House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Private Members’ Business

World Wetlands Day 2010

Debate resumed, on motion by Ms Saffin:

That the House:

notes the:
theme for World Wetlands Day 2010 is Wetlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change;
threat to wetlands from climate change and human activity and the role of wetlands in climate change mitigation and adaptation; and
valuable work of WetlandCare Australia and other non-government organisations in supporting communities to protect and repair wetlands;
acknowledges that wetlands and healthy rivers are a priority under the Government’s Caring for Our Country program and the 10 year Water for the Future plan; and
requests the Government to consider, on a case by case basis, initiatives such as those adopted by the Lismore City Council and Richmond Council in Page, to develop wastewater treatment facilities that process sewerage and wastewater and create healthy wetlands.

6:55 pm

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was fortunate on World Wetlands Day in 2010—the theme of which was ‘Wetlands, biodiversity and climate change’—to attend the opening of the exhibition and awards ceremony of the WetlandCare Australia National Art and Photography Competition, held here in Canberra on Monday, 8 February at CSIRO’s Discovery Centre.

WetlandCare Australia is a wonderful national organisation based in Ballina, which is in my electorate. This is a very beautiful coastal city and one that is impacted on by climate change and by extreme weather events. The competition received over 650 entries from all over Australia. As I have said in this place before, some of my local residents won an award in that competition of 650 entries.

The General Manager of WetlandCare Australia, Nicci Carter, in a letter to me, said, among other things:

This competition plays a crucial role, through the touring exhibition and media coverage, in raising awareness across Australia, highlighting the important role wetlands play in our lives and how we are so intrinsically connected to the environment around us.

So true. I have seen the joy, as we all have, of the farmers when the rains come and the inland wetland areas come to life. I have seen that directly. Wetlands are not just coastal areas, as we often think.

I would like to give a few examples of what WetlandCare Australia are doing in my seat of Page. WetlandCare are currently working to protect threatened Bush Stone curlews in the Glenugie-Pillar valley region and are also conducting a fox-baiting program to protect the birds by working closely with local landowners. They are also working to protect the barking owl habitat in the upper and lower Clarence through cat’s claw creeper removal and biocontrol. Cat’s claw is a big problem in my area. In Bungawalbin they are undertaking salvinia biocontrol, through salvinia weevil release and also cat’s claw biocontrol. Wetland Care Australia are fencing off waterways and wetlands from lantana and groundsel for biodiversity conservation.

In conjunction with the local area, the Jali Land Council and Cabbage Tree Island Public School WetlandCare have coordinated bush regeneration, interpretive signage and a wetland walkway. There is really important work in my area on acid sulfate soil remediation works. The acid scald in the Tuckean Swamp has been significantly reduced due to the work of WetlandCare Australia. This helps all the fishermen in our area enormously.

I also note that the primary legislative and policy responsibility for managing wetlands is with state and territory governments. Farmers and landowners manage the wetlands on their land and manage it very well. The Australian government, through the department, is the administrative authority for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The Australian government, on this matter, works with state and territory governments through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council in implementing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. There are 65 Ramsar wetlands and there are 900 nationally important wetlands.

The other part of the private member’s motion that I want to give some attention to is the treatment of sewage through sewage treatment plants—people often confuse ‘sewage’ and ‘sewerage’—and by creating wetlands. In my seat there are two councils, Richmond Valley Council and Lismore City Council, which have sewage treatment plants that use wetlands. Wetlands are remarkable filters; they reduce the carbon footprint and they do not use a lot of energy because they are not using a lot of electricity. I have seen them in action, and they are a very efficient and friendly way to treat the sewage. Lismore City Council has said:

The current sewage treatment plant at South Lismore is an old trickling filter plant with a 12 hectare wetland system for final polishing of the effluent.

It goes on to say:

The results we achieve at this plant are as good, if not better, than the modern designed plants that utilise high energy consumption. Outlet pollutant concentrations at the South Lismore Treatment Plant are meeting or exceeding the performance of the modern—

‘modern’ means fully mechanised—

East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant.

(Time expired)

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.

7:05 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this motion and congratulate the member for Page for bringing such an important motion to the House. The theme for World Wetlands Day 2010 is ‘wetlands, biodiversity and climate change’. One could speak at great length on the importance of wetlands for the sustenance of life—life that is wholly dependent on the wetlands, life that largely relies on the wetlands and life that seasonally or occasionally uses such sites for intermittent purposes. The inter-reliance of myriad species of flora and fauna on wetlands and the natural processes that exist in them, each reliant on the others, is epic. Their beauty makes iconic images that exemplify the best of our largely arid landscape, images that we hold dear in our minds of Australia in its pristine condition. Be they current images of Kakadu, occasional images of Lake Eyre or 19th century images of the Murray River and its billabongs, such images are held dear by many, if not most, Australians with a sense of wonder and pride.

Most of eastern Australia’s waterways are regulated in one way or another and many surviving wetlands are reliant on regulated allocations of water for their survival. The Chowilla Floodplain, adjacent to the Murray River on the South Australia-Victoria border, is one such wetland. The Chowilla Floodplain is especially reliant on flooding, as saline groundwater will lay waste to the entire region without sufficient quantities of freshwater flooding over the ground and keeping the saline watertable down. If we allow the salt to rise, this land will not only lose its forest but become a lifeless hellhole. This is one of the great arguments in support of the Rudd government’s water buyback scheme—a government scheme for delivering more water to keep alive the rivers and their surrounding lands and all that rely on them. The other great argument in support of quarantining more water for non-commercial uses is soil acidification, a truly toxic and hellish outcome that threatens much more than the local area and populations.

To sustain our wetlands and flood-reliant forests and to keep the devastating chemical processes at bay, the government has purchased over 600 gigalitres of water entitlements to date. This is most welcome, and we have only spent one-third of funds budgeted for this purpose. The previous government’s target of 500 gigalitres of environmental water has already been well exceeded. The often cited target of 1,500 gigalitres, which just happens to be the highest of three arbitrary volumes inquired into by COAG around 2002, may also be exceeded by this one program. With other measures specifically concerned with metering on-farm irrigation systems and off-farm transmission infrastructure, the old 1,500-gigalitre target will most likely be well exceeded by this government, achieving in just a few years more than what the previous government ever dreamt of doing in over a decade in government.

The motion before us mentions the waste water treatment facilities of Lismore City Council and Richmond Valley Council, which the member for Page has mentioned. The use of treated waste water is gaining greater and wider attention and is resulting in the unlocking of substantial volumes of water for irrigation and environmental purposes. The great majority of waste water is generated in metropolitan areas, where the land for such ponds is at a premium and would more likely be used for stormwater harvesting. Nevertheless, in the case of Adelaide, an increasing proportion of waste water is being recycled through the McLaren Vale waste water irrigation system and the Bolivar waste water treatment plant’s piping of treated waste water to the northern market gardens and orchard districts around Virginia. These are excellent examples of what is possible in the vicinity of a large metropolitan area.

The member for Makin is here in the room with us. He had quite a bit to do in his former role as Mayor of the City of Salisbury in ensuring that wetlands were created in that area. The newest investment in that area, in my own electorate at Glenelg, is the Park Lands Recycled Water Pipeline Project, opened last month in Adelaide’s parklands, which I supported while a member of the opposition. I was very pleased to see that it was funded to the tune of over $30 million by the Rudd Labor government as soon as it came into office.

It is absolutely vital that each of us, in our own part of this country, treats water as a precious gift. We can be in metropolitan areas where stormwater harvesting and waste water recycling are priorities or in peri-metropolitan or more regional areas where land is available for pond treatment facilities such as in Lismore and Richmond council areas. Irrespective of that, we need to appreciate the value of the water we have—its value is increasing year by year. I commend this motion to the House.

7:10 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak to the motion on World Wetlands Day 2010. I congratulate the member for Page for putting this motion forward and other members for their contributions to the debate. I spoke about World Wetlands Day during the last sitting week. I also spoke about the Canning Wetlands in my electorate of Swan. Yesterday I was down at the Canning Wetlands. I spent some of the morning clearing weeds with the Wilson Wetlands Action Group near the Wilson Lagoon which, unfortunately, looks like being overrun with Hydrocotyle, which is a weed ranked at about No. 57 on the noxious weeds list in Australia.

I was lucky enough to get down there a bit earlier than the action group. They have an elevated hide beside the lagoon. I was able to spend 15 minutes watching the birdlife down there, which is just fantastic. It was like watching National Geographic on pay television. It was a great experience and the peace was only broken by the state 20 kilometres seniors walking championship, which was not that noisy because there were only two competitors. I congratulate the winner; the other competitor had to drop out halfway through with an injury, so it was a fait accompli. Wilson Lagoon is a great area which gets a lot of community use.

Russell Gorton, who won the Canning Citizen of the Year award, was there with his mother. Two other volunteers, Rose and Ash, also attended to help clear weeds in the area. This volunteer group meet once a fortnight to eradicate weeds around the wetlands—there is no shortage of weeds. They are one of 17 volunteer groups in this area and are to be congratulated for all the work they do for the local ecology.

Back to the weed: I thank the Parliamentary Library for providing some additional information on this matter. The weed’s specific name is Hydrocotyle ranunculoides and it is native to the Americas. It has become more widespread in Europe as a result of being introduced as an aquarium and garden pond plant that became naturalised. To date it has only been found in the Perth region of Western Australia, principally in the Canning River. According to the government website Weeds in Australia:

This vigorous weed has the potential to spread to other waterways in other temperate regions. It is a potential weed of all freshwater environments, being an aggressive invader of marshes, wetlands, waterways and the edges of still and slow-moving water.

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom has said that there are a number of varying methods used to control these weeds. Mechanical control is to cut with weed cutting buckets or bolts and remove the plant physically. A chemical control option is herbicides containing glyphosate, which can work well on this weed. The glyphosate products should be used through a low-volume apparatus to apply a low volume of concentrated herbicide to the leaf surface in order for any control to be achieved. There are also several methods of environmental control, but none gives a complete solution. Providing shading by planting trees assists as Hydrocotyle does not establish well in shaded areas. Providing shade in WA can be a challenge on its own because of our great lifestyle and plenty of sun.

Biological control options include a weevil called Listronotus elongatus, which has been demonstrated to feed exclusively on Hydrocotyle in Argentina. Following collection of the weevil on this plant, further work on this agent is planned in the UK. The adult weevil feeds on the leaves by scraping away the leaf surface and forming discrete holes, some of which become infected by unidentified pathogens. The adult females lay eggs in the base of the petiole and the larvae develop and burrow down into the stolon. Preliminary observations indicate that the larval damage is restricted to the stolon around the base of each petiole, possibly allowing other larvae to occupy neighbouring petiole or stolon sections. But we must make sure that this is a real solution and not go ahead with something that is going to cause damage to the local environment.

In conclusion, I thank the member for bringing the matter of World Wetlands Day before the House. However, the government must not just do the talking but also take action. The NRM group has had its funding cut by half since the Rudd government came in, which has seen a loss of employment and a loss of projects in the local wetlands area. So I urge the government to reinstate funding to the NRM. I also again congratulate all the volunteer groups who work in the Canning regional area.

7:16 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the motion by the member for Page on World Wetlands Day. Between 1997 and 2007 I served as a member of the Salisbury council. During that time Salisbury council became a world leader in constructing man-made wetlands and using them to collect stormwater, cleanse it and then store it underground for use as it was required later. It was the result of the collective work of many people over three decades. The work is continuing today and the city of Salisbury now has some 36 wetlands covering around 260 hectares. Noticeably, the regeneration of the local ecosystem has been enhanced because of those wetlands. Statistics on some of the changes we have seen in recent years include: 173 species of birds, including 24 species of migratory waders, have been observed; 37 native aquatic invertebrate groups have been spotted; and seven native reptile species, seven native mammal species, five native fish species and four native frog species have been seen. That is just an example of the return to nature in habitat that had previously disappeared. Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you would be familiar with the Salisbury wetlands because I recall that some years ago you visited the wetlands as a member of parliament and saw precisely some of the things I might refer to in a moment.

It is interesting that in the lead-up to the 2010 South Australian state election and in the face of a long drought period a swag of political converts to wetlands development as a source of water supply have emerged. People who previously knew nothing and did nothing about stormwater harvesting have seen the political opportunity and, out of nowhere, have become advocates of and experts in the process. Such has been the case with the state election announcement by the Liberal Party in South Australia that, if elected on 20 March, the Liberals will spend millions of dollars on further filtering harvested stormwater so that it can be used for human purposes. The policy is seriously flawed, it is illogical and it highlights the Liberals’ lack of understanding of this issue. In summary, the Liberal policy of mechanically filtering wetlands water and distributing it through the mains water system is financially wasteful. It will drive up water prices for those using wetlands water for non-human purposes. It will add financial cost to industry. It will discourage investment in water harvesting schemes by councils and it will deprive councils of a very valuable income source in the future.

I will go through those points in the time that I have. It is financially wasteful because it is simply unnecessary. More than 50 per cent of the household water used by homeowners is used for non-human purposes. Around 50 per cent of all water used in the Adelaide metropolitan area is used for non-human purposes. So you do not need to filter water to the level that needs to be done when it is going to be used by humans. It will also force up the price of water for three obvious reasons: firstly, the cost of the treatment has to be factored into the price; secondly, once the water is put into the mains system there will only be one price that can apply and that is the mains water price; and, thirdly, it will reduce competition in the marketplace for sourcing your water, which is applying right now.

The policy will disadvantaged schools, sports clubs and industry. They are all major users for whom even a small increase in water price will make a significant difference. I recently had to intervene on behalf of a sports club which wanted to access stormwater to irrigate its facility because if it could not get access to that water the sports club was going to become unviable. The classic industry case is Michell Wool. On Parafield Airport, Salisbury council has developed a major wetland, and it was developed specifically to ensure that Michell Wool could access stormwater at a much cheaper price than mains water in order to ensure the industry remained viable. I see only today in the Advertiser that the Australian Industry Group is raising its concerns about the future of water prices. Again, doing what the Liberals propose is certainly going to make it more difficult for industry to have access to water that is fit for purpose but has not been treated to the extent that they want.

Pumping additional water through the mains is also not a smart option at all. The additional pressure that would be applied to the pipe system would require a major upgrade of the current infrastructure. Again, this is something which I am sure has not been factored in by the Liberals. In summary, the Liberals’ policy is poorly thought through, it will drive up water prices and it will discourage wetlands development in South Australia.

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for this debate is expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.