Bath – contribution on the Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (13:16): I rise this afternoon to make my contribution on the Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. In doing so I want to outline that there are certainly some uncontentious parts to this bill. They include the areas that look to vary boundaries within a number of national parks, and some of them certainly are in my electorate. They are the points that are reasonable, and we do not have a problem with passing those.

But there are certainly a number of other points, and one in particular is clause 49 in this bill in relation to camping on licensed Crown land. I feel that Mr Bourman is really charging short the farming fraternity and the Victorian Farmers Federation when he says that somehow they do not know the difference between licensed Crown land, freehold land and leased land I, like many others in this place, have had many, many communications with people, including via email, people ringing the office wanting to speak to me and also going on Zoom. I have often afforded them that because this is a very important bill and a very important issue. They know the difference between leased land, freehold land and Crown land, and today we are dealing very much with Crown land.

We have more than 170 000 river and water frontages. For decades people have been enjoying the pursuits along those river frontages, including bushwalking, fishing, birdwatching and all of the things that draw people to that wonderful and natural outdoor space and the beauty of waterways, noting that there are over 8000 Crown land waterfrontages covering 56 000 hectares. This therefore is not an insignificant issue.

The government feels that they have a mandate. They took it to the election that they would overturn things and enable people to camp. We know that people have been able to gain access on a daily basis, on a visitor basis, to go onto these Crown land licensed places and actually have the day there—go fishing, sit, watch birds etcetera. We know that they have done this. Many of the licence-holders—the farmers, the landholders—have encouraged and facilitated this. They have over many decades built up longstanding relationships with very good people who want to access this Crown  land I have heard a story of one family that has let people on an ongoing basis camp on that land for many years, and the families will often drop off some fish on the way through. There is a respect there.

Legislation is always for the 5 per cent of the population. I guarantee that none of the people in here are going to wind up having to deal with a murder case that they have inflicted on somebody. It is for the 5 per cent of the population who do the wrong thing, but we have to be aware that those people do exist.

People that I have spoken with very much have concerns in relation to protecting and preserving native habitats from disease, from pests, from waste, from abuse and from fire hazards and biosecurity risks, and I want to delve into those a little bit further in my contribution. There need to be safeguards, and that is why The Nationals and the Liberals have put forward a very sensible amendment to clause 49 to insert that to enable camping it requires the permission of the licence-holder to do so.

I understand and I accept Mr Hayes’s position about the very busy nature of our upper house committees, while also noting that the government removed joint committees at the beginning of their term. We could have sent this to a joint committee if they still existed, but the government thought, ‘Let’s stop working hard. Let’s compact all those committees’. But this issue is very, very important, it impacts on a range of things and it needs to be addressed, so I will certainly be asking the house to commend the inquiry and accept that position and that amendment.

And the Labor Party has put forward an amendment today, again with very short notice. Ours was up for quite a while. In fact I know the crossbenchers had the opportunity on Monday to have a consultation with our shadow, Bridget Vallence, who did a very thorough job of communicating with them. But the Labor Party has come up with, ‘We want to pass the bill, and then we’ll do some chat, we’ll have some consultation’. What this party has done better than all others is lack good consultation with key stakeholder groups. We stand here and I see it time after time.

The Victorian Farmers Federation has provided a briefing on their position, which we attended via Zoom, and one of their key factors was a great concern around biosecurity. Farms often abut that Crown riparian Previous HitlandNext Hit, and sometimes they will have water access there. But often they will have fences that will come up to that land that people will come over, and we heard stories—quite shocking stories—around animals being attacked, in one case stolen, and animals being shot at. This occurs now. We understand this occurs right now, but if you allow people to camp overnight and for long durations, this issue can only get worse, not better.

There has been a great deal of support from various organisations. I thank Barry Howlett from the Australian Deer Association for putting their position of support for this bill, and I replied to him. I respect his position but also note that there needs to be balance. Interestingly enough—from a very great family in Gippsland, the Bolton family—Julie Bolton, whom I have spoken to recently, is an ADA Gippsland member, and she has an opposite view to Barry. She is most concerned about what will happen—and she listed in a rapid-fire note erosion, biosecurity, rubbish, guns, dogs, gates left open, lack of policing, cattle, cattle out, alcohol—if this occurs and there is duration, that overnight and long-stay camping. She also raised the issue that on their farm—and they own a Crown  land licensed agreement—there is bovine meat measles. That was news to me. She said it does have an official name that we will not go into, but it was caught by her stock because of human faeces left on the riverfrontage. Stock consumed it, and those stock were condemned to death. If this occurs now, what will happen when there is unfettered camping on these Crown land licences?

Also she notes—and many other people who have contacted me raised the issue—that already there are free publicpaces without toilets and the like on Crown land. McGauran Beach is one of those in my electorate, and she said, ‘You only have to go down there recently after people have been camping to note the amount of rubbish and squalor that is left there on this free camping space’. Often locals will go down and clean it up. I have heard time and time again that parks and the Department of Environment, LandNext Hit, Water and Planning struggle to maintain the current state-owned public spaces, whether it be national parks or state forest, and people across my electorate, up in the north up near Omeo and the like and on the Mitta Mitta River, say that they are negligent in relation to this. Now, they often say it is not the local DELWP officers that are at fault. They have been drawn back from those where they had postings out in regional communities. They have been drawn back in, whether it be down to Bairnsdale or even further in, and it has contracted away from on the ground. Many people, I would think, join the likes of Parks Victoria and DELWP to be out there in nature and to do that very good work of cleaning toilets but also maintaining, taking away weeds and cleaning that pristine environment, and it is no longer pristine. So I put that on the public record—that there are varying views.

I also want to respect the view of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, who commented to me through David Laird that they support this bill. The comment he made—and I get this—was that public land is for public space. But my other position—and it is for all of us in this place—is that that is fine, but we usually have a nature strip out the front of our place. That is a publc space as well. Would we feel comfortable if people set up camp out on our nature strip, large or small? Yes, that is ridiculous, Melina, but on one level it still has the same level of meaning.

So to the other points, at Field and Game Australia one particular person who I value and is much esteemed is Gary ‘Pud’ Howard from the Heart Morass. He has dedicated countless hours to turning a wasteland into a beautiful wetland, and there are species there that have come back into that gorgeous place. He has concerns if there is an extension of this camping. He said already sometimes he can see what will happen. He said there will be the cutting down of trees and scrub, the cutting of wood for camp fires, the removal of wood for domestic firewood, the leaving behind of rubbish, the scarring and defacing of trees, the destroying of tracks, the defecating all over the place and non-removal of waste, uncontrolled dogs and leaving gates open. And you can see, he said, we will face another problem in relation to security. He went on. Yes, if they wanted to do something in the Heart Morass, they could fence off, but of course that is hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that. And he said that sometimes a decent flood could damage and take most of that away.

I thank the people that have sent these communications to me on this topic. If we had a magic wand, we would all be able to do exactly what we need and what we want to, but there are always going to be people who do the wrong thing. I acknowledge the fact that Mr Bob Baldwin of the Australian Fishing Trade Association wrote to me this morning and said thank you and ‘I’d like you to support this’. And VRFish, which is really just an element of the government in truth, is very much in favour of this, but Ian Gibb—a very esteemed person, the country vice-president of the Council of Victorian Fly Fishing Clubs, a fly-fisherman who has for years dedicated his life to the improvement of conditions for platypus in the region of central Victoria along the Goulburn—is concerned in relation to this as well, and he goes on in quite some detail about livestock, gates, camp fires et cetera. He also says, and I do want to outline the concerns that he has alerted me to, that these lovely pristine environments along these waterfrontages are home to platypus, and he said that one day he counted 30 when he was out fly fishing—again, a very passive and beautiful sport, one that my grandfather did in East Gippsland for many, many years. They like to leave a place better than when they found it, so they pick up and take their rubbish. So he is concerned about what will happen if there is camping by that 10 per cent who do not look after the environment. He is also concerned about black swans in that space. Liz Summerville of the Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association raised their concerns in relation to their members as well, and I said biosecurity comes up time and time again.

Minister Symes, in her capacity as a local member, wrote back to one of the farmers who described his concern. I find this quite amazing considering the ramifications of the conversation that she has got in this letter, of the requirement. She said:

The Victorian Fisheries Authority would install gates and signage to Crown land entry points to help people access these areas …

Does that mean she is going to do it across the whole state? Does that mean that Victorian fisheries are going to have the funding to do that? I flag that this needs to be addressed in committee of the whole. There are many, many things, including bushfire overlays and mitigation. There are a raft of issues that we are concerned about.

Finally, I would just like to make reference to Mr Bourman, who I believe must be about to change the name of his party, because when I heard him speak before he was very nonchalant about farmers, so I feel he may be just about to remove that term from the title of his—

Mrs McArthur: If he’s not, he should.

Ms BATH: He should indeed. I will take up Mrs McArthur’s interjection there. I think he should think about it and remove it, because the people I have spoken to are not corporate pals, they are genuine people who have genuine concerns. They love their environment. They do not want to be cavalier; they want to be respectful. They often still encourage and permit and allow, as they should, people on for a day visit, but they have grave concerns about long-term overnight stays, with camping and alcohol, where glass can be smashed in the process and there can be degradation of places where they have often spent many, many years improving the land and removing weeds etcetera. I ask the house to accept our amendments, and I would have grave concerns about this bill if it were to pass in this form.