Environmental Justice Australia

Project Protecting the Western Rivers: governance reform for community and environment in Western Melbourne

Amount $29,221

Date 2018

Program Environment

Rural and regional Victoria Assisting communities in peri-urban areas west of Melbourne to strategically engage with opportunities to strengthen river management and environmental outcomes throughout these regions
Building organisational capacity Develop the capacity of local groups along the Maribyrnong and Werribee Rivers to make the case for governance reform
Collaboration and partnership Werribee River Association, Werribee Riverkeeper,  Friends of Steele Creek, Friends of the Maribyrnong

Image EJA lawyer Bruce Lindsay (third from left) and community members. Photo: Colleen Miller

Environmental Justice Australia partnered successfully with local community groups to spearhead a community campaign advocating for improved protection and restoration of the urban rivers and waterways in the west of Melbourne. As a direct result of the project, in September 2018 the Victorian Government announced the establishment of a Ministerial Advisory Committee to engage with local communities and Traditional Owners to develop a Waterways of the West Action Plan.

Melbourne’s two secondary major waterways, the Werribee and Maribyrnong Rivers, are located in Melbourne’s populous west. The rivers and their tributaries flow through several council areas, leaving them subject to varied planning rules. While both rivers have been historically degraded and neglected as a result of human impact, there is increasing recognition that the current approach is unsustainable and that new approaches to the protection and priority of the area’s creeks and rivers are necessary to ensure the future health of the waterways and the liveability of the West. This successful participatory project has enabled many local communities up and down the west’s waterways, to share ideas and develop a vision and model for law and policy reform for the waterways.


  • The western region of Melbourne is a huge population growth corridor and the two rivers are valuable environmental and recreational assets for those living in the area, which stretches from inner city Footscray out to the rural Macedon Ranges, Lancefield and Sunbury.
  • The combined impacts of agriculture, mining, industry and urban growth have resulted in the flora of the Victorian volcanic plains having the most endangered flora status in Australia, as well as threats to the biodiversity of the waterways which include small populations of platypus, Stripped Legless Lizard, Growling Grass Frog, fish species and others.
  • The project successfully demonstrated a participatory design process in which community members, either individually or through community organisations, and staff from municipal and public agencies came together in a structured way to conceive and debate a program for river reform in the west.
  • Draft proposals of the agreed options were circulated to municipal and public agencies including the various relevant water agencies, DELWP, Parks Victoria, and Port Philip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority, as well as the offices of the Water Minister, Planning Minister and the Opposition Spokesperson on the Environment for feedback.
  • There was a surprisingly high level of community, council and agency engagement. The final set of proposals developed from the process will be used in advocacy and engagement with the Ministerial Advisory Committee investigation.

“We put the case for law reform before a wide audience, gaining publicity and State-wide outcomes for a much forgotten community and their unique environment. The process provided hope for the future that community togetherness does work.” John Forrester, Werribee Riverkeeper