Media Releases | 17th Jul, 2013

Government’s key environment promise goes to water

17 July 2013
The Napthine Government has broken a key election commitment to investigate the management of Victoria’s rivers, wetlands, estuaries and groundwater systems.
Following confirmation from Victoria’s environment minister Ryan Smith that the promise has been dumped, 20 leading environment, Landcare and farming groups have released a joint statement calling on the State Government to honour its election promise.
“At the 2010 election the Coalition promised an investigation by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council to examine the condition and management of Victoria’s rivers, estuaries, wetlands and groundwater,” Victorian National Parks Association Executive Director Matt Ruchel said today.
“We are dismayed that this promise – one of only a few made on the environment by the Coalition before the 2010 election – is now being broken.
“The Victorian Government should not be shutting down opportunities for strong independent advice to inform future policy on how our rivers, wetlands and estuaries should be managed.
Despite the Coalition strongly committing to the VEAC investigation before the 2010 election, the council has been given some questionable investigations regarding expanding prospecting in national parks rather than commencing promised investigations, such as this one.
This freshwater investigation was a clear election commitment, unlike opening our parks for development with 99 year leases which was not mentioned prior to the election.”
The government’s policy back flip was announced in recent correspondence from Victorian environment minister Ryan Smith, who suggested that the investigation would now be ‘…included in the scope of the Victorian Waterway Management Strategy’.
Environment Victoria’s Campaign Director Mark Wakeham has dismissed this claim.
“The Victorian Waterway Management Strategy is a departmental strategy, not an independent report to government by Victoria’s expert environmental advisory body. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries does not have the ability or independence to advise government on required actions to turn around the decline in Victoria’s freshwater dependent ecosystems.”
According to the 20 groups, a recent draft of the waterway management strategy falls well short of community expectation for action to protect and restore rivers and wetlands. Concerns include:
• A failure to develop a vision for Victoria’s rivers and wetlands that reflects community values.
• A lack of  adequate targets, objectives and performance indicators for river and wetland restoration, (for example, the target for fencing off public riverside land is 210km per year – meaning it will take 85 years to complete the job).
• Failure to consider groundwater and its contribution to  ecosystems such as wetlands and river base flows as part of the strategy.
• Its entire scope is limited by budgetary constraints, not ecological objectives.
A full investigation of Victoria’s freshwater systems is well overdue – the last one was in 1991. VEAC are the experts and they should be given the job,” Mr Wakeham said.
“We need new approaches and improved management to halt the decline the health of our rivers and wetlands, which not only affects the environment but also agriculture, tourism, and recreation.
“By breaking this key election promise, the Napthine government has turned its back on Victoria’s rivers, wetlands and estuaries.”
The 20 groups are calling on Premier Denis Napthine to show leadership and deliver on the promise made to all  Victorians in 2010.
Download the Joint Statement