Catchment and Land Protection Amendment Bill 2013
I am pleased to speak briefly on the Catchment and Land Protection Amendment Bill 2013. As any member of Parliament who represents a rural constituency knows, weeds on roadsides continue to be a matter of concern for a number of people. Whether they be adjoining land-holders, councils, members of Landcare groups or others who continue to be frustrated by weeds on roadsides, they are concerned.
In the area in which I live, the weeds of most concern are those such as gorse. A group from Mount Clear College is here. The land that immediately abuts Mount Clear College has a moderate weed problem; gorse is a problem, and there are some other weeds in that area too, including blackberry.
The program that I take the most interest in and that my Landcare group takes the most interest in is a progressive gorse eradication program.
This issue has not developed or occurred solely under our government, as the member for Mornington suddenly wanted to try to imply by casting a bit of blame and slapping around. He claimed our government did not deal with this issue. Our government did a number of things. In this bill the current government is trying, as we did, to make it clear that local government does have a responsibility for municipal roads in its area. This perhaps clarifies it a little more clearly.
The issue, obviously, is that the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and local governments do not want this problem dumped upon them and to suddenly find they have a whole lot of weeds they have to deal with despite already being cash strapped or having trouble getting their roads upgraded.
They have trouble trying to maintain a whole lot of their infrastructure, so spending money on weeds is very difficult.
I have been pleased that in my area of Waubra over a number of years the local governments — and I particularly note the Pyrenees Shire Council and the City of Ballarat — have had a very progressive program of working with the then Department of Sustainability and Environment, now the Department of Environment and Primary Industries. They have worked with the department to gain access to funding streams that are sometimes provided to councils, land-holders, Landcare groups or other groups that have taken on responsibility for weeds. Those councils have then worked on a plan that is systematic and helps to reduce gorse in our area.
While unfortunately I have a relatively small area of gorse along the roadside adjoining my property, in the early days I was able to eradicate nearly all of it from the property. Occasionally there is a little bit more that grows back and which I have to deal with. In terms of the roads, the infestations have been heavier. While I have sprayed them, and while there was a fire in my area, a lot of that gorse has regerminated, as it often does after fire, and the infestation has continued. I am pleased that the Landcare group has been supportive, as has the local council, in helping me keep those weeds down.
There has been an unwritten arrangement where progressive land-holders and progressive members of Landcare groups have been prepared to take on some responsibility and recognise that it is foolish for them to deal with the weeds on their own property but to let those on roadsides grow, simply saying, ‘That’s the responsibility of someone else’. As anybody in the house who understands weeds would know, the weeds from the roadside quickly encroach on the person’s property and become a problem again.
There have been issues of recalcitrant land-holders who have not taken any responsibility and who say, ‘It’s not my responsibility; it’s the local government’s’. That argument has held to some extent. This new piece of legislation tries to make it clear that local governments have to at the very least develop plans for dealing with weeds. Unfortunately they do not have to deal with all weeds — and here it gets a bit messy — because they only have to look after regionally prohibited and regionally controlled weeds on municipal roadsides. There are some weeds considered to be of low priority in terms of being dealt with. In my area there are approximately 40 weeds on that list that are either regionally prevented or regionally controlled.
That does cover a lot; it covers gorse and a broad range of other weeds.
Despite this piece of legislation, the jury will still be out. It helps to go a little bit further, as we in opposition tried to do in a range of ways when we were in government, but all it requires is that the local government develop a plan. If a local government draws up a plan as required, it can get $5000 in assistance from the state government. If it is a progressive local government and does a good plan, it might get up to $50 000 to help with weed eradication. Such incentives are good, but they do not mean that some councils will not still be pretty recalcitrant and simply say, ‘We haven’t got the money. We can’t do it; we can only do a little bit’.
We all know —
Mr Weller interjected.
Even the member for Rodney knows that councils in regional Victoria are always telling us how hard it is, how cash-strapped they are and how they cannot take on any more responsibilities. Obviously they need to be coaxed. There is the matter of the legislative framework that needs to be put in place, and some funding would help put a twinkle in their eyes and strengthen their resolve, which would achieve more than this legislation, which only requires each council to have a plan in place. It need only be a pretty lousy plan for them to get their minimum of $5000 a year. It does not force councils to put in place serious plans to support landowners in their area and to address weed problems.
While I am prepared to support the bill, as the Labor opposition will, the jury is out in terms of what it will achieve.
The bill does provide that local government is responsible for the 40-odd species of weeds and for some pest animals that exist on roadsides, but we will have to wait and see how well councils deal with that responsibility. Under this bill councils are only statutorily required to prepare a management plan, so we will have to wait and see whether local government authorities will be progressive and get on top of this issue.
There is also the issue of the responsibility of Landcare groups in their areas. They have been terrific driving forces in terms of weeds management. My local Landcare group, the Mount Bolton-Mount Beckworth Landcare Group, is very proactive, as are many other Landcare groups. Sometimes Landcare groups also need to be proactive in ensuring that their local councils do the right thing and, if necessary, push them along. A joint range of activities will be required more broadly across the community to see action taken on the control of weeds on roadsides. I hope we can make serious progress, but the jury is still out.
Opposition members will wait and see how this legislation works when it is enacted.