements needs to be increased in view of the real cost/threat to farmers and their biosecurity.
In reference to Clause 6 regarding a limit of 0.5 cubic metres of firewood at any one time I would offer examples of camp sites at Doolans Bend, near Rutherglen, where firewood stacks are significantly greater with no policing by the respective authorities.
The regulation also needs to set aside areas away from pump houses that supply water for domestic and stock, so pumps are not interfered with by campers and the water supply is not compromised.
Farms are workplaces, farmers should be entitled to have control of their workplace. Farms are dangerous workplace, yet farmers will have no control when campers come onto their licensed frontages. Are landholders expected to increase their insurance to take all these changes into account?
Hunting without permission should not be allowed near farms. Guns should be prohibited. All dogs and pets should be excluded from camp sites to protect the environment, biosecurity and individual safety.
Local CFA officers were not consulted during the process of drafting legislation, had no previous knowledge of the new law and are extremely worried about how they will cope with the inevitable increase in fires. With no limit to the numbers of campers on frontages and no regulated fireplaces, in an area which is used for grazing livestock and therefore contains pasture with long dry grass in summer, there is a very real threat of wildfire.
Responding to fires caused by campers, but not being given an address of location because they are just on river frontage with no markers or campground numbers may mean it will be too late to stop a grass fire turning into yet another major bushfire. Evacuation of campers when there is an immediate threat of bushfire will be nearly impossible when access for tankers into these camping areas will be hampered by the fact that there may very well not be a suitable road. Small gateways, livestock and campers themselves will also impede access.
Camping should only be allowed where there is CFA access.
Notwithstanding the issues raised above and below I would argue that these regulations and plans for their implementation should be abandoned until proper consultation and review of liability, enforcement and threats to biosecurity are more fully investigated and detailed in the regulations.
INTRODUCTION OF LEGISLATION AND LACK OF CONSULTATION
This Amendment to the Land Act 1958 and the resultant Regulations have been rushed through both houses of Parliament in an Omnibus Bill. There was virtually no scrutiny and no consultation with major stake holders, critically Licensees themselves. There is now a mere 6-week consultation period, which consists of an online survey through the “Engage Victoria” portal where one has to respond to seven questions and each one has to reference the correct regulation in a 33-page document written in legalistic language.
Farmers, who produce the nation’s food do not have the time or capability of filling in such an onerous document. Has this been done to prevent any objections one has to wonder? Those who drafted this Amendment demonstrate little knowledge of stock behaviour nor any empathy for farmers nor do they realise the conflicts that will occur if this is enacted.
This legislation once again shows the great divide between the majority of (urban-based legislators) and the ever-diminishing number of farmers who provide their food.
Should recreation be put above food production because this seems to be the way the government is trending, not only with this legislation but increasingly taking over good farming land for housing estates, classifying manure as industrial waste and endless other constraints on the ever-diminishing number of food producers whose voices get drowned out by the much larger urban proportion of the population.
I fear that river frontage farmers and landholders will be forced to be unpaid campground managers with all the work, worry and potential abuse that will entail.
There needs to be be, initially, a 12-month review of the regulations that includes the opportunity for the community to be consulted either face-to-face or virtually.
ENFORCEMENT OF REGULATIONS
The VFA/DELWP website says that “Authorised officers from the VFA, DELWP and Parks Victoria will carry out enforcement activities WHERE POSSIBLE to ensure compliance with Regulations. VFA say they have a 24-hr hotline where you can report problems but will there be a VFA officer close by to enforce these regulations at short notice. VFA have not been able answer this.
DELWP rarely answers calls directly and you may have to wait days before you are lucky enough to get a reply. How will overstretched DELWP officers possibly be able to be on hand to police non-compliance issues 24 hrs a day? Only an accredited Compliance officer can enforce rules and there are none in many parts of N.E. Victoria.
This will turn into an unregulated Caravan Park with no resources on the ground for day-to-day management in an area where stock is supposed to be grazing. The current DELWP portfolio of regulated, managed campsites is in woeful disarray in our area, and the thought that vastly more campsites would need to be managed by the same under-resourced crews shows both a complete lack of foresight, and an inability to recognise the shortcomings of the present arrangement regarding campsite management.
The VFA recommends calling 000 in emergency. Local police were also not included in any consultation process and so were unaware that they will be having deal with these issues. In a single officer station, such as is common in regional areas, were there to be a call about a drunken brawl, for instance, the local police could not attend until backup had been sent from the nearest station which could well be an hour or more away.
If there is noise disturbance the VFA says to call EPA. What is the likelihood of an EPA officer even being in a regional area let alone being able to able to stop a wild party in the middle of the night?
The application of these regulations must be accompanied by a commitment to increase the number of authorised officers to meet the demands of policing these issues and regulations. I would also argue that a dedicated hotline be available on a 24/7 basis.
The Government has indemnified themselves from any liability over frontages with a grazing licence. It appears that Farm insurance does not cover recreational activities. Farmers would be wise to increase their coverage as most insurance companies know nothing of this new law and find it alarming.
Crown land frontages with a grazing licence are used as part of the farm, mostly adjoining the private freehold land and with no fence in between. How will campers know if they are trespassing? Under the new regulations farmers are not allowed to erect any signage to impede people’s access to the waterway.
Under the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill, which the government introduced and passed in 2018, farms are deemed to be a workplace. The owner of a property can therefore be charged with industrial manslaughter, which carries a penalty of up to 25 years jail, if someone were to die on their licenced property in a workplace accident. This legislation applies not just to employees of a workplace, but also to visitors. It seems that the government has taken away the rights of landholders to determine who can camp on frontages under their control, but at the same time will hold them responsible if there is a fatal accident.
Biosecurity; Biosecurity rules are completely ignored with the new law that will allow camping on Licensed Frontages.
Farmers pay for these licences, maintain their frontages and run livestock on them and are expected to comply with Biosecurity rules. Most farmers have a Biosecurity plan in place and get audited to make sure this is happening. On their farm gate is a sign saying it is an offence to enter the farm (and licensed frontages are part of the farm) without permission from the owner.
Many farmers with European Union (EU) accreditation are in danger of losing this if these regulations are implemented. That means the export of meat from Victoria to a range of countries could be curtailed with disastrous effects for cattle farmers. In complete contradiction, Agriculture Victoria has just run a survey asking how biosecurity can be strengthened.
Many river frontage farmers and landholders have fenced off revegetated areas called riparian zones but may still have licenced frontages extending beyond this where people can camp. A major concern is that campers will climb through fences to reach the waterway via the most convenient route, even though it is deemed illegal to do this in the regulations, and trample plants or collect firewood from the revegetated zone. Will a compliance officer be there to stop this?
Although camping is proposed to take place 20m from a waterway, I fear people will spend much of their time on the edge of the river, because of its scenic attraction and ambience – cool, shade. These river edges are often the only corridors supporting bird, animal, plant and insect populations in areas between remnant patches of forest.
The disruption upon nocturnal creatures, who previously had the night to themselves once the anglers went home, has the potential to be incredibly damaging to the vulnerable and endangered species that rely on the quiet night to communicate mating calls, to forage and to migrate in search of new nests, mates and food. With strange dog and human odours, spilt food scraps and a background noise of generators and portable speakers, the impact upon the precious fauna and flora of the river areas has clearly not been considered seriously.
With increased campers all along the waterways, water will be inevitably become more polluted, affecting the health of wildlife, stock and humans.
THE CAMPER’S EXPERIENCE
Under the Regulations there is no prohibition of firearms, alcohol, trail bikes.
How will that mix work in an area that will have livestock, working machinery, families and no doubt their pets?
There is no mention of distances between camps in the regulations. How will a small family group feel when another camp sets up nearby with over 100 people (because there is no restriction on the size of a camp either), fires up the generator, cranks up the music and consumes unhealthy amounts of alcohol. Under the regulations the family camp can lodge a complaint to the EPA about the level of noise. Will EPA officers also be authorised under the regulations? What response can be expected from the EPA?
This is just one example of how these weak draft regulations not only impedes the land holder and community, negatively impacts the environment but also sets the campers up for a poor camping experience and exposes them to life threatening risks.
Campers can camp as close as 20m from the riverbank. If they camping on a regulated river (such as the Mitta which can go from 200ML per day to 8000 ML per day without notice), campers could wake up trying to perform an emergency evacuation of their tent as they are floating down the river.
Campers will not have an enjoyable camping experience in a paddock full of cows, particularly if they are of the curious variety. These ones will congregate around campsites, which in itself will scare those who are not familiar with cattle. They are very fond of licking vehicles and chewing rope such as tent guy ropes. They will defecate all around the campsite and if the camp site is left unattended, they will walk right through and possibly destroy anything that is left out.
SHIRE COUNCIL AND RATES
The increase in campers dumping rubbish in local collection points, increased use of toilet facilities, and the increased use of roads, particularly by caravans and motor homes all have a big impact on small, under-funded shires. How will councils meet that additional cost created by these campers?
Additionally, how will this affect existing caravan parks, where all facilities are provided, and good maintenance assured.