Thousands of farmers and landowners have joined forces to fight camping on licensed water frontage.
In a petition tabled in the Legislative Council, more than 2400 Victorians have objected to clause 49 of the proposed Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which removes the existing prohibition on camping on licenced water frontages.
The legislation is currently before the upper house but no timeline has been given on when a vote will be taken.
Eastern Victoria Liberal MP Edward O'Donohue put the e-petition before parliament in early October on behalf of the Victorian Farmers Federation and Goulburn Valley veterinarian Angus McKinnon.
Mr McKinnon, a member of a group of farmers who have crown leases on the Macalister River, said farmers needed the ability to stop people camping along waterways.
"To allow unfettered access would be an unmitigated disaster for so many reasons," Dr McKinnon said.
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The petition raises concerns about the environmental, social and economic impacts of camping, including risk of unattended campfires, bio-security and occupational health and safety concerns, littering and pollution. The state opposition has said the Coalition will seek to amend the bill, to require campers to gain permission to camp from landholders with crown leases.
"The position of the Liberals and Nationals is that it requires permission, and that's absolutely fine, and I think that should be part of it," Dr McKinnon said.
He said landowners could not stop people passing through their property to a riverbank.
"If a permission system was managed by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and you could have a certain number of people in certain predetermined locations, that would be really important.
"Having DELWP know who was going where, when they were going, how long they were going for and the registration of their vehicles would bring in an accountability system."
Camping without an accountability system would be "absolutely disastrous" for farmers.
But Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Eastern Victoria Upper House MP Jeff Bourman said the state opposition had signalled it wanted to take decisions about land access away from the public and put them in the hands of their "corporate pals".
"In a stunning move, channeling the Greens, the National and Liberals are moving an amendment to the bill that will require anyone wanting access to the licensed land to require permission from the licensee," Mr Bourman said.
"This will effectively lock the land up, which has been openly and freely used by the general public for generations, unless they can get permission from an often absent licensee."
Mr Bourman said the amendment would allow only a lucky few who had a licence, or knew someone who held one, to access the river frontage.
"This will lock out prospectors, hunters, hikers, bike riders, four-wheel drive enthusiasts, fishers and people who just enjoy the bush, and all this because of people who have spent $68 a year for a licence."
Opposition environment spokeswoman Bridget Vallence said the Coalition supported more Victorians enjoying fishing and camping on water frontages but also wanted to safeguard native habitats and protect farmers, their livestock and crops.
"By amending the new laws that allow water frontage camping we can also ensure adequate protections for our farmers and for our environment and wildlife," Ms Vallence said.
"Farmers can be confident of managing any risks to bio-security, livestock, wildlife, areas of native re-vegetation, fire hazards, waste and pests. Campers can be confident of camping safely, discovering the best places to set up camp, and learn about protected species or risks of flood and dangerous landscapes."
VR Fish chairman Rob Loats said camping was only an extension of the kind of access fishers had already.
"We believe the land manager, DELWP, make the rules and it's out of order for the individual land owner to make those rules. It's out of order, it's so wrong," Mr Loats said.
"It's only an extension of the kind of access we have. We believe crown land is an enjoyable area of land for community to participate in camping, fishing, bushwalking. Some of the licence holders now allow campers in, and they are not supposed to, but they do, and we want equity for the whole thing. This is public land, we believe everybody should be allowed in there."
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