House debates

Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Cowper Electorate: Village of Wooli

7:20 pm

Photo of Luke HartsuykerLuke Hartsuyker (Cowper, National Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to put on the public record my concerns for the village of Wooli. Wooli is a wonderful coastal village in the electorate of Cowper. It is home to a small local population but is also a popular holiday destination for thousands of people each year. But, as I have previously noted in the parliament, the village is under threat from coastal sand erosion.

In 2010 the Clarence Valley Council released a plan of management which proposes a progressive retreat from the site of the original village. The plan tables the option of allowing landowners in the foreshore area to swap properties for crown land near the Wooli sportsground.

The 44 houses that are of greatest risk are south of the Wooli Bowling Club, but a further 20 beachfront dwellings have been identified as at risk of severe structural damage as a result of the dune erosion. The Clarence Valley Council believes the solution to this problem is progressive retreat. Last week the council was quoted in the local paper restating its position that the proposal to allow Wooli landholders to defend their properties was 'unworkable'. In my view there needs to be greater focus on the progressive defence, rather than progressive retreat from the village. This is a matter that all levels of government need to be actively involved in. The priority must be to protect the peninsular on which Wooli was built. I acknowledge that the Commonwealth has provided some small grants to assist both Wooli DuneCare and the local community. But the reality is that more needs to be done.

I would like to see additional government resources committed to reducing the ongoing erosion. I would like to see extra mitigation measures put in place that will give the Wooli community every opportunity to repel the threat of high seas and river flooding. This could complement the actions of private landholders who rightly want to protect their property and maintain the lifestyle they enjoy in this wonderful coastal community.

I would like to recognise the work and commitment of individuals and organisations in the Wooli community. The Coastal Communities Protection Alliance-Wooli was formed in 2010 by concerned citizens and friends of the Wooli community to develop and implement plans for the protection of the village. The CCPA-Wooli is an alliance committed to changing the attitudes of all levels of government to coastal communities threatened by erosion and the degradation of beach environments. The alliance believes that decisions on the future of communities must recognise the social, economic and environmental consequences and must be based on extensive, open-minded and ongoing community consultation and diligent best-practice planning that includes options up to the abandonment of these communities.

The CCPA has commissioned an expert review on Wooli Beach and the options for defending it. The review was conducted by ASR Limited, an international firm that focuses on designing and implementing solutions for coastal protection. ASR's report concluded that many defensive options are available to halt the erosion in Wooli. However, ASR noted that there is very little information about the Wooli Beach processes upon which it would be best to base any future action or protection strategy. Their key recommendation was the need to 'get the data, analyse it to understand the beach, then choose the solution(s)'. The CCPA has since set about persuading the Clarence Valley Council and the New South Wales state government to follow this approach rather than jumping to a planned retreat without credible supporting evidence.

I note from their latest newsletter that the CCPA, in cooperation with the Clarence Valley Council, has commenced a research project whereby it will monitor the Wooli Beach processes. Cameras, computers and solar panels are set to be installed so that data can be compiled about sand movements. This is an important step in the CCPA's campaign to secure the future of Wooli and protect the village from geographical isolation.

Wooli is not the only community on the coast that is affected by erosion. But I believe the opportunity exists for all levels of government to resolve the issues in Wooli and use the process as a template for addressing coastal erosion issues in other parts of Australia. It is absolutely essential that the community's voice is heard on this issue. It is absolutely essential that all levels of government commit the resources necessary to address coastal erosion. We do not want a top-down approach in which bureaucrats refuse to listen to the people or hide behind the silver bullet of 'progressive retreat'. All options must the thoroughly explored before a medium- and long-term solution is implemented.

Governments owe it to the people of Wooli to listen. Governments also have a responsibility to ensure that social impacts are weighed up against environmental considerations. I look forward to working with the Wooli community, the state member for Clarence, Mr Chris Gulaptis, and other stakeholders to resolve the coastal erosion issues at Wooli so that the community can continue to live in this little piece of paradise on the North Coast.