Beverley McArthur MP
Member for Western Victoria Region
ROADSIDES NEED TO BE SAFE PLACES, NOT CONSERVATION ZONES OR WILDLIFE CORRIDORS
In 2009 The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission made various comments and recommendations regarding roadside vegetation, which should have been implemented. These included:
- Amending the State’s planning provisions to facilitate a broad range of roadside works to reduce bushfire risk
- Providing better guidance to municipal councils to help them resolve competing environmental and bushfire management objectives
- Ensuring Vic Roads implement a systematic state wide assessment of bushfire risk for all roads
“Ten years on and this State is in a worse situation than ever with roadside vegetation totally out of control.”
Some local government instrumentalities work at reducing the level of roadside vegetation on their ‘local’ roads and actively encourage landholders to help graze their roadsides. Corangamite Shire for example, has now reduced their grazing permit fees from $80 to $1. Moyne Shire and Colac Otway Shires charge no fee. All, however, have conditions that need to be met to obtain permits. Such local government permits are necessary for insurance purposes.
The Vic Roads Road Bushfire Risk Assessment Guideline is a 25-page document providing a series of models and risk mapping. The ‘treatment selection’ process requires input from seven agencies. And the ‘Roadside Vegetation Management for bushfire risk mitigation purposes’ stresses cultural and heritage values in relation to the roadside vegetation to be cleared. There are further hoops before any roadside vegetation is reduced. “No wonder Vic Roads have out of control vegetation on their roadsides.”
“For any diligent, community minded landholder on a Vic Roads boundary seeking to reduce fire risk, improve motoring visibility, tidy up our roadways, lessen stock and native fauna road kill and limit weed infestation; the permit process is virtually prohibitive.”
Before any application for grazing can be considered, an applicant is required to provide:
- A diagram of the site
- A very detailed ‘Grazing Management Plan’
- Written confirmation that no Planning Permit is required from the Municipal Planning Officer
- The relevant Public Liability Insurance policy that covers roadside grazing
- Written approval for grazing from DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning).
All this might appear reasonable until you deal with DELWP! This could even involve DELWP requiring the landholder having to get the area in question surveyed at the landholders’ expense. The cost in time and money could well prove prohibitive for most landholders. And given that the landholders are effectively doing Vic Roads, the motoring public and the surrounding community a favour, it begs the question what is government on about?
It should also be noted that freeways, highways and major arterial roads are ‘out of bounds’ when it comes to landholder roadside grazing. So since landholders cannot assist with these roadsides, it is obviously left to Vic Roads to do the maintenance and clearly they are more interested in installing wire rope barriers than keeping roadside vegetation maintained.
The recent catastrophic drought in NSW, I believe, could have provided the perfect opportunity for Victoria to give neighbourly assistance to NSW by facilitating roadside droving of the starving NSW breeding stock while at the same time ensuring our over fence height roadside vegetation resulting from good rainfall, was eaten off. My suggestion as a local Councillor clearly fell on deaf ears at a State Government level.
“Over twenty years ago, roadsides were considered ‘safe places’. Recent ideologues have turned roadsides into ‘wildlife corridors’ and ‘conservation zones’. This philosophy needs to be reversed. And reversed for several reasons:
- ‘Wildlife corridors’ become ‘road kill’ catastrophe zones. No farm animal escapee or native animal appreciates the need to look right, then left and right again before crossing the road. So these ‘wildlife corridors’ providing refuge for animals are in reality mobile death traps. Leaving aside the damage that occurs to human life, limb and any vehicles involved in accidents with our animal population.
- The protection of native vegetation issue is always touted as a reason to not graze, burn or slash roadsides. When you consider the grazing and burning of native vegetation that existed pre roadsides; the grazing and burning won’t be an issue but the suffocation of native grasses by introduced weeds like Phalaris, will lead to their extinction if not kept in check. In fact, often native flora benefit from fire and grazing.
- Roadsides must be ‘safe places’ on which motorists and commercial transport can travel from destination to destination. Out of control vegetation on roadsides obscures vision, hides unsuspecting animals and is a fire hazard. Recent fires have proven that if roads are blocked through fallen trees or roadsides ablaze, safe movement is impossible and lives can and have been lost when motorists and even fire fighters are trapped on roads. Recent fires in the Corangamite/Moyne Shire areas saw fire spread along roadsides resulting in huge loss of property, livestock and livelihood.
- Roadsides should not be used as mini native forests. Such plantings or native revegetation should be reserved for State parks, forests or on farms.
- Clear vision to a fence line is essential for safe travel and would avoid the need for costly and questionable wire rope barriers.
- Local CFA brigades are now reluctant to attempt any break burning because of the regulations and restrictions, which results in far less fire prevention.
“In the end, Government and politicians at all three levels have to decide where their priorities are or should be when it comes to roadside vegetation. Should native vegetation on roadsides take precedence over the safety of human life, native and non-native animals, efficient transport movement, fire prevention and farming property protection? Surely, common sense should prevail. Given that a lot of this so-called green ideology emanates from misguided and impractical inner urban concrete and asphalt housed ideologues, it is about time those who live, work and put food on the table for others outside the tram tracks, were listened to and had their priorities taken into account.”
21 January 2019