Programs and initiatives

Shepherding the environment: meet OPLE Heath Robison

Located at the junction of the Goulburn and Broken Rivers is Victoria’s largest rural city – Shepparton. A popular destination for retirees and families looking for a ‘tree change’, the community by and large love the region’s outdoor lifestyle. Weekends are spent camping and fishing along the Goulburn River or hiking under the majestic red gum trees in Shepparton’s national parks. For Heath Robison, balancing the expectations of new residents seeking the quiet life alongside an active farming industry is one his biggest challenges.

Why did you decide to become an OPLE?

I’ve worked for Greater Shepparton Council for about 14 years in different roles, including as a local ranger. When the OPLE role came up, I felt it would be a good way to bridge that gap between councils and EPA.

What can an OPLE bring to the Shepparton community?

Previously the closest EPA was in Wangaratta and that’s meant they haven’t always had the capacity to get involved in the smaller issues. The community want a situation sorted as quickly as possible and having an OPLE makes that easier.

What are some of the main environmental issues facing Shepparton?

I think it’s to do with domestic properties moving closer to agricultural land. You’ve basically got orchards and dairy farms bordering housing estates now. Some of these orchards and farms have been here for 50-100 years and they now have housing estates nearby. For the farmers, this doesn’t change that they still need to do work like spraying crops and burn-offs.

How do you manage the relationship between businesses and community?

You’ve almost got to be like an umpire or a mediator in between the two. You’ve got to understand where they’re both coming from. Some people have moved or retired to the area expecting a less hectic lifestyle and they’re now facing odour or noise issues they didn’t expect. It’s about educating both groups and finding the balance, which is the hard part.

What’s an example of a pollution report you might receive in your area?

Scare gun noises from orchards is a recent issue. Scare guns are gas-powered guns used particularly during February and March to scare off birds from crops and trees. It can sound like 20 guns going off at once and can sometimes go off as frequently as every six minutes. There are some things that we can do to deflect the noise but it’s also about educating residents about a farming practice that’s been used for the past 80-100 years.

What do you like about working in Shepparton?

Goulburn River flows through Shepparton and the river really connects the community. Council and community groups encourage people to embrace the bushland and to get out walking and planting trees. The Shepparton community loves using the river for camping and fishing, and we tend to look after what we use.

What are some of your achievements in your first few months as an OPLE?

Since I’ve been authorised, I’ve been working on smaller localised issues and helping council. It already helps having an EPA presence when I’m out with council and people seem to be a lot more compliant.

What else are you hoping to achieve in 2018?

I want to keep supporting council in addressing the local issues. My role means EPA can respond to complaints a lot more quickly than we could before. It also means we can catch culprits in the act and that is much more effective for preventing harm to the environment.

Funded by the Victorian Government, the $4.8 million OPLE pilot program has seen 11 new EPA officers assigned to 13 council areas across the state. OPLEs work hand-in-hand with council to swiftly respond to local reports of noise, odour, dust, waste dumping and storage, litter and water pollution. Read more about the work OPLEs are doing in Victoria.

Page last updated on 14 Sep 2018