As COVID-19 continues to restrict international travel, holidaying closer to home has become the vacation of choice for many families and new camping sites in Victoria are being opened up to meet that demand.
- The Andrews Labor government made an election commitment to allow camping on licensed river frontages across the state
- It caught farmers by surprise and they voiced their concerns at a protest in Melbourne earlier this year
- At first, camping will be allowed at just 27 sites from September
As a first step, the Victorian government is allowing camping on 27 river frontages in northern Victoria that are currently licensed by farmers.
There has been no explanation about how camp bookings and camper behaviour will be managed.
Twenty-seven sites along the Goulburn, Broken, Ovens, Campaspe, Loddon and Murray Rivers will be opened up for camping but the specific locations along those rivers are yet to be released.
The government said hundreds more sites would follow after a consultation period that resulted in 1,100 submissions.
New northern rivers campsites
Rutherglen farmer Lynne Riley said farmers were feeling overly anxious about the new law.
“We have been uninformed from the beginning, we have been treated with no respect,” he said.
The Andrews Labor government previously said its election commitment to allow camping on all licensed river frontages across the state would allow people to enjoy more of Victoria’s waterways.
Victorians are already permitted to fish, walk and picnic along licensed river frontages and camping will be introduced on September 1.
In a statement, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was reviewing potential sites to ensure environmental and agricultural concerns were considered.
Farmers ‘utterly frustrated’
Farmers pay a license fee to manage and graze livestock along river frontage land bordering their properties, and, if the gates are left open to campers, farmers are concerned they will be left to deal with their rubbish and waste.
Sally Buckingham who farms along the Rose River, 50 kilometres south of Myrtleford, told the Victorian Country Hour, she and her husband had spent more than 30 years looking after their river frontage.
“We have got rid of the blackberries and we have planted native trees, which we have spent decades looking after,” she said.
Ms Buckingham said public liability was also a huge concern.
“Along the river you get a lot of trees that simply fall down and that’s obviously a huge concern for safety,” she said.
“We can’t be expected to hire arborists to go along our river frontage and basically tell us which trees need to come down in case there are campers who could then get hurt.”
Ms Buckingham is also concerned that her property will become a thoroughfare for campers to access the river.
VFF calls for government explanation
Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) president Emma Germano said the government must immediately explain exactly where the campsites will be and how the camping regulations will work.
“It’s about the principle of it,” she said.
“If I lease something off you and my lease says I am responsible for that land, it is my problem to look after that land … how does that lease get unwound with an election commitment?
Gippsland farmer Geoff Gooch farms along the Latrobe River near Sale and is concerned that farmers like himself will be placed in confronting and potentially dangerous situations if campers are let loose on agricultural land.
“It appears the push has come from VR Fish to open up the rivers in north-east Victoria,” he said.
The ABC approached Victorian environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio and the Victorian minister for fishing and boating Melissa Horne but they declined to be interviewed.
Victoria’s agriculture minister Mary-Anne Thomas said if farmers had concerns with problematic behaviour they would be able to raise them with authorities.
“Let’s go back and remember people have always been able to access this land and any threats to biosecurity are … extremely minimal,” Ms Thomas said.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victorian Fisheries Authority and Parks Victoria will be tasked with enforcing the restrictions.
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