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The Second Reading of the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung Murron) Bill was introduce by the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, in the chamber of Victorian Legislative Assembly on Thursday 22 June. The Wurundjeri, the First Nation People of the Yarra and its catchment, were welcomed on to the floor of the Lower State House and spoke in Woi-wurrung as a prelude to the introduction of the Bill. They received a standing ovation from both sides of the Chamber. I was lucky enough to be present at this historic moment with my predecessor as Yarra Riverkeeper, Ian Penrose, the President of the Yarra Riverkeeper Association, Christopher Balmford, and board member Warwick Leeson (who managed to get a seat in the Speaker’s Gallery).
It is in the Second Reading that the details of the Bill is announced.
It is rare for non-elected people to be allowed onto the floor of the chamber, even rarer that they speak, and the standing ovation was contrary to the custom not to clap in the chamber. This was the first time that Woi-rwurrung (the language of the Wurrundjeri) was spoken on the floor of any chamber in the state legislature,
So, the Bill is now well and truly launched and we are expecting that it will be passed by the Upper House before the end of the year.
The Bill is important as it acknowledges the role of the traditional owners in ‘Caring for Country’ — in caring for the river and its parklands and riparian corridor as one living, integrated natural entity, and uses this lens to protect the river for all the people of the Yarra catchment and beyond. The health of the city of Melbourne depends on the health of its much-loved river and the parklands along its length. It is where people come to ride, row, paddle, sometime swim, run, walk, and reflect.
The Bill creates the requirement for a long-term vision for the Yarra in the form of a Yarra Strategy Plan, includes the community in the creation of that vision, requires that strategy plan to be revised every 10 years, and establishes the Birrarung (the Wurundjeri word for the Yarra) Council. The council is required to report to the Minister on the effectiveness of the plan. The Bill establishes the Greater Yarra Urban Parklands, acknowledging that the river is far more than the water in the channel. The Bill sets out a range of protection principles for the Yarra to which responsible public entities must have regard in doing in work relating to the river and its parklands.
This is innovative, landmark legislation that establishes principles for sustainability and river management and then gives those principles teeth though auditing and public reporting. It includes both First Peoples and the community in the management of the river.
Here is a link to the speech given by Aunty Alice Kolasa on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, yesterday:
The Bill is the result to more than three years work by us (among many others). We sowed the seed with lobbying before the last election.