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No independent authority, just yet

05 May 2016

No independent authority, just yet Image

Despite receiving a $2 million boost for new floating berths at Southgate Wharf, Southbank’s wait for the establishment of an independent waterways authority continues.

Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Lisa Neville last month announced her support for a new waterways committee under Parks Victoria, rather than moving towards an independent authority.

The move is contrary to the recommendations of the Lower Yarra River Use Future Directions Group’s (LYRUFDG), which called for the establishment of a single waterways authority in the form of a local port and committee of management.

Ms Neville said she was “not ruling out” the eventual establishment of a single waterways authority but said more work needed to be done to determine a long-term solution.

She said work being done around the maritime safety review and Yarra River Protection Act would help to determine the best arrangement.

“We wanted to put in place something for the next couple of years while these works are going on,” Ms Neville said. “This isn’t the end of the story.”

Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) executive officer Tim Bracher said the group was disappointed that the new committee wasn’t independent of Parks Victoria.

“We are disappointed that the committee being formed by the Minister is not independent of Parks Victoria, but it is to be hoped that the quality of the appointees provides it with objectivity and independence to clearly see what needs to happen on the river in order for the waterway to achieve its real potential through combining the strength of the public and private sectors,” he said.

“The first major task of the committee is to invigorate the commercial river tour businesses through a fair, transparent and equitable approach to licensing and fees.”

“A flexible and fair business environment on the river will see reinvestment and expansion.”

The State Government has committed $450,000 for Parks Victoria to establish and support the three-person committee to advise on the management of the Lower Yarra and allocation of berths over the next two years.

Parks Victoria will also engage an independent consultant to advise on strategy for commercial berth allocation and a probity officer to oversee the berth allocation process.

In response to the Lower Yarra group’s recommendations, $2 million has also been committed for the development of floating berths at Southgate Wharf.

Mr Bracher said the YRBA appreciated Minister Neville’s recognition for the long overdue need for upgrading berthing facilities at Southgate.

“It is Melbourne’s premier location for commercial water tours and the lack of infrastructure during the past 20 years has made it uncomfortable and unsafe for our visitors.”

“Credit is due to former YRBA president John Ahern, who fought hard for improvements to the waterway during the past three years.”

The LYRUFDG had recommended the establishment of a local port and a management committee headed by an independent chair charged with implementing the vision for the river and working with relevant parties to oversee and co-ordinate management of river issues.

It’s widely accepted that the current situation, which sees intersecting pieces of legislation and multiple authorities overseeing management of the Lower Yarra has led to paralysis and a failure to unlock the potential of the waterways.

It’s also agreed by many stakeholders that the economic success of the Lower Yarra depends on a single, visionary leader.

While private sector members of the LYRUFDG had wanted the management committee to be an independent group, the compromise position means continued involvement of Parks Victoria as an interim solution.

Ms Neville said the interim governance arrangement with Parks Victoria would be in place for around two years and, in the meantime, many of the issues relating to the waterways would be resolved.

“What I think we have put in place today with this funding is to get everyone on the same page about achieving the outcomes and the vision the community has outlined to us,” Ms Neville said.

“More work will be needed to get the long-term management right, but these first steps get key groups at the table to ensure consistent and clear decision making and accountability.”

“We’re proud to invest in the future of the Lower Yarra so business, tourism and locals can make the most of this great waterway for years to come,” she said.

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