A LEGAL analysis of the state government’s plan to issue licences for commercial racehorse training on south-west beaches has found the plan is “likely unlawful”.
Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), acting on behalf of the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA), has written to state environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio saying the licensing proposal involves “errors of law which are fatal to it” and breaches the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 and the Coastal Management Act 1995.
However a spokesperson for Ms D’Ambrosio said the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 was “flexible enough to include horses use on beaches”.
The letter, penned by EJA lawyer Dr Bruce Lindsay, states that the “VNPA will consider the legal options and avenues available to it to ensure the long‐term protection of the Belfast Coastal Reserve for all Victorians if it becomes necessary to do so”.
It also asks the environment minister “to not grant any licences” and to withdraw plans to do so, urging “new management arrangements (be) prepared to prohibit commercial horse training from Belfast Coastal Reserve”.
VNPA’s marine and coastal coordinator Chris Smyth said the reserve was being torn apart by commercial horse training and that the combination of horse training and unleashed dogs had devastated the most recent breeding season of the threatened hooded plover.
“The horses churn up the sand, disturb the adult birds and chicks, and damage protective fencing,” he said.
“The Belfast Coastal Reserve was set up to conserve the area and allow for passive recreation, not race tracks.
“By taking the wrong legal approach and ignoring the reserve’s purposes the minister has opened up a large piece of public coastline to the commercial racing industry.
“Commercial horse training is damaging the natural and cultural heritage of the Belfast Coastal Reserve and putting at risk the safety of beachgoers.
“Based on the legal analysis, the minister should stop commercial horse training in the reserve now.
“If the minister allows commercial horse training to continue, we fear that many other coastal reserves will be under threat.”
A spokesperson for the environment minister said the combination of licences and a coastal management plan for the reserve were a step toward better protecting the hooded plover.
“Using a licence approach helps the government to ensure that the local horse training industry's use of the coastal reserve is sustainable and in accordance with relevant legislation,” the spokesperson said.
“Until now, horse training on Belfast Coast Reserve beaches has been unregulated. The special conditions that will apply to the horse training licence confine horse training to locations that do not have hooded plovers nesting and also additional conditions should additional nesting sites be found.”
The Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group has also written to the minister “reporting 28 horses training and galloping at speed amongst beach walkers and surfers” at Golfies near Port Fairy, in breach of the proposed permit system cap of 20 horses per day.
Meanwhile the federal government has confirmed its “threatened species commissioner has been liaising with the Victorian government, Parks Victoria and other relevant parties offering assistance and support in finding a solution at Belfast Coastal Reserve to help protect the hooded plover”.
However a government spokesperson said “the horse training activities being undertaken in the reserve as individual actions are unlikely to result in a significant impact to matters of national environmental significance”.
By Matt Neal
Published in the Warrnambool Standard on 8 June 2017