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12 March 1991 - Current

Page 296
8 April 1992
                              HERITAGE RIVERS BILL
                                 Second reading

  Hon. B. T. PULLEN (Minister for Conservation and Environment) -- I move:
  That this Bill be now read a second time.
In 1987  the  government directed the  Land  Conservation Council  to  conduct a
special investigation  of  the  scenic,  recreational, cultural  and  ecological
values of rivers and streams in Victoria, and to make recommendations on the use
of these rivers and how their identified values could best be protected.

This  investigation arose from  the government's commitment  to  maintain, in at
least   their  present   condition,  Victoria's  most   outstanding  rivers  and
essentially natural catchments.
While Victorians have enjoyed the benefits of water resource development and the
resultant  economic  growth,  this   growth   has   not   been  without  adverse
environmental and economic implications. Construction of numerous weirs and dams
has  substantially changed  the  flow  of many  rivers.  Rather than  reflecting
natural processes, river flows increasingly reflect human requirements and, as a
result, many natural systems have been put at risk.

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Construction of dams and changing flow regimes have major impacts: they act as barriers to the movement of fish and other in-stream fauna; water temperature and quality are affected; releases of water for irrigation reverse natural seasonal conditions; and the response of rivers to storm rainfall is modified, affecting fish spawning, and opportunities for on-stream recreation. AIMS OF THE HERITAGE RIVERS BILL It is in this context that the government has introduced this Bill which aims to: protect those remaining rivers with outstanding nature conservation, recreation, scenic or cultural heritage attributes; provide opportunities for recreation, landscape appreciation and education associated with those rivers; maintain certain rivers in free-flowing states; and maintain certain catchments in an essentially natural condition. Increases in population and leisure time as well as a continuing demand for commercial use of the State's public land and water resources highlight the need to protect those rivers and catchments with significant values but, at the same time, provide for future water resource development based on sound environmental principles. This Bill will provide the necessary long-term protection while the Water Act 1989 will continue to be the vehicle for the orderly development of the State's water resources. VICTORIAN HERITAGE RIVERS SYSTEM This Bill provides for the establishment of a heritage rivers system in Victoria which is comparable with similar systems in countries such as Canada, the United States of America and Norway, and is something in which Victorians can take pride. The Bill is the first of its kind in Australia and reflects the growing concern around the nation for the protection, management and responsible use of our remaining outstanding rivers. The system includes corridors of public land along 17 rivers, totalling some 1950 kilometres in length. The 17 rivers involved are the Aire, Bemm and its tributaries, Big -- flowing to Lake Eildon -- Buchan, Genoa, Glenelg, Goulburn, Howqua, Lerderderg, Mitchell/Wonnangatta, Mitta Mitta, Ovens, Snowy, Suggan Buggan/Berrima, Thomson, Wimmera and the Yarra. EFFECTS OF THE BILL The legislation emphasises that these rivers are for the use and enjoyment of all Victorians and the protection of their values now will allow them to be enjoyed by future generations of Victorians. Several of the rivers, such as the Mitchell, Wonnangatta, Genoa, Aire and Howqua, are to be maintained in free-flowing states and the Bill provides that no impoundments, artificial barriers or structures are to be built in the identified corridors along these rivers. The Bill does not preclude existing diversions of water. Future diversions will also be permitted provided that they do not significantly impair the attributes of the river corridor concerned. The Bill also provides for the protection of 26 natural catchments across Victoria. Catchments in the rest of the State have been significantly modified by clearing, mining, timber harvesting, agriculture or extensive roading. The detailed provisions for each river and catchment are set out in a series of schedules accompanying the Bill. The provisions of the Bill apply only to public land in Victoria and a range of uses will continue to be permitted provided they are consistent with the approved Land Conservation Council recommendations, upon which the Bill is based. The addition of further rivers or catchments to the schedules of the Bill or the revocation of rivers or catchments now listed would require an amendment to the legislation. The Bill does not alter the underlying tenure of the land, but overlays specific provisions relating to the protection of the scheduled river corridors and catchments. The Bill also provides for the development of management plans for each scheduled river or catchment within five years of being included in the legislation. However, if a plan which includes a scheduled river or catchment area is already in existence, the managing authority can adopt that plan, with or without amendment, thereby avoiding duplication in the preparation of plans. The Bill provides that the Minister may amend or revoke management plans applying to the scheduled rivers or catchments, and the Governor in Council may make regulations in relation to management plans or other matters considered necessary to give effect to the Bill. CONSULTATION, AND SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS The rivers and catchments identified in the Bill were recommended for protection by the Land Conservation Council only after a comprehensive investigation of the attributes of rivers and streams across the State, extensive community consultation during the four-year investigation and an assessment of the social and economic implications relating to their protection.
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The protection afforded by the Bill comprises a significant part of the government's environmental policy as enunciated in the State conservation strategy and I believe future generations of Victorians will look back with a sense of gratitude to this Parliament for its vision and sense of responsibility in giving these outstanding rivers and catchments the status and long-term protection they deserve. I commend the Bill to the House. Debate adjourned for Hon. M. A. BIRRELL (South Yarra) on motion of Hon. R. S. de Fegely. Debate adjourned until next day.