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Coast guard under threat

by
June 28, 2017

The Lake Eppalock coast guard's Colin and Peter Ritchens, Bert Redstone and Lucy Ritchens (front) are demanding recurrent funding from the Victorian Government.

THE coast guard at Lake Eppalock is about to go under — and unlike the thousands of people its saved or helped, no-one is throwing it a lifeline.

A frosty morning at Lake Eppalock last week was an apt setting for the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard (AVCG) members to gather and discuss their options.

Much like the lake they keep a watchful eye on, the coast guard is feeling the winter chill.

The group was stunned to find they had been passed over in May’s State Budget, left to keep their organisation afloat with tin-shaking and sausage sizzles.

The Lake Eppalock Arm of the AVCG is the first port of call when someone comes to grief on the 3000ha body of water.

The group has search and rescue available around the clock and all volunteer coast guard members are trained in first aid and work closely with water police.

From people overboard to flat batteries, the 25 volunteers will be your saving grace if the proverbial hits the fan while on the water.

The group was hopeful of securing ongoing funding in the Budget after a 2014 inquiry into the Marine Search and Rescue volunteers made a number of recommendations including adequate recurring funding.

Following the inquiry, Emergency Management Victoria put the cost of running the volunteer coast guard at $5 million.

That’s pocket change according to AVCG national media captain Deanne Semmens.

She said $28 million is raised annually by the Victorian Government from boat registration and fishing licenses.

“The Marine Safety Act 2010 clearly states that money should be used for boating infrastructure and services,” she said.

“The coast guard is part of that and we can’t get the money we need to help keep Victorians safe on Lake Eppalock or numerous other waterways across the state.

“We want to know where the money is disappearing to. The state government collects it and uses some for education and general maintenance, but there’s no way that costs $28 million.”

Much like the tide on the lake they watch over, a sense of disbelief has rolled over the Lake Eppalock volunteers.

Ms Semmens said they can’t understand what the big deal is.

“We’re not asking to be paid. All we want is some money to cover operational costs so we can help to keep people safe on the lake,” she said.

“The coast guard offers a very important service. There have been fatalities on Lake Eppalock and people flock to it when the water level is up.

“We educate boaters, help with licensing and do a lot to avoid bad things from happening while people enjoy the wonderful natural resource.”

With the AVCG dealing with approximately half of all marine incidents in the state, Ms Semmens believed the Victorian Government was getting a great service on the cheap.

“I can’t even imagine how much it would cost if the government had to buy all their own equipment and employ people to look after Lake Eppalock like the volunteers do,” she said.

“We are currently relying on grants and the generosity of the local community – but we shouldn’t have to.

“The people who use Lake Eppalock deserve a better service and we need recurrent funding to provide that.”

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