SPEAKING ON A BILL | YARRA RIVER PROTECTION (WILIP-GIN BIRRARUNG MURRON) BILL 2017

Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) — I also rise to speak on the Yarra River Protection (Wilip‑gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017. I am pleased that both parties are supportive of the bill, even though I was somewhat confused by Mr Davis’s contribution because he started off by saying he would be supporting the bill but then spent 45 minutes criticising it and criticising the government for what it was trying to do as part of putting the bill in place. That is despite the fact that when his party were in government for four years they talked about it, put the issue in the drawer to collect dust and basically did not do anything at all. They are now waking up.

This government is actually doing what it said it would do. We went to the election in 2014 and said we would do something about protecting the Yarra and its heritage and would give recognition to the traditional owners and enable them to have a say in how we manage the river. We are actually implementing that, two and a half years after the election. It is amazing.

I am looking forward to the committee stage. Actually I am not looking forward to the committee stage, when Mr Davis might be spending 2 hours on God knows what so we have to listen to all his questions. He was briefed on the bill and raised some of these issues in the briefing, and they were addressed. I think it will be painstaking for the committee to have to go through that again, but anyway, that is the process.

The bill is one of the first pieces of legislation to give Indigenous owners custodianship of the river. It is the first legislation to go before state Parliament with a dual Indigenous language title designed to give the Wurundjeri people a voice in decisions about the river. I think it is very important for us to recognise that.

As previous speakers have said, the purpose of the bill is basically to make sure we protect the Yarra River and parklands and also to acknowledge the importance of the river to the economy, sustainability and livability of Melbourne. It has been declared the most livable city in the world for seven years running.

The bill will build upon work already undertaken by this government to strengthen planning controls along the length of the river, particularly in those areas seeing significant development. It will also enshrine in law the new governance arrangements set out in the Yarra River Action Plan, which was released in early 2017 and which puts in place a policy framework that will see the production of the first Yarra strategic plan.

This is a landmark bill. It is the first time in Australia that a river and many hundreds of parcels of land through which it runs will be recognised as one living and integrated entity for protection and improvement. That is important. We can argue, but an important point to make is that the purpose of this bill is to provide protection and to make sure that we do not have overdevelopment around the Yarra River, because things can easily and very quickly get out of hand and people will not have the access to the river that they currently have. I think it is important that we maintain that.

The other point I want to make is that it was a historic day when the announcement was made in relation to this bill and the Aboriginal people were given the opportunity to come in and address the Victorian Parliament in the Assembly. Among the attendees was Wurundjeri elder Alice Kolasa, who stood at the dispatch box on the floor of the Victorian Parliament and read the name of a new piece of legislation designed to protect the health and safety of the Yarra River — which is known in the Woi‑wurrung language as the Birrarung — ‘Wilip‑gin Birrarung murron’, which means ‘keep the Birrarung alive’. Excuse my pronunciation, but I think this was an important event to give traditional owners and the original inhabitants of this land, the people who were the first occupants of Australia and Victoria, the recognition and the opportunity in this Parliament to participate in the introduction of this bill. I think it was quite a special event, not just for the traditional owners but for all of us. It is important that we give them that recognition.

As I said, Ms Kolasa was the first Wurundjeri person to speak from the floor of the Parliament in their role as a traditional owner of the land on which Parliament House is built. That is the whole point of the legislation. It is about giving that recognition to Aboriginal people and giving them a say in how we should manage the river, that priceless piece of real estate. Hence the bill establishes the Birrarung Council, which will assist the government in making sure the legislation will deliver the outcome which the government is looking at achieving.

I will go to some of the points Mr Davis raised about some of the recent developments taking place around the river. This bill will basically recognise the need for development and the growth in Melbourne but balance that with the ability to protect our heritage, the landscape and the river from overdevelopment. It is all about getting a balancing act and putting it in place. For the first time we will have legislation put in place to actually deliver that — a balancing act between development and maintaining open space and heritage.

It also gives our Aboriginal people a say, and that is now enshrined in legislation in how we are going to manage that real estate. I think this particular bill gives that balance, and I want to congratulate the Minister for Planning, Mr Wynne, and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ms Hutchins, for the good work they have done in this space to basically bring all the stakeholders together, the Aboriginal people and the eight local councils that have boundaries along the Yarra River. They have gone through a very extensive consultation period with all the stakeholders over the last couple of years to actually bring together a good piece of legislation to provide that balancing act between protecting the environment and protecting the river while also acknowledging the growth in Melbourne’s population. That is what this bill does. With those few words, and in the interest of time and taking into account that Mr Davis might take a few hours in the committee stage, I commend the bill to the house.

21 September 2017