Removing the prohibition on camping on licenced river frontages

Background

1. What will the Bill do?

  • The Bill amends the Land Act by removing the prohibition on camping on licensed river frontages.
  • The Bill also ensures that the policy can be implemented successfully by:
    • inserting appropriate regulation-making powers to assist in managing the recreational activity and protecting the environment on the frontages
    • ensuring that various offences in the Forests Act relating to campfires in State forest apply to all licensed river frontages.

2. Why is the Bill removing the prohibition on camping on licensed river frontages?

  • The Andrews Labor Government committed as part of the 2018 ‘Fishing and Boating’ election commitments to "guarantee access to fishing and camping on Crown land that has grazing licences and river frontage".
  • It is important to recognise that, although camping is currently prohibited on licensed Crown land river frontages, many other forms of recreation are currently permitted, such as picnicking, fishing and walking.
  • Recreational activities, including fishing, picnicking and walking, are generally permitted on both licensed and unlicensed river frontages. However, while camping is permitted on unlicensed river frontages, it is currently prohibited on licensed frontages.
  • Allowing camping on licensed Crown land river frontages will:
    • encourage families and friends to spend time together in Victoria's great outdoors, leading to increased enjoyment and well-being
    • increase the opportunities for the public to camp on public land
    • will not only support greater enjoyment of Victoria's great outdoors but recognise that camping has been occurring on many of these frontages for many years and will enable it to be better managed through regulations
    • ensure that the public can access these areas of Crown land for camping just as they can access other areas of Crown land where camping is not prohibited (such as unlicensed river frontages, State forest, and national and other parks).

3. Are there examples of where people are currently camping on licensed river frontages?

  • There are various areas around the State where there are high quality fishing opportunities and where people have been camping for many years, but there is confusion over the underlying status of the land and whether camping is permitted.
  • Key areas are particularly located on the Ovens, Loddon, Campaspe and Goulburn rivers, due to the quality of the fishing opportunities in those areas.
  • There may also be instances where licence holders (i.e. farmers) would like to allow family and friends to camp on river frontages over which they have a licence, but they would also be in breach of the current prohibition in doing so.

4. What is a water frontage?

  • The Land Act essentially defines a water frontage to be Crown land which has a frontage to a watercourse but does not include any land which is leased or land which is under the control of a committee of management or a public authority.
  • The Land Act does not specify how wide a frontage is – i.e. how far from a waterway a frontage extends.
  • It is proposed to make a House Amendment which uses an alternative term – watercourse land – to specify the maximum extent of Crown land to which the regulations will apply.
  • It is proposed that this will be Crown land up to 150 metres from a waterway (other than land which is leased or under the control of a committee of management or public authority other than the Secretary to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning or Parks Victoria).

5. What land does the legislative amendment apply to?

  • The change to allow camping on licensed river frontages only applies to Crown land.
  • It does not affect freehold land or any land which is leased.
  • There are approximately 10 000 Crown land water frontage licences, including approximately 1000 riparian management licences, along nearly 17 000 kilometres of streams (i.e. along both banks).

Implementation

6. How will the policy be implemented?

  • The Victorian Fisheries Authority will lead the implementation of the policy, supported by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria.
  • Implementation will involve the following key steps:
    • developing regulations, including consultation with Traditional Owner groups, licensees and key stakeholders
    • developing information and educational material to encourage appropriate visitor behaviour
    • carrying out compliance and enforcement activities
    • improving access to waterways at key locations.

Regulations

  • Regulations will establish a clear regulatory framework to govern the use of the river frontages and will be able to be used to educate users, encourage compliance and, if necessary, for enforcement.
  • There will be consultation with Traditional Owner groups, licensees and key stakeholders on the proposed regulations once the Bill has been passed.
  • Overall, the regulations will set a clear framework which aims to:
    • protect the frontages and their natural and cultural values and water quality
    • support the enjoyment of those using the frontages for recreation (including fishing, camping, walking, picnicking, canoeing and hunting)
    • protect the interests of licensees and minimise conflicts as far as possible.
  • The regulations will:
    • prescribe a set of reasonable and responsible behaviours for those using the water frontages for recreation
    • include a set of tools to assist land managers to manage particular circumstances.
  • Subject to consultation, the final regulations will include regulations to:
    • protect environmental and cultural values, including prohibiting camping within 20 metres of a waterway (similar to regulations covering many other areas of Crown land)
    • prohibit interference with cattle
    • establish appropriate behaviours, such as closing gates or not interfering with structures
    • enable the land manager to set aside areas where specified activities may not be permitted.
  • It is intended that the regulations will cover both licensed and unlicensed river frontages so there is a consistent approach as far as possible.
  • Many of the regulations will be similar to those that currently apply to unlicensed water frontages and other areas of Crown land.

Information and educational material

  • Material will be developed to accompany the regulations and support users and licensees and encourage everyone to do the right thing.
  • Information may include, for example:
    • information on accessing key sites
    • information based on the regulations to help educate users and encourage safe and appropriate behaviour
    • access to mapping which shows in general terms where camping is permitted
    • information for licensees so that they understand the change in policy and what is expected of them.
  • Information would be available on the websites of the key agencies such as the Victorian Fisheries Authority and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Enforcement

  • Authorised officers from the Victorian Fisheries Authority, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria will carry out enforcement activities where possible to ensure compliance with the regulations.

On-ground management at key locations

  • In addition to regulations, information and enforcement, there will be improvements to the access to river frontages at key locations, whether they are licensed or not, along rivers such as the Goulburn, Loddon and Campaspe.

Will the areas where camping is permitted be mapped?

  • The Victorian Fisheries Authority is developing an App which will show where camping is permitted. However, because the boundaries of Crown land are not necessarily clear on the ground, mapping will necessarily be indicative.

7. What is the proposed schedule for implementation?

  • The proposed schedule for implementation is as follows:

Task

Indicative timing

Notify licensees

  • Inform licensees of the proposed changes once the Bill has
    been passed.

November–December 2020

Develop and make regulations

 
  • Finalise proposed regulations for consultation.

November 2020

  • Consult on the proposed regulations with Traditional Owner groups   and key stakeholders (including Victorian Farmers
    Federation, recreational fishers and other key recreation
    groups, catchment management authorities and water authorities).

December 2020 – first part of 2021

  • Finalise and make the regulations.

By 1 September 2021 – the proposed new forced commencement date

Develop information and educational material

  • Develop information to accompany the regulations and
    support users and licensees, including:

- information on access, including mapping key sites and information on how to access them

- information to encourage safe and appropriate camping behaviour and to manage potential risks

- information to Crown land licence holders to ensure
public access to public land at key sites.

By 1 September 2021

Carry out compliance and enforcement activities

  • Carry out compliance and enforcement as required.

Ongoing from
1 September 2021

  • The policy will also be supported by improving access to river frontages at key sites.

Managing river frontages

8. Will the legislative change increase camping on river frontages?

  • The Victorian Government is committed to encouraging families and friends to spend time together in the outdoors, and the intention of this Bill is to make it easier for families go camping on Crown Land.
  • In some areas, removing the legislative prohibition on camping on river frontages will simply regularise camping activity that has taken place over many years.
  • In other areas, such as sites where access to the frontages is improved, it may encourage more camping.
  • In other areas, existing camping activity may become more dispersed.

9. Will camping be permitted on all Crown land river frontages?

  • The government recognises that not all river frontages are suitable for camping due, for example, to their environmental or cultural values or narrow width.
  • It is proposed that the regulations will prohibit camping in the following areas:
    • areas within 20 metres of a waterway (this is similar to the regulations applying to large areas of Crown land such as State forest and national parks)
    • areas where there is revegetation
    • specific areas which are set aside.

10.  How will riparian revegetation works be protected?

  • It is proposed that the regulations will help protect riparian revegetation works by:
    • prohibiting camping within 20 metres of a waterway
    • prohibiting camping in areas where vegetation has been planted
    • enabling, if necessary, the land manager to 'set aside' areas where access is prohibited orrestricted.

11.  Will the number of campers be limited at particular sites?

  • There are currently no restrictions on the number of campers on unlicensed water frontages.
  • There is no current intention to restrict numbers. It is expected that numbers will be self-limiting.

12.  How will campers' behaviour be managed – e.g. rubbish, toileting, interaction with cattle?

  • Campers and others using the river frontages for recreation will be expected to behave appropriately and in a way which respects the environment, other users and adjoining landowners.
  • The Victorian Fisheries Authority will develop information and educational material to encourage visitors to do the right thing.
  • If campers are not doing the right thing, the proposed regulations will include a set of offences relating to appropriate behaviours which can be enforced.
  • The usual rules applying to campfires would apply in relation to campfires on river frontages, including a ban on campfires on total fire ban days, minimum distances to keep clear around a fire, etc.
  • It is proposed that the regulations will be able to set aside areas where campfires are prohibited, either permanently or at certain times of the year.
  • Visitors will be expected to exercise sensible behaviour with fires on river frontages.

13.  How will campfires be managed on the river frontages?

14.  What does it mean for licence holders and adjoining landowners?

  • There are approximately 10 000 frontage licences, including some 1000 riparian management licences and 9000 licences for grazing.
  • Licensees will be notified of the changes and what is expected of them, for example:
    • the frontages will continue to be regulated but there will be some changes as a result of camping not being prohibited on the licensed river frontages
    • access via Crown land is permitted to most river frontages and there may be campers on some frontages where this was not legally permitted
    • licensees should not impede access to the frontages where that access is across Crown land (e.g. an unused road).
  • Licensees will be advised to notify the Victorian Fisheries Authority, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning or Parks Victoria of any issues which emerge.

15.  Will campers be able to go across freehold or leased land to gain access to a river frontage?

  • Access to freehold land adjoining any Crown land frontage or any leased land without the landowner's or leaseholder's consent is not permitted and would constitute trespassing.

16.  How will farm biosecurity issues be managed?

  • Implementing the policy will involve consultation with key stakeholders, including the Victorian Farmers Federation, so that key risks can be managed. For example, it may be necessary to place restrictions in various locations from time to time.
  • However, it should be noted that:
    • the public is already able to lawfully access licensed river frontages for recreation (just not camping) where cattle may be present
    • the public may currently camp in areas of State forest which are licensed for grazing and where cattle are present
    • access to freehold land adjoining any Crown land frontage without the landowner's consent is not permitted and would constitute trespassing.
  • Information and educational materials prepared to support the changes will include information about managing the risks of leaving rubbish and food wastes behind and introducing pest animals or invasive plant species.

17. Will licensees be liable for any accidents on a licensed frontage or on adjoining farmland?

  • It is expected that licensees would have public liability insurance since the public is permitted to access licensed Crown land river frontages now for various recreational activities (e.g. fishing, picnicking). The Bill does not alter that fact.
  • Each situation will no doubt be different and each case would need to be considered on its merits.
  • Access to freehold land adjoining any Crown land frontage or any leased land without the landowner's or leaseholder's consent is not permitted and would constitute trespassing.