By: Waterkeeper Alliance
On September 21st the Yarra River Protection Bill (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron in the language of the Wurundjeri people) passed the Legislative Council, the upper house of the State of Victoria, Australia — unopposed! Victoria is southern-most mainland state in southeast Australia, and the Yarra runs through its capital city, Melbourne.
During the last Victorian State election campaign, in November 2014, the Yarra Riverkeeper Association lobbied for a one-river authority and a long-term vision for the river. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) embraced this vision and incorporated it in their election policy.
The ALP won the election, but the promise still needed a champion. “We ran community forums, wrote reports, advocated in social media and took interested persons for boat-rides on the river – everything we could to keep the Yarra in the new government’s sights,” said Yarra Riverkeeper Andrew Kelly. The planning minister responded by appointing a Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide recommendations for the bill, and Yarra Riverkeeper worked closely with the committee.
The government accepted the recommendations of the MAC, and released the Yarra River Action Plan in February 2017. A key part of this plan was the Yarra River Protection Bill. The title and preamble of the bill were written in the language of the traditional owners of the Yarra catchment, the Wurundjeri, as well as English, the first legislation ever to do so.
The bill addressed the river as a single living entity, and required the drafting of a 50-year strategic plan for the Yarra. The river is to be managed in partnership with the original Aboriginal owners. Under the forthcoming act, local councils, statutory agencies and other government entities must abide by a strategic plan that takes a “landscape view” of the river, and combines all public land along it as the Greater Yarra Urban Parklands. “This is a bold and innovative way of thinking about natural spaces and waterways in cities,” said Kelly. The bill was signed into law by Victoria’s governor on September 26th.