The issue of dogs on beaches is one which has caused a degree of community angst over some years. This angst is driven by the competing uses of our beaches as well as the lack of enforcement options for dog owners who do not abide by the rules, causing problems for beachgoers, responsible dog owners and our wildlife.
Ostensibly, there are two separate issues here on the Mornington Peninsula and in my electorate of Nepean. These issues are 1) the back beaches which are mostly part of the Mornington Peninsula National Park and 2) the Port Phillip Bay beaches which are Coastal Crown Land under the supervision of various committees of management.
First, dogs in the National Park have been allowed from before the land was a National Park nearly 40 years ago. Before and since the declaration of the National Park it has been accepted as a significant recreational activity for dog owners to walk their dogs in the National Park, however this has increasingly been at odds with its international listing as being managed primarily for ecosystem conservation and appropriate recreation. (Parks Victoria)
As a result, environmental pressure has been mounting over recent years with the continuing decline of the native Hooded Plover, a nationally (Parks Victoria) significant shore nesting bird, which was last year added to the Threatened Species Register.
Parks Victoria commissioned a report in 2014 to investigate the decline of the Hooded Plover and produced a detailed report which identified dogs both on and off leash as being a significant contributing factor to the decline of this species, “…In the Mornington Peninsula National Park, breeding success spatial patterns appear most closely matched to the spatial distribution of frequency of occurrence of dogs off leash.” (Birdlife Australia)
In any event, it is my belief that dogs do not belong in National Parks and this is mostly the case in every other National Park around the country, particularly those which have threatened species that could or would be exacerbated by the presence of dogs. The Mornington Peninsula National Park appears to be an anomaly that, in my view, should be addressed.
As such, I made a statement to the Parliament in February 2015 declaring that I would support a ban on dogs in the National Park (Dixon, 2015) should the current Minister Lisa Neville be so inclined to declare it. In my view, a bipartisan position on this issue is crucial and I have been pleased with the cooperation to date from Minister Neville and her agencies.
The second issue regarding dogs on beaches is for the Port Phillip bayside beaches. These beaches are more family oriented recreational beaches and dogs are generally allowed on these beaches during certain times and always on leash, except for some beaches where there are specific off leash zones.
Most of the coastal land is under various Committees of Management (CoM) however none of these, except if the CoM is the Shire, are in a position to enforce dog walking rules. The Shire has no jurisdiction in volunteer CoM areas and unfortunately, there is a lack of funding for Dept of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) compliance officers to attend and issue infringements. DELWP compliance officers currently attend to wildlife issues and in particular the illegal wildlife trade and have no time to enforce rules for dogs on recreational beaches.
Consequently, management of dogs in public recreation space is to say the least, ad hoc and disorganised. It is this issue that is causing problems for both responsible dog owners and beachgoers alike.
During the 2015 – 2016 summer, DELWP have undertaken a review of Port Phillip beaches in the Mornington Peninsula Shire to try and first, establish consistent times and signage for dog walking and second, try to ascertain how best to ensure compliance.
In my view, compliance can only be enforced to be successful. Voluntary compliance and ‘education’ campaigns have failed in the past as recalcitrant dog owners simply flout the rules knowing that the CoM is powerless to actually do anything. This creates anger for beach goers and unfortunately our responsible dog owners are unfairly bearing the brunt of this anger.
In order to bring some order back into these issues, I will seek to ensure that DELWP are adequately funded to enforce dog walking compliance as soon as possible on the Port Phillip Bay beaches, and that Parks Vic are empowered and resourced to ban dogs completely from our National Parks.
I do not want to be part of the generation which has stood by and watched the extinction of Hooded Plovers from right under our noses, in one of our National Parks no less.
Birdlife Australia. (n.d.). birdlife.org.au. Retrieved March 2016, from http://birdlife.org.au/documents/BNB-Parks_Victoria_Managing_the_Hooded_Plover_Report_2014.pdf
Dixon, M. (2015, February 10). Parliament of Victoria Hansard – Page 115. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/daily-hansard/Assembly_2015/Assembly_Daily_Extract_Tuesday_10_February_2015_from_Book_2.pdf
Parks Victoria. (n.d.). Parkweb.vic.gov.au. Retrieved March 2016, from http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/313356/Mornington-Peninsula-National-Park-and-Arthurs-Seat-State-Park-Plan.pdf