Letters to the Editor - February 16

Let the kids play

AFL Western District has come in for heavy criticism from Dr Michael Carr- Gregg and the Honourable James Purcell acting on behalf of his constituents and rightly so, for its proposed changes to junior football. In offering up the 16 + 5 football model, they are effectively trying to change at least 120 years of Australian Rules history. Our great game and the grounds that it is played on are designed to have 36 players play on them, not 32. This is essential for a junior player’s development, especially when he goes to a higher level or senior football. As if our volunteers at clubs want to go down the path of AFL Country Football handbook rule 4.7 to appeal the changes. Surely 11 HFNL clubs can’t all be wrong. 18 + 4 or 6 would be a better option and let the kids play.

Bernie Harris, The Sisters

Walk-friendly CBD

Complete pedestrianisation might have been better but I personally find Warrnambool CBD now much more walkable. Well done WCC. A further enhancement would be an anti-congestion scheme where the smart parking meters in the central section of Liebig Street only validate number plates where people have permits because they cannot walk from car parks. Unnecessary through vehicular use of this section, such as rare caravan transits, could be reduced by helpful signage.

Steve Mackey, Koroit

Coastal reserve a sanctuary

As manager of BirdLife Australia’s Hooded Plover conservation project, I’d like to respond to Viva-Lyn Lenehan’s letter (The Standard February 10). Marram grass is one issue facing Hooded Plover habitat where the lack of bare sand within the dune limits options for nest placement. However, the habitat within Belfast Coastal Reserve is still unparalleled in its quality (namely food availability) and is why the reserve is one of only two locations in Victoria that contains the highest density of Hooded Plovers of anywhere in the world. The other location is Mornington Peninsula National Park which was designated a National Park due to its significance to the species. The Belfast Coastal Reserve is even more valuable because it is also habitat for several migratory shorebirds which occur here in internationally significant numbers as well as nesting habitat for oystercatchers and red-capped plovers, not to mention being significant for the critically endangered Orange-bellied parrot. It has taken over a decade of lobbying for a management plan to be written for this high biodiversity area, which will finally attempt to restore the balance that has been lost.  Hooded Plovers have not declined within the reserve. Instead, their breeding success has plummeted in the face of increasing, high intensity threats and the lack of management to address these. This in time will drive a population decline and that’s what we are aiming to avoid by putting balances in place. The main drivers of poor breeding success have been well-studied and include disturbance and predation (of chicks) by off-leash dogs, predation by ravens, disturbance and crushing of nests by horses and vehicles, tidal inundation and predation by foxes. Snakes are not a major threat for these birds and have never been recorded as a nest predator from thousands of nests monitored. The balance for these birds has been greatly upset by the increased use of coasts over time by people, dogs, horses, and vehicles, plus increases in predators and changes to habitat like infestations with Marram Grass. A management plan should seek to alleviate threats to native wildlife so they can persist and so sustainable use of the coasts can be achieved for the benefit of all. Identifying appropriate sections of coast for dog walking and recreational horse riding will be key to this process.  

Grainne Maguire, Carlton

‘All on same side’

I am interested in how The Standard is trying to reduce the current chatter about the Belfast Coast Draft Management Plan into nothing more than an “US vs THEM” argument. It is not! We are all on the same side. We all believe that the conservation of our native water birds is important. We all commend the hard work and dedication of the BCRAG group. We all agree that the large commercial horse trainers should be regulated to ensure they don’t abuse the privilege of using our beaches for their intensive training. What we disagree on is the level of control of the Government.  Whereby BCRAG are happy with the current plan to zone off a large part of our local coastline for the purpose of a Bird Sanctuary, I; and many others don’t see the need for this sledgehammer approach. By changing the Dark Green Zone “Conservation Zone” into a Light Green Zone; “Conservation-Recreation Zone” all parties are served – The Government can regulate the Large Commercial Horse Trainers, BCRAG can continue their wonderful work with increased authority and we; the general community, can continue to use the beach responsibly as we have always done. Honestly, it’s a no brainer!

Viva-Lyn Lenehan, Killarney.

Draft needs changing

In its Draft Management Plan for the Belfast Coastal Reserve, Parks Victoria may breach the principle of egalitarianism enshrined into the Australian Constitution. It proposes Conservation Recreation Zones and a Conservation Zone in between. Rutledge's Cutting is clearly within the Conservation Zone. Commercial horse training is permitted there with timing and a number of restrictions, but allowed in principle. In contrast, recreational horse riding is totally banned from the entire Conservation Zone. Egalitarian principles applied to the BCR include that a horse rider is a horse rider is a horse rider no matter under which agenda it's done. Giving some horse riders, in this case commercial horse jockeys, a special privilege to ride in that Conservation Zone  - even if that is only a relatively small area thereof - and disallowing other horse riders, in this case recreational ones, from doing so looks like, smells like and is breaching the principle of equality in my mind. Furthermore, along the same line, some horse trainers have been given the right to train at the Cutting for "historical" reasons. Recreational horse riders have been riding in the proposed Conservation Zone for an equally "historical" time period. Yet, recreational horse riders have no right to ride there on "historical" grounds while commercial horse jockeys do. Again, it looks like, smells like and is a constitutional breach in my book. Parks Victoria needs to change its plans and declare a Conservation and Recreation Zone for the entire BCR. It will give it the necessary authority to protect the environment in appropriate ways, but will not give it the authority to basically “steal” our community's only close and most valuable recreational areas. In its Draft Plan, Parks Victoria has gone into unnecessary and at least partially unfounded "overkill"  which would only make people miserable and sick due to a lack of recreational opportunities as well as make them feel like being overruled by the Government. Let people live in freedom where they do no harm. Don't create a US-style prohibition era which won't work. Don't create something which makes people want to respond to like during the French Revolution or the Eureka Stockade.

Anton Maurus, Warrnambool

Beach views

A few comments regarding opinions voiced by people wishing to continue using the Belfast Coastal Reserve beaches as and when and how they like. The idea that the passage of horses to and from beaches in any way discourages foxes to the extent of an improvement of nesting outcomes for shore birds is laughable. Marram  grass has indeed changed gentle beach facing dunes into steeper slopes and this in turn makes it even more difficult for the hooded plovers to take shelter in them when disturbed by dogs, horses and people. Frequent disturbances quickly exhaust birds - chicks are left defenceless and eggs get cold and then don't hatch.  (Hooded Plovers in Decline - The Standard, letters February, 10) I was down on the beach with my husband last weekend accessing it at Gormans Lane - there were three people on the beach, all with dogs off leash prancing around the nesting sites which were marked with signs and rope barriers. This in spite of walking past signs saying dogs allowed on the beach on leash only.  On the Mornington Peninsula it was "found that dog use corresponded exactly with the locations where Hooded Plover pairs experienced the poorest breeding success" (Draft Coastal Management Plan Belfast Coastal Reserve). On beaches along the Coorong people are not permitted on the beaches in areas of Hooded Plover nesting sites for the months of the nesting season. As with people thinking that 'dogs on leash' doesn't apply to them, so too do people with horses who ride near the high tide mark where nests are, churning up the beach and destroying them. Apparently a petition has been signed by 2300 people in a few days to keep the Coastal Reserve beaches open to all to use as they wish. This doesn't really gel with the comments that have been made to the effect that the beach is only used by very few people and the effect of their activities is therefore negligible.

Elizabeth Kenna, Port Fairy

Value human life

I was sad and shocked to read the article published in The Standard, January 30 “Patchwork abortion laws are a lottery for women”. Fortunately for a great many people the value of human life is what is cherished and our most precious resource are our children and some are still to be born. Family life is valued and enjoyed.

Bernadette McInerney, Warrnambool

Wind power angst

Re wind farm jobs boost – So manufacturer Keppel Prince’s Steve Garner wants to turn the south-west into the next Latrobe Valley. Many of us immediate neighbors already put up with sleepless nights depending on wind speed and direction. Well I’m sure his overseas owners look forward to the extra profits for their company. And we all pay through our power bills.

Tom Casey,  Willatook

Acknowledge traditional owners

Re Vicki Walter’s letter ‘Australian Pride’ (The Standard, February 10), it was a heartfelt letter from someone who obviously loves our country.  She acknowledges the dispossession of our aboriginal peoples, and struggles against a sense of guilt she feels is imposed on her for things she had no part of doing. At Warrnambool Uniting Church we also grapple with these issues. We make a practice of acknowledging the traditional owners of the land (as happens in many public gatherings); and add that ‘we have benefitted from their dispossession and so commit ourselves to reconciliation and justice’.  We can’t change the past but we can do what we can now to make things right for all of us. As Vicki said, ‘I can empathise, try to understand, be a friend, appreciate their culture, stand beside them, lend a helping hand.’ In church we recently came up with this affirmation of the Christian gospel that I think can help our nation deal with the sense of guilt (whether we feel it or feel it is imposed on us): The good news from Jesus that we want our community to know is that we don’t have to be afraid of our past, we don’t need to lie about it, deny it, cover it up, or find others to blame;and we don’t have to run or hide from God or convince ourselves God doesn’t exist; for fear of being judged.  The past can’t be changed, and whatever was wrong is forgiven when it is acknowledged and we resolve to do better.  We can be free of our regrets.  And if we allow ourselves to be caught up in the Great Spirit, our mistakes can be turned into learning, compassion, courage, growth and new community together.

Geoff Barker, Minister, Warrnambool Uniting Church