Second Reading Debate: Marine and Coastal Bill 2017

I rise to speak on the Marine and Coastal Bill 2017, which will have clear implications for my electorate given that my southern border is entirely coastline. This bill will provide for integrated and coordinated planning and management of the marine and coastal environment of Victoria; abolish regional coastal boards; replace the Victorian Coastal Council with the Marine and Coastal Council; and, among other things, provide for the formation of regional and strategic partnerships to address regional and issues-based marine and coastal planning.

This bill is very important to my electorate, which, as I mentioned earlier, is bordered on the south by the Southern Ocean.

The coast is a key part of life in my electorate, with people enjoying fishing, surfing, swimming and walking on the kilometres of often wild coastline. The coast is also a key component for industry and tourism in my electorate. Obviously the port of Portland is a key economic driver not only for the south-west coast but for the entire state, being the largest exporter of woodchips anywhere in the world and injecting millions of dollars into the state’s economy. Portland also has a thriving seafood industry and is a haven for recreational fishermen who are chasing southern bluefin tuna.

Mr Katos interjected.

Ms BRITNELL — That is correct; the fisherman in front of me knows this. Then there is the beautiful Cape Bridgewater, which I think has the best beach in Victoria, if not Australia, with its wide sandy shores and vibrant blue water. Port Fairy is also focused around the coast. It is a key tourist destination, and I know that many members in this and the other place enjoy visiting the beautiful beaches and surrounds of the beautiful little village. There is also a strong commercial fishing industry in Port Fairy and it too is popular with recreational fisherman. Warrnambool relies heavily on its coastal position for tourism and other industries as well. A major drawcard in Warrnambool and right along the south-west coast is the annual migration of southern right whales to calve during the winter months, which brings tourists from around the globe to our town.

The movie Oddball was also inspired by an innovative program that uses maremma sheepdogs to protect penguins on the rocky islands just a few hundred metres offshore. It is a successful conservation program which is run mostly by volunteers and is now being used to promote the region to a huge audience. I was thrilled to have the shadow Minister for Tourism and Major Events, the member for Bayswater, in my electorate earlier this year, where she got the chance to see firsthand how this program works and how it is attracting visitors to the town. And of course South-West Coast and Polwarth are closely aligned, with the Great Ocean Road linking our two regions and providing an enormous opportunity for a strong economic boost with the booming Asian tourism market. Its tourists come here to see the wild, rugged and untouched coastline.

There is also a rich indigenous heritage element to the coastline, with one area in Warrnambool, where the Hopkins River meets the ocean, being of particular significance. The area is known as Moyjil, and archaeological work over recent decades has revealed a lengthy history of Aboriginal activity. It dates from at least 40 000 years ago, and new dating techniques are suggesting the use of this site could extend well beyond this time. The evidence within Moyjil could actually rewrite our understanding of how humans colonised the globe. So it is clear the coast is vitally important to my electorate and to the state, and there needs to be a coordinated approach to ensure it is managed sensitively and productively.

The changes proposed in this bill aim to streamline the coordination and planning of the marine and costal environment — something which should be favourable given the confusion that has been caused in this space. I note that during the coalition’s consultation the executive director of Seafood Industry Victoria, Johnathon Davey, raised concerns that the legislation removes the ability to plan for recreational fishing and that there is no objective in the bill that allows specifically for the continuation, development and promotion of fishing opportunities in Victoria, which is a significant concern. Mr Davey raised concerns that this new legislation removes the ability to plan and manage for commercial use, literally locking things up. This is not acceptable and appears to be contrary to the Fisheries Act 1995. I would ask the minister to address these concerns, particularly given the importance of the commercial fishing industry to my electorate — and I expect a comment from the member in front of me.

I also have concerns about locking up public land in the broader sense. There is a debate in my electorate around the use of the Belfast Coastal Reserve and the plan to introduce a conservation zone to the east, between Killarney and Warrnambool. In this zone dog walking and recreational horseriding would be banned, but passive recreation, like walking, fishing and surfing, would be allowed to continue with rationalised access points. I am not sure if this is a path we need to go down. I do not see an issue with dogs being walked on leashes and recreational horseriders being on designated pathways. We should manage situations, not lock things away. There is the ability to get the balance right between human interaction, recreational activity and positive environmental outcomes. My feeling is that this part of the Belfast Coastal Reserve master plan does not attempt to find that. Sometimes locking things up can actually leave the environment more unmanaged, and there are certainly unintended consequences that come from that. As agriculturalists we have learnt over the years to get the balance right between the land and productivity, and that is by managing inputs and outputs, and monitoring, evaluating and constantly prioritising to ensure that balance. We can do the same for the environment and the coast, and get that balance right.

This legislation before us proposes regional and strategic partnerships, or RASPs, that would support government departments and agencies, community organisations and industry to jointly address significant regional or industry-based planning that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. This would allow the community to have some say in the future planning of the land they regularly use in my electorate. An issue the RASP would have dealt with would have been around the Belfast Coastal Reserve and the issues that have presented in relation to the training of racehorses on local beaches. This could have saved a lot of headaches for the various people involved — having one central place to go to raise their issues and ideas, and work collectively as a team to find that balance I talk so passionately about.

Overall, the proposed legislation improves coordination among stakeholders and government on the health and management of the marine coastal environment. I do note there have been some concerns raised, and I would ask the minister to address them as a matter of priority.