by Jenny Williams Fawcett – 13 November 2018
A three-year battle has finally stopped racehorses from training on beaches and in the Belfast Coastal Reserve along Victoria’s south-west coast, but at a community meeting today former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown fired a warning shot at Victoria’s government saying “if the racehorses come back, then we will back”.
At today’s meeting on The Cutting below the iconic Tower Hill reserve, Bob Brown’s message aimed squarely at Victoria’s State Government and local Council alike, saying a formal inquiry into the whole affair was needed following recent legal advice warning it was illegal to train racehorses on what Mr Brown describes as one of the oldest Reserves in Victoria, an environment that is home to sensitive Aboriginal cultural sites, endangered species and fragile coastal dunes:
‘We know now that the activity has been unlawful from the start under both State and Local Government Planning Provisions’.
‘The Victorian Labor Government should declare, prior to the election, they will not expend any more taxpayers’ money, on legal and parliamentary manoeuvres to try again to hand this priceless public asset over to the horse-racing industry’.
The three-year saga to ban the activity of commercial racehorses from training on beaches between Warrnambool and Killarney, started when residents and beach goers became increasingly concerned about a dramatic surge in racehorses training on the local beaches.
- Rare birds versus horse trainers: The battle for Warrnambool’s beaches by Joe Hinchcliffe, SMH, 10 June 2018
- Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group calls for horse training moratorium at Killarney by Matt Neal, Wbool Standard 10 June 2016
- vic racing Darren Weir’s spring plans take a hit as Warrnambool beach ruled off limits for horses by Matt Stewart, 14 Sep,2016 in Herald Sun
The Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group was formed, and a public awareness campaign began to address concerns about the direct threats to protected species, human safety and particularly the fragile coastal, surf and dune environments.
However the racing and gambling industry threw its weight to lobby for commercial horse-training on public beaches.
Local MP James Purcell, Member for Western Victoria threw his support behind the racing industry
Racing Minister Martin Pakula openly supported racehorses training on the coastal reserve and on the beaches:
After months of pleading with Council, the BCRAG group took the battle to State government level with an online Petition to the Minister for Environment and Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly the HonLily D’Ambrosio.
Moyne and Warrnambool councils flip-flopped over allowing the horses to train on the beaches, even as recently as just a few weeks ago Warrnambool City Council reversed a decision it made a couple of nights earlier to support racehorses training on beaches.
And all the while community became divided, people became fearful, anxious and distressed but mostly frustrated. But after some three years it seems the issue is coming to a conclusion.
BCRAG spokesperson and Killarney resident Mr Bill Yates, says campaigners were glad to finally get a legal determination that cleared racehorses off the local beaches:
‘With racehorses off the beach, its over’, said Bill Yates.
‘Commercial horse training has now been proven to be a prohibited use in the Levy’s Beach area and is illegal under gazetted regulations throughout the rest of the Belfast Coastal Reserve.
‘Our beaches and commons are not open to the bidding of the racing industry. They need to abide by the law, just like everyone else.’
‘This has been going on for three years and has ended up in a fiasco’.
Mr Yates said he hopes the incoming government formed after the up-coming State election would abide by the legal determination:
“Any move by a future government to alter the laws to allow commercial horse training in the Reserve would get tangled up in courts and tribunals and would be a direct contradiction to the original purpose of the Reserve.
‘There has already been a massive failure by State Ministers and Government agencies to properly apply the law and legally binding recommendations’.
Australian singer and song writer Shane Howard, AM, Killarney resident and active campaigner welcomes both BCRAG and Victoria National Parks Association’s recommendation for all to move forward:
‘It’s Over! Time to move forward’, Shane Howard said.
‘It’s been an impressive group of organizations and individuals standing shoulder-to-shoulder against the arrogance of Racing Minister Martin Pakula, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, Country Racing Victoria and the collaborators on the Warrnambool City Council’.
‘Warrnambool Racing Club and Country Racing Victoria owe all Victorians – especially our Aboriginal brothers and sisters – a sincere apology for the removal of cultural materials from the coastal dunes at ‘Hoon Hill’.
And in a warning shot across the bow of the caretaker Labor Government, Bob Brown disclosed today that a formal inquiry is being sought into the racehorse on beaches affair:
“There are many unanswered questions as to how horse training on the beaches was allowed to go on this long.
‘The entire matter, along with FOI requests, has been referred to the Ombudsman and the Local Government Inspectorate.
‘The BCRAG campaigners are preparing a comprehensive brief for referral to IBAC’
Bob Brown complimented the community who gathered at The Cutting today for their efforts in getting racehorses off the beaches:
‘The battle has been won – this is a wonderful victory for the dedicated community of volunteers who fought for three years to protect Victoria’s beautiful, wild south coast beaches from industrial level racehorse training,’
‘Now its time to turn a spotlight on this whole, sad, sorry affair’, said Mr Brown.