Ban on recreational use of River Murray leads to confusion for tourism operators

Tourism operators who rely on the River Murray in South Australia are coming to terms with new rules preventing all non-essential water activities until further notice.

Matt Voigt, who has owned Renmark River Cruises for three years, said he does not know how his business will survive the state government’s ban on recreational activity. 

The state government on Tuesday announced the ban on swimming, boating, as well as motorised and manual watercraft on the River Murray between the New South Wales-Victoria border and Wellington. 

The ban does not apply to people who are working or visiting their own properties, making essential deliveries or responding to emergencies. 

Mr Voigt stopped the boat hiring side of his business in November, but they had continued offering cruises to give people a chance to see the river in flood.

He said he will now have to cancel bookings. 

“We were kind of expecting at some point but now the peak’s nearly here we thought they maybe wouldn’t shut the river down completely,” Mr Voigt said. 

“I understand why they’ve done it with recreational users – there is a bit danger out there.

“But when we’re trained and qualified to take people out on the water safely … I don’t see any reason why commercial guys should be shut down.”

The government has flagged that restrictions are not likely to be lifted until after the flooding peaks have passed in January. 

“We were struggling before, now we’ve shut down completely, and without any real date in sight,” Mr Voigt said. 

“They’re talking the end of January. That’s insane. I don’t know how I’m going to survive that.”

A small cruising boat sits idyllically on the banks of the River Murray
All recreational activity is banned on the River Murray between the NSW-Victoria border and Wellington. (ABC News: Ethan Rix)

But this morning, Emergency Services Minister Joe Szakacs said there were exemptions for private operators skippering “their own vessels or using their own vessels for business purposes” and said Mr Voigt can “absolutely” still operate his business.

He said the government will be working on distributing information today to make the restrictions clear.

“I don’t want to have any misunderstanding or additional anxiety at this time,” he said.

In making the announcement yesterday, South Australia Premier Peter Malinauskas said the restrictions were a necessary safety precaution ahead of the peak. 

“When people are at risk, and our emergency services have to respond, that’s a drain on those resources that could otherwise be deployed out in the community,” he said.

Mr Malinauskas said the total ban on recreational activities on the river would also help prevent some power disconnections. 

Leah Beard, who lives with her family in Taylorville, said she was shocked to have her power cut given they live out of reach from rising flood waters. 

She said she received a text message from SA Power Networks at 9pm informing her that power to their home would be disconnected the following morning until February or March next year. 

“Our power is our water, which is toilets, showers, livestock, everything — all gone,” Ms Beard said. 

“We were surprised because we were told our power was safe and we were told that if it was going to go there would be a minimum of 48 hours notice, not just overnight.” 

Leah Beard stands outside a house on a verandah with trees behind her
Leah Beard says power was cut to her Taylorville home despite it being well out of reach of rising floodwaters. (ABC News)

Ms Beard and her family had to move to emergency accommodation 90 kilometres away, which she said made it difficult travelling back and forth to make sure their animals were getting enough food and water. 

“We spent all day Monday raising our pump so we thought we had ages to go and we still had options to keep raising that pump higher, whereas we would have spent the day filling up tanks and getting as much water on site as we could have, had we had notice,” she said. 

“It’s going to be a real big challenge, especially over the heat of summer with babies and little kids and trying to get water up to livestock and even the cost of diesel for generators and petrol for pumps is going to be huge.” 

The government said it is working out how connections will be restored once waters recede.

Energy minister Tom Koutsantonis said it was a “very complicated issue”.

“We could be looking at up to 4,000 disconnections,” he said.

“With 4,000 disconnections, that means 4,000 assessments. And 4,000 certification for reconnection.”

Leave a Comment