VCAT challenge

Protecting the Rubicon River

By Miki Perkins

For many generations, the clear waters of the Rubicon River have flowed through the hills that flank the region around the Cathedral Ranges, also known as Nanadhong, in Victoria’s high country.

The Rubicon, a tributary of the Goulburn River, is of deep cultural and ecological significance to the Traditional Owners, the Taungurung people, and a much-loved place to go fishing or spend time in nature for all Victorians.

Last week, the Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC) successfully challenged a license that would have allowed this beautiful river in Victoria’s northeast to be dammed and diverted.

24/06/24 The Rubicon River, Rubicon, Victoria. Photograph by Christopher Hopkins

A partial win

Local landholder Rubicon Station Pty Ltd had been granted a licence to divert the Rubicon River by almost 600 metres through a private property near Rubicon, to power a small-scale private hydroelectric plant.

At the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia argued on behalf of the TLaWC that the license granted by Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) for the scheme was unlawful.

On Thursday June 20, VCAT agreed, finding Goulburn Murray Water’s decision to grant the license to construct works was unlawful.

The Taungurung had also argued the license would deviate the river, and that the water authority did not have the power to do this. But the tribunal did not accept this argument.

VCAT set aside the license to construct the work – making it void - and sent it back to Goulburn Murray Water for reconsideration.

Not the end of the matter

The VCAT decision is a partial win for the Taungurung people, but this may not be the end of the matter.

TLaWC CEO Matthew Burns said the fight was not over and Taungurung people were dedicated to keeping the waterways healthy and full.

“The Rubicon River and the adjacent Camp Jungai are part of a broader cultural landscape on Taungurung Country that have deep connections with our history, Ancestors and our obligations to care for Country,” said Burns.

“We want to protect and restore habitats for local flora and fauna, which does not align with the serious interference in a public river for personal use.”

24/06/24 Bruce Lindsay, Senior Lawyer; Justice Lead at Environmental Justice Australia with Matt Burns, CEO, Taungurung Land and Waters Council on the banks of the Rubicon River, Rubicon, Victoria. Photograph by Christopher Hopkins

Careful scrutiny needed

EJA senior lawyer Dr Bruce Lindsay said remains open to Goulburn Murray Water to reconsider the matter and issue new licenses.

“Building private hydropower schemes on public waterways, for private gain, raises important questions of public policy,” Lindsay said. “That this was proposed for healthy mountain streams, with strong Aboriginal cultural associations, invokes the need for careful scrutiny.”

Licences to manage how water and waterways in Victoria may be used and interfered with must be properly assessed and lawfully granted, he said.

The works would have been adjacent to Camp Jungai, a significant meeting place for First Nations people and now owned by the Taungurung Land and Waters Council.

The TLaWC insists that no licences for these works and diversion should be issued.

The Rubicon River and several other mountain rivers in Victoria are already affected by public hydro-electric schemes constructed in the twentieth century.


Challenging this matter through the Tribunal is expensive.

Further legal action could be required.

The Traditional Owners are asking for public support to protect this river and the life of the wildlife, communities and plants that live there.

Donations will assist with travel fees, filing costs and expert fees.

More information about this fundraising campaign can be found here:

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