Lakes Amendment Bill 2017

Madam Speaker, I can inform the Assembly that the opposition will not be opposing this Bill. I will, however, take this time to make some comments on the nature of the Bill and the proposed amendments.

Whilst overall it is pleasing to see that the review initiated by the National Capital Authority in 2016 has resulted in updates to this legislation - It is disappointing that the ACT Government has not been proactive in this area and required a prompt from National Capital Authority.

As a former water ski instructor I spent many hours during my younger days; probably too many - enjoying the fun that waterways can provide. That is why I find it disappointing that this Bill fails to provide any increase to access or opportunities available for recreation on Canberra Lakes.

It is concerning that these amendments have taken so long given they address matters of public safety and enforcement of laws that Canberrans, rightly, expect to be in place. These amendments include

  • the requirements to provide and wear life jackets
  • restrictions on the operation of boats when under the influence of alcohol and other drugs
  • reporting requirements for accidents, and
  • a number of clauses relate to powers of inspectors and the penalties for not obeying directions or requests.

Madam Speaker, essentially these are common sense measures that should have been reflected in legislation long before now. I note that these important safety measures are already operating in other jurisdictions. But at least the Government is finally catching up!

It is also evident that some of the changes put forward have human rights implications. I note that these issues were explored by the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety and that the provisions are permissible as reasonable limitations. Still, it may be a case of wait and see, to see how these changes are managed by the Government. It will be vital to see that there is a balanced approached between the rights and responsibilities of water users and community stakeholders.

Madam Speaker, another issue which has not been clarified by these amendments is that additional activity or recreational use of Lake waters still requires Ministerial approval. Matters affecting the granting a special permit by the Minister have not been clarified by these amendments. I will be monitoring the way the process for permits and the parameters used to make these decisions, is communicated to the public.

Further aspects that I believe needs to be highlighted – and this goes back to my love of water sports and recreation are the restrictions placed on the types of boats and maximum speed allowed on Canberra’s lakes.

This legislation enhances water use on the one hand by allowing electric powered boats to operate without a permit if they travel at less than 10 knots but it also restricts water access for other powered boats. A power boat can be operated on a lake if it is not a personal water craft (such as a jet ski) and it does not exceed 10 knots. So this excludes a wide variety of vessels whilst also placing an arbitrary speed limit on powered boats that are allowed to operate. This move is disappointing since water users are forced to rely on Ministerial discretion for permits and authorisation.

There is another worrying aspect to these amendments. The Minister can make changes to the rules covering speeds and types of boats, simply by placing a sign in a lake area. Madam Speaker, a sign does not seem sufficient in terms of engagement and communication. I hope that the Government will be more proactive and engage effectively with water users and their organisations.

Madam Speaker, it also seems very strange that as part of these amendments, the Government has decided to target particular water users. Section 43A covering water skiing and other recreational activities singles out wake boarders and wake surfers. I would like to point out to the Government that there are many other types of recreational water users and, these can be grouped under the previous statement relating to any person being towed by a boat on or over the water. I hope there is no other reason to single out this narrow group of waters users apart from the fact that the Government does not understand the types and needs of lake users.

Madam Speaker, as an avid fan of water sports, I believe that there is a place for greater access and use of our waterways by a broad range of stakeholders. But I also believe this must be done with proper consultation and consideration of all lake users and their representative organisations.

Again, I will be watching with great interest to gauge the impact of these amendments, and I will continue to liaise with water sport and fishing organisations in the ACT to provide them a voice and, to represent their interests.