Government’s key environment promise goes to water

Red-Gum-wetland

The Victorian Environment Assessment Council “provides independent and strategic advice relating to the protection and sustainable management of Victoria’s environment and natural resources”.   It comprises five board members and uses larger community reference groups for its investigations.  Governments are notorious for cherry-picking VEAC reports, and even asking for investigations on politically-motivated issues.

The Remnant Native Vegetation Investigation was requested by the previous government.  BEAM welcomed the investigation and made submissions to the investigation and the draft report.  Unfortunately, VEAC did not report the investigation until early 2011 when the present government was in power.  This investigation was particularly relevant to rural Victoria and included waterways.  Its recommendations seem to have been lost.  The move for a VEAC investigation into the condition and management of freshwater ecosystems is another topic of great relevance to rural Victoria, and one that should be supported by conservation groups.  Hence BEAM has added their voice to the joint statement from the Victorian National Parks Association calling for this investigation.

The media statement below is reproduced from the Victorian National Parks Association

The Napthine Government has broken a key election commitment to investigate the management of Victoria’s rivers, wetlands, estuaries and groundwater systems.

Following confirmation from the state’s environment minister Ryan Smith that the promise has been dumped, 20 leading environment, Landcare and farming groups have released a joint statement calling on the Victorian Government to honour its election promise.

“At the 2010 election the Coalition promised an investigation by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council to examine the condition and management of Victoria’s rivers, estuaries, wetlands and groundwater,” Victorian National Parks Association spokesperson Nick Roberts said today.

“We are dismayed that this promise – one of only a few made on the environment by the Coalition before the 2010 election – is now being broken.

“The Victorian Government should not be shutting down opportunities for strong independent advice to inform future policy on how our rivers, wetlands and estuaries should be managed.

“Despite the Coalition strongly committing to the VEAC investigation before the 2010 election, the council has been given some questionable investigations regarding expanding prospecting in national parks rather than commencing promised investigations, such as this one.

“This freshwater investigation was a clear election commitment, unlike opening our parks for development with 99 year leases, which was not mentioned prior to the election.”

The government’s policy backflip was announced in recent correspondence from Victorian environment minister Ryan Smith, who suggested that the investigation would now be “…included in the scope of the Victorian Waterway Management Strategy”.

Environment Victoria’s Campaigns Director Mark Wakeham has dismissed this claim.

“The Victorian Waterway Management Strategy is a departmental strategy, not an independent report to government by Victoria’s expert environmental advisory body. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries does not have the ability or independence to advise government on required actions to turn around the decline in Victoria’s freshwater-dependent ecosystems.”

According to the 20 groups, a recent draft of the waterway management strategy falls well short of community expectation for action to protect and restore rivers and wetlands. Concerns include:

  • A failure to develop a vision for Victoria’s rivers and wetlands that reflects community values.
  • A lack of adequate targets, objectives and performance indicators for river and wetland restoration (for example, the target for fencing off public riverside land is 210km per year – meaning it will take 85 years to complete the job).
  • Failure to consider groundwater and its contribution to ecosystems such as wetlands and river base flows as part of the strategy.
  • Its entire scope is limited by budgetary constraints, not ecological objectives.

“A full investigation of Victoria’s freshwater systems is well overdue – the last one was in 1991. VEAC are the experts and they should be given the job,” Mr Wakeham said.

“We need new approaches and improved management to halt the decline in the health of our rivers and wetlands, which not only affects the environment but also agriculture, tourism, and recreation.

“By breaking this key election promise, the Napthine Government has turned its back on Victoria’s rivers, wetlands and estuaries.”

The 20 groups are calling on Premier Denis Napthine to show leadership and deliver on the promise made to all Victorians in 2010.

Download the Joint Statement

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