• Loddon Herald

Blind eye, says Walsh


I CANNOT begin to express my ongoing frustration with the inability of our Melbourne-centric Government to understand even the simplest of regional and/or country issues.

To the point where, at times, I am wondering if some of the decision makers involved are a little simple themselves.

The latest mess they have created out of what should have been a fairly-routine transition of legislation is a prime example. The Premier and his bureaucratic bodyguard, very few of whom have ever held a job in the real world, where they would actually be required to meet benchmarks to justify their positions, keep making sweeping decisions, totally ignorant of their ramifications.

And if they are decisions affecting regional Victoria it doesn’t matter; because they don’t care anyway. Not enough votes out here in the working world.

It was not long ago I joined the rest of The Nationals Victorian members – and hundreds of landholders – on the steps of the Victorian Parliament; rallying against this Government’s flawed camping regulations.

A rally that came just days after the Victorian Nationals passed an urgent motion at the party’s state conference; condemning the policy.

If the Liberal Nationals are returned to government next year; we will amend this flawed legislation to allow landholders to opt-in to allowing camping on licensed crown water frontages.

That means it will only occur on licensed crown water frontage where landholders actively choose to have people camp.

A decision in direct contrast to Labor; which from September 28 is determined to force landholders, with licensed crown water frontage, to allow people to camp for up to 28 days.

Even now the Labor Government is developing an app to show people where licensed crown water frontage exists; and where unmarked roads can facilitate access to that frontage.

Whether they say it in plain English; or bureaucratic double speak, the message is the same – the anomalies existing in the regulations are unworkable and unacceptable.

If you wonder just how far off the mark this total package is, landholders are not allowed to collect firewood from Crown land reserves they hold under licence; yet campers will be able to use this same land at any time – and collect and burn firewood the adjoining owner will be fined for if he or she so much as touches a single twig.

Not only do these changes expose landholders; who could face industrial manslaughter charges if there is a fatal accident, to legal liability, but Labor MPs are also closing their ears to concerns about the risk of biosecurity breaches, bushfires, litter and the destruction of habitat.

This is an unworkable plan that is nothing more than a thinly-veiled excuse for opening another avenue to stage another blatant grab for votes in suburban Melbourne.

People across the state are disgusted by the lack of consideration this government has given landholders in this decision, which was legislated long before it was ever presented for consultation.

Labor needs to dump this ill-conceived policy and properly – and fairly – engage with landholders.

We have been confronted with protests, complaints, concerns and, at times, emotional distress from farmers and their families.

You can feel the passion and the frustration of these people; many of them representing generations of stewardship of their own land as well as any adjoining Crown land.

They know this government has failed them – again.

They are also well aware of their potential legal liabilities, of increased insurance costs and nearly all of them have concerns there will be confrontations with people given greater freedoms and rights than the ones who live there.

That doesn’t even come close to passing the pub test; and that’s why we will have this legislation near the top of the pile when elected.

* Peter Walsh is the member for Murray Plains and leader of The Nationals in Victoria.

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