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Managing the River

The lack of consistent, integrated management of the Swan River in the past is clear. Although local governments with river frontages often got together on the subject of the River, there was no consistent decision making on issues affecting the River and no overall Government funding available to address common problems. The Public Works Department had responsibility for infrastructure such as jetties and bridges, as well as the dredging and shaping of the River. There were ongoing struggles for control between Perth City Council and the Government. The State Gardens Board set up in 1920, had control of the Government foreshore from the Causeway to the Narrows, including the Supreme Court, Government House, and Stirling Square. However this one person Board had no powers in relation to the River itself – and no ability to provided integrated management of the foreshore.

Constant friction between agencies and increasing problems with the expansion of the city saw the establishment of a Committee to deal with the River.

Swan River Reference Committee

From around 1900 there were many calls for an authority to deal with the variety and increasing complexity of issues facing the Swan River. However it was not until September 1943 that the Government established the Swan River Reference Committee. The Minister for Works asked the Committee to bring under his notice ‘any matter which it considers detrimental or dangerous to the River or to the use of the River’. Where any other Department was affected he promised to refer the particular matter direct to the Minister concerned.

The Committee’s role was to deal with works proposed for the shores or the bed of the River and to advise the Government through the Minister for Works. It quickly found itself lacking the powers to deal with the growing number and range of issues it faced and the pressure from members to widen its scope.

The Committee initially comprised Surveyor General, Commodore of the Royal Perth Yacht Club, The Town Planning Commissioner, the Manager of the Harbour and Lights Department and RJ Dumas of Public Works as Chairman. The Committee had advisory powers only and lacked guidelines on key issues such as what constituted pollution of the River. Within a short time Committee member Town Planning Commissioner Davidson began to express concern at the lack of powers and the lack of Health Department representation on the Committee. The Committee also grappled with the fact that there was no working definition of pollution to underpin their work. In 1948 after the War the Committee was restructured to include the Commissioner for Public Health and increased local government representation. Pollution testing of facilities up and down the River began in 1948 and changes began to be made to industrial practices so that industries were encouraged to divert their wastes to sewers rather than drains that took waste to the River. The main sources of pollution at this time were Perth based companies whose waste was polluting the River from the Sutherland Street drain, the Swan Brewery, the Gas works and the Power Station at East Perth. There were also issues with pollution from a largely unsewered city catchment.

The Committee continued to operate and did some useful work in terms of chemical monitoring but lacked power to take any necessary corrective and preventative action in the area of contamination or pollution. It was a community group that exerted the necessary pressure to get action in the form of legislation to establish a central body.

Following a large public meeting in 1948 a community based group was established to monitor and bring attention to the very visible pollution of the Swan River. As well as bringing public attention to point sources of pollution, the Swan River Pollution Committee, later renamed the Swan River Conservation Committee, proposed a statutory board to administer and deal with the Swan River and matters such as its pollution.

Swan River Conservation Board

The first Statutory body, established in 1958 as a result of community pressure, (link above to Swan River Pollution Committee etc) was the Swan River Conservation Board. This body together with the Rivers and Waters Technical Advisory Committee were established under the Swan River Conservation Act, 1958, defined as ‘An Act to make New provision for maintaining and improving the condition of the waters and the foreshores of the Swan River’. The Board comprised a Chairman and 16 members including local government representatives, sporting bodies, nominee of the WA Aquatic Council, Chamber of Manufactures WA Inc, seven Departmental representatives (Metropolitan Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Department, Public Health Department, Harbours and Rivers Branch of the Public Works Department, Harbour and Light Department, Government Chemical Laboratories, Lands and Surveys and the Town Planning Board). Its role was to deal with jetties, the licensing of industrial and trade wastes, cleanliness of the foreshore and future planning. The Advisory Committee’s role was to advise the Minister and the board as required on all matters relating to implementation of the Act. Although required to manage the licensing of the discharge of wastes and monitor pollution in the river the Board faced ongoing difficulties in actually defining ‘pollution’. The Board was abolished with the passing of the Waterways Commission Act in 1976. This Act established the Waterways Commission and three management authorities, one of which was the Swan River Management Authority.

Swan River Trust Act

By the time of the next legislative change to protect the River, a total of 10 government agencies and 20 local government authorities carried responsibilities for planning and management of all or parts of the Rivers. The Swan River Trust Act 1988 was a bold attempt to deal with a range of problems involved in River management including the overlapping responsibilities of various Government agencies and the inadequate coordination of agencies, especially in relation to development applications. The legislation established the Swan River Trust, an eight member body representing the community, State and local government authorities with an interest in the Swan and Canning rivers. This body was responsible for planning, protecting and managing the River.

Swan and Canning Rivers Management Act 2006

In September 2007 the Swan and Canning Rivers Management Act 2006 and associated legislation came into effect, replacing the Swan River Trust Act 1988, but not the Trust itself, and providing a new direction for River management and more coordinated and collaborative management of the Rivers. The Act further enabled coordinated management of those activities that could impact on the River, establishing the Swan Canning Riverpark and providing a framework for the Swan River Trust to undertake joint management of shoreline areas with local and State Government agencies. Together the parties will work to maintain these valuable areas and to integrate waterways management with adjacent Riverpark public land. The legislation also focuses on enabling the community to work alongside government and industry to sustain the health and uses of the River through mechanisms such as a River Protection Strategy and a Riverpark Management Program.

These collaborative initiatives recognise the importance and iconic nature of the River and seek to build on the social, cultural and environmental values of the River, as identified by the community.

Page last updated: Tuesday 23 November 2010