A balance of safety and equity

“You said you were going to do it, you’re doing it. Fantastic!”

That’s the overwhelming message MSQ general manager Kell Dillon says he got from river users and stakeholders after last Friday’s government statement. He spoke exclusively to Noosa Today.

NT: MSQ seems to has delivered on most if not all of the major recommendations of NRSAC. Correct?

Kell Dillon: An important part of this is that the recommendations of NRSAC have largely been delivered, yes. This has been a process that began long before I joined MSQ at the start of 2022, and it’s fine to come up with a set of principles which then went to public consultation and received very positive feedback that these initiatives were supported by the community, but then it comes back to the regulator to implement them, bearing in mind timelines that are reasonable for people who are affected. We were very conscious of the fact that there are lots of vulnerable people involved here, so we needed to look at what it means when, say, we put a new anchoring restriction in place. We also have to look at how we’re going to enforce restrictions. It’s all about balancing safety and equity on the waterways, particularly on a waterway as popular as Noosa’s. We’ve done out audits so we have a very clear idea of what’s on the river and how people will be affected.

NT: Going back to the positive feedback you’ve had, you would be aware of the misinformation that surfaced during the recent council election campaign about proposed restrictions, such as banning all motorised craft, and other fanciful notions. Have you had negative feedback from these sources?

KD: Not aimed at us, but we’re well aware of those community discussions around issues like a conservation park, but that’s not the core business of MSQ. We are the state marine regulator, no one else is, and we intend to regulate the Noosa River through proper zoning and planning, recognising that it is an important resource for the state, and maximising its use for all people, not limiting it.

NT: I think today’s statement reflects that philosophy.

KD: Yes, and when you look at speed and anchoring restrictions, they are being delivered in a staged process that gives people plenty of notice so that they can comply, and when they comply with what’s being asked, we won’t have any problems. At the moment, quite clearly, safety and amenity are not being facilitated on some parts of the river. What we’re about is delivering safety and amenity in an equitable way, and also minimising marine pollution. For example, if people are living aboard a craft, they have to do so in a safe and responsible fashion. Their toilets have to comply, they’ve got to be in a spot where they are not interfering with the amenity of other users, whether they’re swimmers on the beaches or people using small craft in the shallows. At the moment we often have stand up paddlers and kayakers being pushed further away from the banks than they want to be because of vessels parked there.

NT: When we interviewed you a year ago, NRSAC was still operational and you talked about the importance of maintaining relations with all users and stakeholders. Now that it’s been disbanded, how do you build bridges of communication between state, council and community?

KD: It’s a fair question which I’ll answer in two ways. The first is that the thing about NRSAC was that it got everyone in the room so that the diverse opinions could be heard and we could work out a way forward that everyone could live with. The second is that it enabled us to make very good contacts with all the people who could present views on issues affecting the river. In all community consultation, the process works better when people know each other, and I believe that there is mutual respect between the groups now and we can communicate as we need to. For example, we put this statement out today and my phone has been ringing hot with stakeholders expressing positive views, along the lines of, “You said you were going to do it, you’re doing it. Fantastic.” What’s also appreciated is the fact that we now have a timeline for delivery.

The other part of communication to note is that we have education teams, we have media and social media teams, we have our local marine officer on site and we’ll also have a small dedicated team there, getting out on the water, having communication days at the boat ramps and so on.

NT: I think the community would like to know what’s changed since the first tranche of initiatives, including new speed limits, was introduced last September. Can you supply comparative figures?

KD: We drive our operations towards the need, and like the police, we don’t make statistics available on every facet of our work, but if you want to chart improvement on the river through compliance, there’s been a definite improvement since September on the evidence of our Maritime Enforcement Teams (METs) out on the water. Compliance is pretty good, but it can always be better. [See box below] We’re now doing a lot of patrols and speeding is about half of what we stop people for, and life jackets are a big part of the other half.

Like the police, we can’t be everywhere but we’ve put a really big focus on Noosa, as well as the Gold Coast. One thing that’s really changed is the number of complaints. Since September they’ve fallen through the floor, usually about close calls related to speeding. Since we increased our MET patrols with the new speed limits, complaints have dropped to almost zero. On the other hand, positive feedback has increased. What we expect to see over the next 18 months of the rollout is a much better managed waterway.

River compliance at a glance

Vessels intercepted last 2 years: 1400

Vessels intercepted last six months (since new speed and anchorage limits): 632

Compliance last six months: 40 per cent

Marine infringement notices issued: 25 per cent (speeding approx half)