September 3, 2013  |  Second Reading

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.