The Victorian has missed a golden opportunity to get a massive environmental gain for minimal financial pain. They have ignored a once-in-five-year chance to halt a threatening process listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. At the same time they have squandered the chance to promote the public benefits of improved water quality, erosion control and river restoration, and provide private benefits to farmers through increased land values and healthier stock. Not to mention the increased amenity value of a revegetated and reconnected landscape.
Sound too good to miss? Not in the opinion of the Napthine Government. It has just renewed 10,000 grazing licences on river banks across the state for another five years, charging adjoining landholders a ‘peppercorn rent’ for continued access to public land for the purposes of livestock grazing. Stock grazing is the leading cause of river bank degradation which is a listed threatening process.
Victoria is unique in Australia with over 30,000km of river bank reserved as public land in the nineteenth century. We have an extraordinary asset. Livestock grazing is damaging rivers nationwide but other states don’t have the great benefit of the public land or the opportunities it offers for management.
Instead of taking advantage of the great opportunity offered by licence renewal for better management, the Victorian Government sent licence holders a brochure outlining the benefits of fencing off river frontages and a copy of their licence conditions (for the first time in 30 years). These conditions include keeping the frontage in good order and weed free.
They did not send out a plan to help landholders achieve these goals and they did not commit to any more money for repairing the damage.
This is unfortunate as there is a dedicated source of funding available to the Victorian Government. All water corporations pay a levy on the money they collect from our water bills for the express purpose of sustainable water management and repairing the damage to rivers caused by our water use.
The levy raises about $100 million per year, more than enough to pay for a comprehensive stock exclusion program, starting with the public land on river banks. All it requires is for the government to enact its own policy to deliver multiple benefits from river management.
The Government has recently come under some criticism over the expenditure of this levy, with the Victorian Auditor General saying it has been used for inappropriate projects and what could be perceived as core government funding rather than specific projects that align with its legal objectives.
Fortunately there is another opportunity to halt the degradation of our precious waterways with the Victorian State election coming up in November.
Environment Victoria is calling on all parties to commit to 2014 being the last business-as-usual renewal of the grazing licences. We are asking them to come up with a comprehensive program to exclude stock from river banks and stop the degradation. They will save themselves millions of dollars in the process through improved water quality, erosion control and reduced flood damage as well as creating much needed jobs.
Definitely an opportunity too good to miss!