A plan to protect the waterways of Melbourne’s west, which has been more than three years in the making, will not provide the broad law reform necessary to protect and restore critical rivers and creeks across this fast-changing region.
The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning released an “action plan” for Melbourne’s western waterways on Monday, which environmental lawyers and advocates say is largely talk and no action.
The plan, three years in the making, was a result of the Rivers of the West campaign launched by Environmental Justice Australia, the Werribee River Association and Friends of Steele Creek in 2018 to improve legal protections for key urban waterways in Melbourne’s west.
A principal intention was to translate the legal protections afforded to the Yarra River to the west.
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.
The ‘action plan’ provides for limited improvements to planning laws and policy and introduces the ‘living natural entity’ concept into the management of these waterways. But that concept is given little real regulatory meaning and effect.
Planning changes fall well short of the strong strategic planning needed for each of the main waterways across the region, including in upper catchments, which is essential to drive protection, restoration and community involvement in these environmental assets.
The plan has also entirely overlooked the protection and restoration of smaller waterways across the west, including the Kororiot, Skeleton and Laverton creeks, which are vital parts of the urban ecosystems of the west and deserve a targeted response.
In August 2018, the independent Ministerial Advisory Committee was appointed to advise the Victorian Planning and Water ministers on how to protect waterways in Melbourne’s west.
DELWP also recently published its plan to protect the Barwon River catchment, which also largely fails to make the sweeping changes necessary to safeguard those waterways and the wildlife they support.
Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer, Dr Bruce Lindsay said:
“This plan is more whimper than bang. That is immensely disappointing after the promise posed by the Yarra River/Birrarung legislation in 2017. The creeks and waterways across Melbourne’s west are major ecological assets and green spaces in this fast-developing region.
“This plan provides little in terms of powerful, effective legal and practical tools to protect, restore and celebrate those places. We called for sweeping changes to modernise legislation and prioritise the health of our rivers and the ecosystems they support.
“Instead, the government has put forward aspirational, out of touch changes while failing to produce an effective means of bringing life back to these precious areas or preserving the little life that remains.”
Werribee Riverkeeper, John Forrester said:
“It’s pleasing to see the living entity concept introduced for all waterways, but the Werribee River Association called for the Werribee River to be a natural entity over 30 years ago.
“Now our platypus are in strife, and our water quality is poor, hurting the public and farmers. So, we need to be assured that the concept is actually brought to life, is funded, all parties obliged to act, on the ground on all waterways.”
Friends of Steele Creek, Helen van den Berg said:
“There is no urgency in this plan. We detailed how decades of weak planning laws, favouring developers, caused the Maribyrnong and urban creeks to be extremely polluted.
“Our vision for a swimmable river and more parks is met with a plan that will maintain our rivers as drains. Our iconic platypus will very likely disappear before this very slow plan is completed and implemented.
“We asked a Labor government to give us equal treatment with the Yarra River in the east – they have thrown us crumbs.”
Media contact: Kathryn Lewis, [email protected]