Goulburn-Murray Water backs down

By Myles Peterson

Goulburn-Murray Water has withdrawn proposed fee increases to occupational foreshore licences for the short term following public and political pressure over the issue.

A review of the fees has been put off until after the November state poll, removing a thorny local issue from the looming Victorian election.

Both Water Minister Lisa Neville and her Opposition counterpart Steph Ryan went on the record criticising the proposed increases which would have seen fees rise by up to 600 per cent for some licence holders, soaring from around $300 to more than $2000 in some instances, along with new fees being levied on those who previously did not require a ‘‘foreshore licence’’.

Foreshore property owners targeted with the new and increased fees expressed their outrage, with some forming action groups to combat the proposed rises.

G-MW initially extended its consultation period in the face of the political and public backlash.

Yesterday the legislated monopoly put out a press release stating the proposed new fees and fee increases would not be going ahead in 2018.

All current licence holders will have their licences extended for another year with only a CPI increase of about two per cent, dramatically lower than the original plan.

But foreshore property owners can only breathe easy in the short term.

G-MW plans to use the buffer period to map all foreshore structures for a new regime to be proposed in 2019, according to a statement.

A spokesperson for Minister Neville’s office said the Victorian Government welcomed the reprieve and was keeping an eye on the issue.

‘‘Landholders can have peace of mind licensing fees will remain stable for the next 12 months, and that a thorough and transparent review process will now take place,’’ she said.

‘‘We have a Strategic Advisory Panel in place to ensure G-MW charges and services are sustainable and affordable — and foreshore fees will be considered as part of that process.’’

Coalition spokesperson for water and Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan laid the blame for the process at the feet of Minister Neville.

‘‘Goulburn-Murray Water is rumoured to have a $1billion black hole over the next 25 years from Lisa Neville’s decision to ‘reset’ the Connections Project.

‘‘Foreshore licence holders should not have to bear the brunt of the Andrews Government’s decision to saddle the organisation with huge costs,’’ she said.

‘‘The decision to introduce these fees was made without any consultation and the government is now trying to lay the blame at Goulburn-Murray Water’s feet.’’

Kirwan’s Bridge resident and co-ordinator of the local protest campaign Alan McLean welcomed the postponement, but expressed concerns it was only a temporary win and speculated the looming November poll may have played a part.

‘‘It would not be surprising to see this decision in the light of the upcoming state election when a whole new regime might take hold,’’ he said.

‘‘With matters on hold we all just have to wait and see, but I doubt that anyone would be baulking at a cost-of-living adjust. I’m sure I speak on behalf of a number of landholders in welcoming this extended breathing space.’’

G-MW managing director Pat Lennon conceded his organisation could have tackled the process more effectively.

‘‘We acknowledge our initial customer engagement could have been better and we will be taking all feedback into account in our next steps. As we process the input received we will re-engage with customers on a new fee structure,’’ he said.

Mr Lennon denied political pressure was involved in the fee deferment.

‘‘We were not under a political directive to defer the fee structure.

‘‘It is purely the reality of additional work from taking on board community feedback, including that we will now survey unlicensed structures before a new fee structure is established. There is a lot of work in that,’’ he said.

G-MW initially proposed to levy a new $300 fee on all property holders adjoining the region’s waterways, with an additional $295 charged for any ramp, jetty and/or slipway; $100 fees were to be imposed on a range of constructions and objects including shade cloths, barbecues, paths and entertainment areas.

For some licence holders the proposed fees quickly ballooned out, sparking the backlash.