Action time on governance

After decades aboard a bureaucratic merry-go-round, Melbourne’s waterfront communities are changing tack in their quest for a new governance regime on the water.

A waterfront forum at Federation Square on August 5 determined to seek and engage a respected “champion” with a passion for Melbourne who could open doors at the highest levels of State Government.

The Yarra River Business Association-sponsored (YRBA) forum was given a brief history since 1999 of numerous waterways reports, studies and committees, which had all recommended structural change to activate the sector, but had failed to stimulate any real outcomes.

And while the sector is unanimous in its desire for change, it says the State Government minister responsible for the waterways, Ryan Smith, won’t meet its representatives.

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC)’s operations manager, Leighton Wood, told the forum the time had come to move beyond committees if anything was going to be achieved.

“We don’t need another committee.  You can form the 14th committee in 15 years and get nowhere,” he said.

“You need an ear at Premier level and you need someone with real status around this city to take this on – someone with a passion and a sense of civic duty for enlivening the waterways.  And they might not be a boat owner, they might not even care about the river, but they care about the city.”

Examples of an appropriate “champion” included former Premier Jeff Kennett and Sir Rod Eddington.

The forum adopted Mr Wood’s approach of finding a “champion”, devising a strategy and, finally, developing a new umbrella organisation which could replace or enmesh with the current unmanageable mix of 17 authorities with jurisdiction over the waterways.

Forum guest speaker Gold Coast Waterways Authority CEO Hal Morris outlined a lean and effective model that is returning significant financial returns for the Sunshine State.

Mr Morris said Gold Coast waterways contributed $4.5 billion to the local economy and was responsible for 2500 direct jobs.

In contrast, the forum heard from Melbourne Passenger Boating Association president Jeff Gordon who outlined an “undernourished” industry with limited patronage and massive excess capacity.

Mr Gordon said Melbourne’s 26 “heritage-style” boat had a capacity to carry nearly a million passengers per year if they each did only one cruise per day, but were currently only attracting around 265,000 passengers per year.

“An industry exists in Melbourne, but unfortunately due to lack of recognition as to what the industry could deliver for the city, it has been largely ignored and, like a tree planted with so much potential, has been left to wither by the authorities,” Mr Gordon said.

“We feel the City of Melbourne is sympathetic to the industry. However other state authorities have little desire to liaise with the industry. We have been trying unsuccessfully since July 2012, to meet with Ryan Smith, re berthing and other issues.”

Mr Morris said his slim-lined authority with the status of a government department was achieving great outcomes for the Gold Coast waterways.

He said his authority had just 23 staff and a board of seven, with only a single board member being a public servant.

“It (his board) is a group of seven senior people who know how to get things done in business.  They are there because of their own experience and not because they are representing somebody.”

“It’s not a representational group.  It’s not even a democratic group.  It’s a group of leaders who know how to get things done,” he said.

YRBA executive officer Tim Bracher told the forum that he and Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Mark Stone would be meeting the Premier to discuss the issue in September.

He said: “We are well aware that tackling it at committee level doesn’t work.”

Mr Bracher encouraged the forum to come to a unified position and speak as one voice.

City of Melbourne waterways manager Doug Jarvis told the forum: “You can’t bring a private sector operator to the table unless everyone is speaking with one voice.  You can’t do that at the moment and that’s just one example of why you need to fix this governance issue.”

Mr Wood said: “Leadership needs to come from the Premier. And you need to use whatever political strength you have to make that happen.”

“It really needs that leadership.  That’s how things get done around this town.  And it’s not at the city level, it’s at the state level.”

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