Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (13:39): I rise today to speak on the Parks and Crown Land Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. My contribution will flag some considerations Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party would like the government to keep in mind when they are discussing the regulatory framework that is determined following the likely passage of this bill. First, I would like to acknowledge that I recognise Crown land is land that belongs to the Victorian people, and so we should have access to it. But something every Victorian should understand is that there are currently hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are being managed and maintained through leasing by third parties, in many cases by farmers who own the adjacent land. These farmers or third parties pay thousands of dollars per year to hold the licence on this land, usually for a long period of time, and in return their cattle can graze or they can use it to crop or otherwise. They also need to fulfil their contractual obligations or run the risk of losing their licence, which includes maintaining this land to a bushfire-safe standard, so reducing fuel loading and the like. The argument from some in the community that farmers are trying to steal this land or that they think it is their own land may be valid in a few very rare circumstances where farmers have blocked access to Crown land on purpose, noting that this is not legal. However, from the other side, if you are legally in charge of maintaining land and keeping it safe for crops, cattle or preservation and have done so for decades, I can also see the hesitation to make access to it open slather. I think there is great merit in certain lands being excluded from this overnight camping permission. This includes land that abuts national parks. I think that this is especially so in the interests of bushfire prevention. A query that we had was around the infrastructure, including toilets, signage and fencing. We have been assured that additional toilet facilities will be funded as a result of the prohibition on camping being lifted. That is great news. Our assumption is that the most appropriate and utilised Crown land frontages will be chosen for the building of drop toilets once thorough consultation has taken place. Signage and fencing are going to be necessary to make it clear where private property begins in order to retain the privacy of landowners and protect their assets. On the topic of investment in overnight camping infrastructure, it is necessary to also flag that these sites may require more regular monitoring of camping compliance. From conversations with the licensees, it is obvious that there are already issues of littering from daytrippers, so the assumption is that there will only be more litter with more people staying overnight. To ensure farmers can have cattle grazing without them possibly ingesting rubbish or creating a biosecurity risk and can have clear waterways and clean private property, monitoring is essential. Camp fires have been a main point of reference when arguing why not to support this bill. Following a catastrophic bushfire season and the warmer summer weather that we are feeling year upon year, we need to be so careful with lighting camp fires. We need adequate signage showing what areas are allowed to have camp fires, a possible curfew for having lit camp fires and safe practices for lighting and putting out camp fires at the very minimum. For those who say you can already light camp fires on Crown land under current legislation, just during the day, I do not know too many people who light camp fires on a daytrip to go shooting or fishing. Camp fires are generally lit when camping overnight, so the increase and therefore the threat of camp fires is certainly going to be more prevalent as a result of this legislation. Signage will also be very important to make clear where there are flood plain areas. If you envisage families camping, many of whom may not be competent swimmers or campers, you can understand that being caught off guard by flood plain conditions could be catastrophic. I then query where the responsibility lies: with the landowner or the licensee? Dogs and farm animals do not usually mix unless they are trained to do so. Are there restrictions around people bringing their pets to stay with them overnight? I have spoken to farmers who run cattle farms, with some of this country’s finest Angus bulls being bred—bulls worth more than $20 000— and grazed on such Crown land. So there needs to be thought given to the permissibility of pets and how they interact with cattle or sheep. I suggest that this may be a time-permitted activity given cattle will not necessarily graze on Crown land all year round. I think it is accepted that inevitably this legislation will entice more large organised groups such as shooting and fishing groups to camp on Crown land. Whilst this is what the legislation no doubt intends to do, this may encourage shooting groups to go out in large numbers in areas where protected species may have been previously untouched and where again the stock, the livelihood of some farmers, are grazing. I just want to flag that most farmers have sheds with expensive machinery, hay, cattle feed—even petrol for the various tractors and machinery. These sheds are not necessarily close to homesteads. Allowing people to camp overnight on Crown land abutting private property and close to sheds could see an increase in farm theft or even arson. I would hope as a result of this legislation passing that we would see farm crime liaison officers trained and resourced appropriately. This is something Ms Maxwell has lobbied for and been very vocal on for some time. I think it is imperative to recognise that a large number of licensees are within an area of our state that was all but destroyed in the recent summer bushfires. I have spoken with farmers who have lost millions of dollars in cattle and fencing, and to them this is another blow—not because they think they own the Crown land but because as its managers they need to have a say as to how this will work in a practical sense. In these bushfire-affected areas I think tourism businesses may be affected as an unintended consequence of allowing people access to free camping just up the road from caravan parks or similar. I think that they will probably be booked out this summer nevertheless, but the shoulder seasons may see lower numbers as a result of lifting the prohibition on camping.
The Premier expressed wanting to get people back into these communities and increase spending, but this may become more difficult should this bill pass. Lastly, a permit system of some description would be beneficial for all those taking part in this— farmers, government, organised recreational groups, spontaneous campers et cetera—and we think a permit system enables three critical things. Firstly, a way to communicate expectations for those using Crown land—for example, what penalties apply for leaving rubbish, if endangered species are in the area, where you are and are not allowed to be, safe camp fire practices and more. Secondly, safety strategies—for example, if someone goes missing, but more probably if there were bushfires or similar there would be information for anyone camping in that area. And lastly, it creates accountability for those camping to clean up after themselves and respect the native flora and fauna around them, and if the compliance officers are aware of submitted permits, it narrows down the hundreds of thousands of kilometres they need to constantly visit. We hope the government will keep these key considerations in mind when creating the regulations that will make this program successful for all stakeholders. In relation to the amendments that were received early this morning and last night and over the last few days, we will be considering all of these in detail and voting according to the best interests of our constituents. I commend this bill to the house.