The journey toward a modern law for urban rivers: the Act for the Yarra story so far

Just to recap…

The Yarra Riverkeeper organisation campaigned assiduously for development of modern legislation to protect the Yarra River and in the lead up to the last Victoria State election in 2014, the ALP took up that ambition in its election platform. On coming into office, the Planning and Environment Ministers reiterated the Government’s intention to legislate for a Yarra River Protection Act.

In early 2015, EJA and YRKA convened a very successful community forum at the Abbotsford Convent on what the community want to see from such a law and among other great thinking we put forward collective ideas.

We put forward a co-design process to the Government for the development of legislation but the preferred approach was to put in place a series of interim arrangements, prior to implementation of a new legislative framework. Fair enough in our view.

Two bodies were established to advise on Yarra matters: a Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), acting as a sort of interim agency to advise the Government, and a wider Yarra River Reference Group, which includes Council, agency, community and Indigenous representatives. EJA and YRKA are both represented on the latter body. We expect to work closely and collaboratively with the MAC as well.

At the same time as establishing these bodies, the Government put in place certain interim planning controls to be applied to the Yarra, protecting landscape and environmental values, and controlling development in urban parts of the River. This was an appropriate and valuable step in the law-making journey. A million dollars has also been allocated to the task.

In the meantime, with the assistance of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund, EJA and YRKA have embarked on a project to bring together a range of community groups and nongovernmental organisations to develop a community-led vision for the Yarra River Protection Act. The ambition of this project is for these groups and organisations to collaborate on a preferred model or framework for the new Act, taking into account the various interests and places with which we are all associated along the River. We expect this to be a complementary project to the work of the MAC, the Reference Group and the Government.

To that end, we have prepared an initial Discussion Paper on issues to be considered in to development of the new law. These are likely to be many and varied – land-use planning, biodiversity, water management, recreation, open space, development, up-stream concerns, lower Yarra issues, storm water management, Water Sensitive Urban Design, agricultural run-off, environmental flows, litter, pollution… Yep, it’s a big list. It’s a pretty big River – at least by our local standards. It’s got all the features and challenges of an urban waterway, albeit one running from near pristine forest to Port Phillip Bay.

Time to get down to work…

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