House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Private Members’ Business

World Wetlands Day 2010

7:00 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, I was enjoying the member for Page’s contribution so much, and I am pleased you let it last a little bit longer. I think it is an important motion that the member for Page brings to the House tonight, in particular her references to the threat to wetlands from human activity and the role of wetlands in our community. Coming from the electorate of Gippsland, I am very interested in issues relating to World Wetlands Day and to the Ramsar listing of wetlands in particular. I know that World Wetlands Day was first celebrated in 1997 and recognises the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, which was signed on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar.

From a Gippsland perspective, where we have we have Ramsar listed wetlands associated with the Gippsland Lakes, we are very concerned about the threats to the lake system of human activities, particularly further up in the catchment. While the Gippsland Lakes are a very large system of inland waters, they are actually impacted on by an enormous catchment area. What is of great concern to the people of Gippsland at the moment is the issue of further diversions of fresh water from Gippsland via the Thomson River to Melbourne. There is a message that Gippslanders have taken to the state Labor government which relates to a recent decision to take another 10 billion litres of environmental flows from the Thomson River to water the gardens of Melbourne. The health of the Gippsland Lakes system is critical to our $200 million tourism industry, and the state government is fully aware that this decision will have negative impacts on a variety of species throughout the catchment and also in the Gippsland Lakes themselves.

It is an issue that I have taken up with the federal environment minister, hoping he may have some capacity to act under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The minister has responded to my representations, indicating that he was seeking further information from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment about the proposed diversion and seeking greater detail about any measures that would be undertaken to mitigate the impacts on the Australian grayling, which is a threatened fish species, as well as information on the timing of any diversions and any possible impacts to the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site. I am disappointed that it has taken several months for the minister even to seek further information from his state counterpart, and we are yet to have any response from the minister about whether he is going to take any action at all to protect the Ramsar listed wetlands of the Gippsland Lakes.

I would also like to address the motion’s reference to the activities of communities and non-government organisations to protect and repair wetlands. As the previous speaker, the member for Page, indicated, it really highlights the role that communities play in protecting and enhancing our environment. The member for Page referred to farmers and landowners and their role as custodians of our wetlands, which may not necessarily be understood by people in the cities, who might not get to see the activities on the ground which occur in many of our regional communities.

It is in that vein that I refer to the people who volunteer through the Landcare network. Last year we recognised 20 years of service of the Landcare network throughout Australia. There are more than 100,000 volunteers rolling up their sleeves every weekend anywhere you go in regional Australia. You can find them out there doing revegetation work, erosion control and pest animal control in particular—a whole range of programs which have marked benefits for our wetlands and the natural environment generally.

I have a concern that I have raised directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry regarding the future funding arrangements for Landcare facilitation. It is an issue that the minister is very much aware of: he has had petitions land on his desk and he has had many representations from groups, including the Victorian Landcare network, which have raised concerns about the federal government’s Caring for our Country business plan. The Victorian Landcare network wrote to the minister in August last year and indicated that there were 142 Landcare support staff on the ground to support Landcare groups in Victoria during 2007-08 and what bothers me is that they fear the number is likely to drop to 35 by the end of 2009.

The minister has responded to those concerns to some extent. He has put out media statements indicating that the government would fund 56 facilitators around Australia, but I would suggest that, when we are talking about 100,000 volunteers involved in practical environmental work, 56 facilitators is simply not enough. It is a major concern right throughout regional Australia. It affects regional communities and it also affects the future health of the environment—in particular, the health of wetlands and the catchment areas that serve them. I acknowledge the member’s good intentions in bringing this motion to the House and I support her in the work she is doing in relation to her own electorate, but I urge the government to continue to look at ways of taking direct and practical environmental action rather than indulging in lofty words on this particular topic.


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