Rivers of the West

The rivers of Melbourne’s west are vital to communities in the suburbs and upstream, but their protection and regeneration has been constrained by weak and fragmented laws.

Off the back of a campaign that provided Melbourne’s Yarra River significant new laws for environmental protection, EJA lawyers have led the call for the same legal protections for the waterways of Melbourne’s west.

Local communities say a new approach is needed for the protection of the Maribyrnong and Werribee Rivers among many other vital waterways.

The dedicated work of several community groups lead by EJA, the Werribee River Association and Friends of Steele Creek culminated in an independent Ministerial Advisory Committee appointed to advise the Victorian Planning and Water Ministers on the protection and enhancement of those waterways.

The Committee provided an important opportunity for community input into urban design measures that helped care for the health of these waterways and the liveability of the West. It followed a similar process, headed by EJA, which led to ground-breaking legal protections for the Yarra River in 2017.

In December 2021, an “action plan” was released by the Victorian Government but failed to provide the broad law reform advocates had called for to protect and restore critical rivers and creeks across this fast-changing region.

The plan has fallen short in providing broad legislative reforms advocates called for, to allow stronger community advocacy and decision making, prioritise investment in the green infrastructure of the west, and set out a new model for urban design laws.  

Small waterways including the Kororiot, Skeleton and Laverton creeks, which are vital parts of the urban ecosystems of the west, were entirely overlooked and deserve a targeted response.   

The “action plan” does extend the concept of waterways as ‘living entities’ to these rivers and creeks and will implement some improved planning controls. Putting flesh on the bones of a restoration strategy for all of these creeks and rivers remains a work in progress.  

This plan is more whimper than bang. That is disappointing after the promise of the Yarra River/Birrarung legislation in 2017 and extension of the ‘living entity’ status to these waterways. The creeks and waterways across Melbourne’s west are major ecological assets and green spaces in this fast-developing region.

– Bruce Lindsay, Senior Specialist Lawyer

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