Crown land camping consultation commences

Consultation is about to begin on camping on Crown land leases

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Questions still being asked, as consultation starts on allowing camping on riverfront crown leases.

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MORE QUESTIONS: Fernihurst landholder Ken Pattison is seeking more information about new laws, allowing camping on crown leases along waterways.

MORE QUESTIONS: Fernihurst landholder Ken Pattison is seeking more information about new laws, allowing camping on crown leases along waterways.

Consultation is about to begin on contentious legislation, opening the way for camping on Victoria's 26,000 kilometres of crown land water frontages.

The move is part of the government's 2018 election commitment, to 'guarantee access to fishing and camping on Crown land that has grazing licences and river frontage.

Shepparton vet Angus McKinnon, who set up a petition opposing the changes, said consultation would begin on March 1.

"The most important thing is going to be the consultation, how they do it, how serious they are and how they assimilate the results of what they learn," Dr McKinnon said.

"I don't think any of us begrudge people the opportunity to camp, it's just the management, which needs to be addressed."

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He disagreed with a suggestion that the farmer be given a direct veto over people wishing to camp on river frontages.

"My suggestion was that they had the right to veto, through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, with a proper reason for it, such as calving," he said.

He said DELWP should manage the program, with specified camping areas set aside for visitors.

"If there is an opportunity for people to say, 'I want to go camping there, so I can just go through that gate and drive across that land,' people will get frustrated by it.

"There needs to be a responsibility for managing rubbish, there needs to be a responsibility for managing faecal contamination, and that rests on the government, rather than anybody else."

He said it should be up to DELWP to maintain sites, as there would not be that many spots, along waterways, that would be suitable.

"If you developed say 50 sites I would think you would find there would be quite a few that would be underutilised," Dr McKinnon said.

Election promise

Victorian Fisheries Authority chief executive Travis Dowling has told landholders the public is already able to lawfully gain access to licensed river frontages for recreation such as fishing, picnicking and hiking - just not camping.

The public was currently allowed to camp in State Forests, in harmony with farmers who have grazing licences.

"The removal of the prohibition on camping on licensed river frontages recognises that this activity has been occurring on many of these frontages for many years and (it) allows for it to be better managed through regulations," Mr Dowling told landholders, in a letter.

"This also regularises the situation between licensed river frontages and unlicensed river frontages, State Forests and National Parks - where camping is currently permitted.

"Section 401A of the Land Act 1958 enables a person to enter and remain for recreational purposes on a water frontage which has been licensed under provisions of that Act but prohibited a person from camping on the licensed land."

To allow camping on licenced water frontages, the Land Act 1958 has been amended to remove its prohibition on licensed Crown water frontage.

Mr Dowling said it was expected "suitable" regulations, to support camping, would be introduced from September 1.

"The draft regulations will include reference to how far to set up camp from the river, campfires, litter, areas that may be excluded from camping due to environmental or cultural reasons," he said.

"Please note that there are currently regulations in place that govern recreational activities on crown land reserves, the new regulations seek to address the additional permitted activity of camping."

Authorised officers from the VFA, DELWP and Parks Victoria will carry out enforcement activities to ensure compliance with the regulations.

The government would establish a 24-hour hotline to enable illegal and/or antisocial behaviour to be reported and addressed.

Licencing system

But Fernihurst mixed farmer Ken Pattison suggested a licencing system.

"I have to have a licence to shoot ducks, or drive a car, and getting a licence would involve telling potential campers about what their responsibilities are," Mr Pattison said.

"It could be designed so what they need to know what is reasonable, what their responsbilities, and liabilities are, for example if you camp under an old tree and a branch falls on you."

Mr Pattison has Loddon River frontage and said the only way people could camp was to "set up a caravan park.

"And you couldn't do that, because you don't own the land, anyway," Mr Pattison said.

Having passed the legislation, the government was now working on the regulations.

"When it comes to a lot of laws, it's not a matter of the law, its a matter of the regulations.

"They are talking about putting a gate on the river and signage, saying its crown frontage, and what people are allowed to do.

"Are they going to cut all the trees down to get wood - and what about liability, if someone drowns, who is liable?"

He questioned how much control farmers would have.

"If we had some control, and people approached us and gave us their licence number and name, we would establish when and where they came onto the property

"We wouldn't have a lot of difficulty with that."

Mr Pattison said he'd received a letter, giving a brief outline of the government's plans.

"It's just like a big paddock, that has got a few suggestions about what they are looking at.

"We wouldn't totally oppose it if we knew what was going on, and we weren't left to clean up the mess, put out fires and take away the rubbish."

His daughter Suzanne said the family regularly found rubbish left after campers had trespassed on the property, to use crown river frontage.

"For example, we have found nappies, cans, bottles, and sanitary pads all left to fall straight into the river - and it is then up to us to do the right thing on their behalf and clean and dispose of their rubbish," Ms Pattison said.

"This Christmas past we had campers light fires near the Loddon Weir, in a total fire ban, and leave them unattended and burning.

"You can imagine the untold damage this kind of action could result in and an alert was put out into the community to raise the alarm."

She said her father, Ken, had always had an 'open gate' policy, wishing to share the natural beauty of the country victorian landscape.

"One of our concerns and fears is that if regulations aren't put in place where campers are not known to the landowner/licensee, and a permit is not required, people will be able to camp, light fires, log protected timber, leave rubbish, harm themselves or livestock.

"The licensee will be unaware of their presence and of their identity and we are left powerless to intervene to protect the environment and our farming business operations."

She said the consultation time-frame was too short.

"There are so many questions and issues that have not been addressed or even raised from the farmer's point of view," Ms Pattison said.

"We do not oppose campers on crown frontages but we are dissatisfied with the consultation process and feel we haven't had any proposals as to how it works for the licensee."

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