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Interview with Bradley Fauteux

04 Jul 2016

Interview between Southbank Local News publisher Shane Scanlan and Parks Victoria CEO Bradley Fauteux on July 4, 2016.

The Future Directions Group recommendations were for an independent entity, that was my recollection. So the government’s response to that was to task Parks Victoria to be that entity for now.

It was a pretty solid investment, I recall, in infrastructure – a couple of million in moorings and other types of things, so that’s great, and about $450,000 for the establishment of that kind of independent committee to oversee that works as the waterway manager.

That’s a pretty strong support from the state government, from my perspective.

SLN: Let’s talk about the committee. Where are we up to with that?

We’re going to have a three or four-person committee. We’ll have someone from local government, we’re hoping to have someone from the City of Melbourne, we’re hoping to have someone from our board and someone from Parks Vic, I don’t know who that will be, comprising the committee.

SLN: So would that be independent then?

I think it would be quite independent. For sure. We’ve got lots of committees all across the state that have significant composition from local government and local business and other kinds of things. So, yes, I don’t think I have an issue with that in terms of its independence at all.

The governance, in terms of how we would manage the particular area would flow through the organisation’s hierarchy.

SLN: Is it your understanding, as it is mine, that this committee is a transitionary committee towards an independent authority?

No. I don't know that. That’s a decision of government right? If the government makes a choice to transition towards an independent authority then, you know, it’s my job to carry out public policy.

For now, this is what’s been established. And I so “for now” in a lot of contexts because, you know, governments change, or you have changes in policy or you have situations that come up that make that different. I don’t want to speak for the government about what it intends in the longer term, because I simply don’t know.

SLN: But you don’t understand that that’s the direction the government has set?

If I look at the media release that the government put out, it talks about taking immediate action to improve the management of the waterway. It talks about the inclusion of the $2 million for the floating berths. $450,000 to establish a three-person committee (it’s a three-person committee, so that probably obviates the need for a PV rep). It says we’re going to engage an independent person for strategy, commercial berth allocation, and a probity officer for the berth allocation process. It’s got a focus on stakeholder engagement and collaboration, supports the use of the lower Yarra to remain a key feature.

I mean that’s all very positive and forward-looking, but nothing in that announcement suggests that there is going to be an independent authority established in the future. So, even Lisa Neville’s quotes there talk about the present. So I’m not going to presage the government’s decision about the future because I don’t know what it’s going to be. But certainly the recommendation I recall – single entity in charge in charge of implementing the vision; new local port established – these things came out of that original group. Chris Hardman, who works for us, was on that original group for us. This is the government’s response: It says the government will seek advice from the new committee at the conclusion of the process, taking into account the outcomes of a number of other reviews that are underway. So that suggests that it’s probably wide open, once the work of this committee and the capital work has been done. So I don’t know that that presages that independent committee directly. It just leaves open the government to interpret the work that is going to be done over the next couple of years and some other reviews that are in train. So I don’t know that I would necessarily suggest that the independent entity is a fait accompli (as we say in French). It’s just a possibility.

SLN: Have you had similar experience in the past with waterways management?

Yes, governance is different in different places. I was managing director of Ontario Parks for about four years. Ontario is about the size of Queensland and there are about 250,000 lakes and rivers in Ontario. Etc.

So there is some experience that I think is relevant. Certainly the exciting part for me is the ports management and the coastline management. That’s the neat part for me, given the ecology differences – fresh water into salt water and all those other aspects. I’m very excited about those.

SLN: Would you accept that Parks doesn't have an activation role in its current structure?

We provide about $1.4 billion in economic contributions through nature-based tourism. I would say we probably have a very strong role to play.

SLN: I’m confining myself to the local waterways. The impression I have is that Parks is merely a regulator taking instruction from both the transport department and the environment department.

I think as a statutory agency, we work within the frameworks established by both those departments. I would agree with that. But if you look at waterways, whether it be piers and jetties, whether it be boat ramps and those kinds of things. I think our ability to maintain and enhance infrastructure along the length of both of those (Yarra and Maribrynong) probably plays a significant activation role. People don’t get in the water unless they go out, generally, one of our piers, one of our jetties or one of our boat ramps, if you think about the broader bay a little more. So is there more we could do? Yeah, sure. I bet there’s probably a lot more the community could help us to think about along the length, and certainly down in your neck of the woods.

SLN: But would it be fair to say that you don’t have a policy role in determining what you do on a day-to-day basis in that stretch of water?

No, I don’t know that I’d agree with that either. I don’t think governments work like that anymore. I think, when you’re the ones doing the work, you have an important operational/policy role. To be able to talk to the policy makers, to be able to look at the various Acts of the legislature over a period of time and start to talk about what works and what doesn’t. Policy making is, you know, policy gets made in one place and gets delivered in another. I would say that our relationship with the department (DEWLP), in particular, is incredibly strong and with DEDJTAR too, the other department involved. Through Luke Donnellan, they provide significant amount of support and funding to us.

SLN: But when we first sat down and spoke, you said the policy had to come from above, if we were to work towards an independent authority – that would have to be the government’s decision coming down. So is there any way to push it back up?

I don't have a strong advocacy role necessarily. My job is to deliver government policy. We certainly inform the government where we see gaps and where we think things could be done differently. I think that’s a strong responsibility of a statutory agency like ours. But am I pushing for a strong independent authority? No I don’t think that’s my role. I think our role, with the support of this new committee, is to make sure we have a clear understanding from local stakeholders and others in the community in that particular area what they want. What are the outcomes? The independent authority? We have a lot of independent authorities in Victoria. I actually don’t know if it’s going to be better to have one. But I’d be more interested in the community-based outcomes. Is more activation the important thing? If so, then let’s talk about ways to get to that.

SLN: The Docklands Community Forum, which formed a couple of years ago, is a bi-monthly collaboration, a get together, of the various stakeholders. When it was first set up, there were three priority objectives set: One of them was the provision of a primary school; one of them was to try to recover the tarnished brand of the suburb; and the third one was to achieve river governance reform. The perception is that the river, in terms of its economic development, has been going backwards under the current arrangement, which led to the lower Yarra working group, which led to some recommendations, which now would appear to have been stalled.

I don’t think I would agree with that at all. Recommendations were made. The government had a response. I think it's a pretty good response in terms of how we move forward of the next short while. I’m certainly not going to judge the response of the government but I think it’s a good response. It comes with a certain amount of investment. It comes with a process whereby community and stakeholder consultation can happen. As the estate manager on the Yarra, we’re happy to continue to play that role.

SLN: I know what the press release said, and I wish I had the detail, but my understanding is that the subsequent agreement, perhaps not mandated in a press statement, is that over the next two years, we’ll work towards an independent authority, so I’m a bit surprised to hear that you don’t have the same view.

The government’s actual response to the report, talked about seeking advice from the committee at the conclusion of the process in terms of allocation of berths, on future funding, potential improvements to governance, which may take into account that idea of a future independent statutory authority, taking into account the outcomes of other reviews currently underway, such as the Yarra River Protection Act, any work by EcoDev to improve local park management. And so I think the government is going to have regard to the recommendations of that three-person committee looking at some other instruments that are in play and then the government will make a decision when its ready. But none of that presages that implementation, so you may know something different that I do. I looked at the terms of reference and the different draft responses. It really is focused around responding to a lot of the needs around dredging, event approvals, infrastructure creation, maintenance and operations, the berthing arrangements. A lot of these recommendations look to the broadly supported, just in terms of that broad investment. But none of what I have heard says that that’s going to be the likely outcome. I think it's a possible outcome and, again, a lot can happen in a couple of years. I think we’ve got a process ahead of us and it's going to result in some great outcomes for the entire area. It allows us to be sure we are resourcing the area well to be the waterways manager and I think we go from there.

SLN: Would it be fair to say that if the committee comprises government representatives, then nothing is going to change?

I’m not going to answer that. I mean, goodness gracious. Someone from local council, someone from business is my recollection ..

SLN: You are going to have a business rep?

That’s what I recall. I don’t have that composition right in front of me here. But my recollection was that we are going to have a few of those.

SLN: I thought you said before it was going to be Parks Board, the City of Melbourne and Parks?

Parks Board I recall could be on there as well. And that’s okay. They are independent citizens who sit of the board and direct us as an entity. Again, I don’t see a conflict there necessarily. My recollection is that the Future Directions Group supported the proposal, thought it was a positive response and thought it was a positive start in terms of management of the waterway. Members, I recall, publicly supported the response and had a keen interest in being consulted on the proposed membership of the new committee. The Docklands Chamber of Commerce was not represented on the Future Directions Group. That’s something I recall. We’re happy about the investment. We’re excited to still be the waterways manager, for now. And we’re hopeful of getting some good recommendations out of the three-person committee that was proposed. And then it will be up to the government to decide how it wants to proceed.

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