Geelong Independent, 29 October 2009

Anger grows over dive site

Anger grows over dive site

By Jessica Benton, Geelong Independent

Thursday, 29 October 2009 — A new dive site off Barwon Heads has become a cash cow for State Government, according to an opposition MP.

Upper House Member for Western Victoria David Koch said the Government's handling of the creation of HMAS Canberra as a diving attraction was "appalling".

He accused the Government of setting up the site as a monopoly at the expense of recreational divers.

Parks Victoria is set to hand out licences for commercial operators to control three of four moorings at the dive site, which cost taxpayers $10 million. Recreational divers will buy permits for access to the remaining mooring.

"I think it's abhorrent the Government has seen fit to give three out of four moorings to commercial operators. It should be opened up further than that and not monopolised," Mr Koch said.

"I believe very strongly that the navy vessel was a gift for Victoria. It took a long time to find the right position to scuttle it and it took even longer to get the Canberra there.

"I'm concerned this is another Government attempt, through Parks Victoria, at raising money on the back of a recreational pursuit that should be readily available to licensed, experienced divers.

"Commercial operators do need to offer guidance and assistance and some sort of fee should be applied but the Government needs to get off the back of the taxpayer and give the community an opportunity for recreational pursuits without a fee."

The Independent revealed earlier this month that recreational divers would have limited, paid access to HMAS Canberra.

A Parks Victoria spokesperson defended the diving arrangements, saying the allocation of only four moorings to the site would "ensure that the wreck will not be unsafely overcrowded when conditions are good."

"The keenness shown by divers and dive companies to get access to the wreck demonstrates its potential to boost the dive and tourism sectors on the Bellarine Peninsula," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson confirmed two mooring licences would go to a single commercial operator.

Parks Victoria expected to open the site to diving next month.

The spokesperson said safety work and installation of the moorings was still underway.

Geelong Independent, Online

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