Letters to the Editor – December 2

Consultation needed

I am writing this a little more than a little bit alarmed at what I have read in relation to our water in Warrnambool and the surrounding areas. An article (The Standard, November 25), states the south-west’s drinking water will come from the ground instead of the Gellibrand River. Apparently Water Minister Lisa Neville, Wannon Water, Southern Rural Water, and the Department of the Environment have teamed up to protect cray fish and black fish etc. I was unaware that the water we were drinking was in any danger of being contaminated. This doesn’t sound right to me that instead of drinking from a river we would be better drinking the underground water. I am no expert and would like to view the evidence produced by an independent third party on this issue. I have lived in Allansford in the past and have used brownish bore water to shower with.  I am not going to drink water like this or from an underground source unless you can show me it won’t have any harmful affects on me or my family. We have to stand up and be counted when issues like this arise and let people know we won’t be pushed into some deal without consultation. Part of that consultation  should be proof from a reliable source that we would be better off drinking this new water and that the new water would be of a superior quality to the water we drink now. I just think there is more to this than meets the eye and I need everyone to support a call for an explanation

David MacPhail, Warrnambool

Train service mess

The Warrnambool rail line is a mess, there is no other way to describe it. From the full suspension of the line a couple of weeks ago, to the temporary speed restrictions which are now causing lengthy delays - with no indication of when or if they will be lifted. Safety is paramount, no one is denying that, but while Labor removes 50 dangerous level crossings in Melbourne, their solution for level crossing safety in the country is to simply slow the train down. The State Government has no plan to address the safety concerns which have forced these speed restrictions to be put in place. Instead they are focused on the metropolitan network. When questioned, the Minister simply blames the previous government and says an extra return daily service will be added next year. It’s great the line will have more trains – it’s about time - but how can we be confident they won’t be regularly delayed? How can we be confident Labor will get it right? Labor has done nothing for the line in its first two years. The former Coalition government built a $10 million passing loop at Warncoort, replacing those the Bracks/Brumby Government removed. It’s time for the minister to stop blaming everyone else, and live up to the government’s focus group devised slogan “getting it done”.

Roma Britnell MP Member for South West Coast 

Train staff praise

Could The Standard please stop publishing articles that include pictures of Roma Britnell and/or other politicians complaining about the state of the Warrnambool train service. The quality of the service provided by V-Line staff is very good. The main problem is the inadequate infrastructure which is a state wide problem –country and city – and is a result of underspending by previous state governments, both Labor and Liberal. Ms Britnell seems to have forgotten that if the Liberal Party had had their way the Melbourne to Warrnambool line would now be Victoria’s longest bike track. It was only resistance by locals all along the line, in the early nineties, that stopped the Kennett government from shutting down the line and replacing it with a bus service. Also, when called upon by local councils in 2014 to add a fourth daily train service, the then Liberal Transport Minister Terry Mulder refused stating “passenger demand for the Warrnambool train service is not strong enough for extra services”. The fourth service is now being added by the current, city centric, government.  The shortcomings of the Warrnambool train service are the fault of both major political parties, not just the current government. Ms Britnell’s repeated negative comments are demoralising for the hardworking V-Line staff and are counterproductive as they remind readers of her own party’s failings with public transport.  People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Peter Martina, Warrnambool

Trainers ‘unfairly treated’

The current and often emotional debate regarding horses working on beaches can only find a solution if facts are presented accurately. In 2008, when Parks Victoria took over management of Belfast Coast from Moyne Shire, there were similar concerns that some species of wildlife were being threatened by horses on beaches. At that time, Glenn Ehmke, (Birds Australia) who had mapped birds’ nestings habits (in particular, the red hooded plover) for the previous three years, agreed that co-existence between horse-riders and birds was possible as long as guidelines were respected and followed. The same year, John Amor, from Parks Victoria, and a highly-respected conservationist, addressed the racehorse trainers at a SWOTRA meeting and gave out printed and CD materials to educate and help trainers understand and identify nesting habits of local birdlife at our beaches. John also provided mappings of nests along the Belfast and Warrnambool coast. The current mappings provided by Parks Victoria (2011-16) show very little change in numbers of habits and nests. High tides, dogs, foxes and crows are natural enemies of these birds. The Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group, led by Bill Yates, would have the public and politicians, believe that horse riders especially those on racehorses are some marauding mob, trampling everything in their way. It is not the case. BCRAG's main complaints were born out of bad behaviour by some trainers and riders, and overcrowding from last summer (2015-16) at Killarney beach. Certainly there was a case for complaint, especially given that on some days, the beach was left looking like a ploughed paddock, and manure left in the carpark. But these should be the real issues, identify the culprits, and either make them change behaviour, or ban the culprits. There is signage for horses to be ridden at the water’s edge. Like Lady Bay in Warrnambool, there is a large tourist presence during summer. By the way, there are no plovers nests at Killarney. The local racing industry has been treated unfairly in most of this debate. As long as horses stay at the water’s edge, especially during nesting season, there is no reason why all users can't co-exist. BCRAG have hijacked the plight of the red-hooded plover, which I believe is irresponsible and misleading. They have also negatively impacted pleasure riding groups, and riding for the disabled.

Tammy Good, South West, Owners, Trainers and Riders Association

Action group responds

We wish to object to the article ‘Summer Brings Horse Beach Issue To A Head‘, by Tim Auld and Matt Neal that appeared in The Standard newspaper on Friday, Dec 2nd. We believe it contains false information.

These are the facts of BCRAG’s, ‘Community monitoring’, of the Belfast Coastal Reserve beaches, on Thursday, Dec 1st.

The only action by BCRAG members was to record Hooded Plover numbers and locations, horse and trainer numbers and behaviour and to write, “Reclaim The Beaches” in the sand with fingers.

BCRAG members, about 2 per site, were at The Cutting, Gormans Lane, The Basin, Killarney Beach and East Beach, (on both sides of Mills Reef).

Even though no permits have been issued yet and the Vic. govt has not ratified the permit system, our concern was that riders stay off the dry sand areas, away from Hooded Plover sites and cultural sites. 

Our concern is, as it has always been, Public Safety, Cultural, Wildlife & Habitat Protection and the inappropriateness of our beaches being used for commercial horse training. Without BCRAG, who else would raise these matters on behalf of the greater community? There’s no commercial benefit for BCRAG, we are simply defending the community and the common good.

Our opposition is not the trainers, per se, although some have been quite rude. We want commercial horse training off the beaches but we also want adequate facilities created for the trainers needs. This is possible, as Ballarat have shown and would solve the problems for everyone. Enough time and energy have been spent on this issue, without resolution and the powers that be need to think harder and explore alternatives. 

The issues will not go away, no matter how much legislation is changed. These are serious community issues that deserve our very best consideration to the problems and each other. There don’t have to be winners and losers, this could be a win/win outcome for all.

At Wed, night’s BCRAG meeting, we voted unanimously against any action other than to passively ‘monitor’ activity on the beach as a community. We also voted to ensure that no physical or verbal antagonism was to take place. We all agreed that everyone was to observe common courtesies. Everyone adhered to these principles. 

The BCRAG group consists of many professional people from many walks of life and different political persuasions. What unites us is our care and concern for the protection of our beaches.

At no stage did any BCRAG members attempt to ‘Blockade’ car parks or hinder any trainers activities in any way. No antagonistic words were uttered. No banners were present. At no stage were any ‘signs being waved around’. All activities were filmed and photographed, texted and documented.

Vic. Parks Rangers were in attendance at most of the sites mentioned and can verify the above numbers and activities.

The quotes about ‘blockades’ and ‘signs being waved around’, were attributed to Tammy Good of SWOTRA. Tammy Good was not present at any of these locations on the day and as such, is not a credible witness. In light of this, we believe your reporting to be careless journalism at best and falsification of the facts at worst

Shane Howard, on Behalf of Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group

Thank you volunteers

International Volunteer Day is a time for us to reflect on the immense contribution volunteers make to our society and thank them for all that they do. Red Cross is an organisation built on voluntary service, made up of 17 million volunteers worldwide. Volunteers help us save lives, build resilient communities, support people in disaster, and prevent and alleviate human suffering in times of war and conflict. Every day throughout the year our 35,000 members and volunteers in Australia improve the wellbeing of those who are experiencing extreme vulnerability. I can’t thank them enough for their time, energy and commitment, and I feel privileged to work alongside them. Voluntary service not only helps the recipients, but also the volunteers whose lives are enriched by the act of giving. We aim to build an inclusive, diverse and active humanitarian movement based on voluntary service. I strongly urge you to join our humanitarian movement and help your community by visiting redcross.org.au/volunteering. 

Penny Harrison, Director, Volunteering, Australian Red Cross