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Ramsar Wetlands

Question
Rachel Siewert 6 Dec 2006

My question is to Senator Ian Campbell, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Is the minister aware of the findings in the Australia state of the environment 2006 report, released today, about the dramatic impact on wetlands-that the ecological characteristics of 22 Ramsar wetlands have changed?

Is the minister aware of the latest report on the Coorong which shows its ecological characteristics have changed?

The minister has received a letter from Gwydir landholders asking him to delist those wetlands. Is the minister going to put the Gwydir wetlands and the Coorong wetlands on the Montreux Record?

Answer

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-I am very aware of the Australia state of the environment 2006 report, which I released at 10 o'clock today. It is a report prepared by Professor Bob Beeton from the University of Queensland and a committee of eminent scientists as well as other specialists.

It tells some very good news about progress with environmental repair in Australia. Because it really is an independent report, it is a 'warts and all' report, to use the vernacular, so it also reports some bad news.

I do not take issue with any of the items that Senator Siewert has pulled out of the report. There is no doubt that because of the massive changes to the Murray-Darling system-the fact that it is a system that has been highly altered by mankind-wetlands in that water course, particularly the Coorong wetlands, have been substantially affected and need repair.

That is the reason that the Commonwealth government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in projects to repair that system. The great news about the Living Murray project is that, for the first time in Australian history, you now have all of the jurisdictions-the Queensland, New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian governments-involved, with a focus on delivering environmental flows to the Murray.

Contrary to the propaganda put out by the Australian Labor Party in particular, the great news is that in cooperation with two of the state Labor governments there will be 35 gigalitres of water delivered to environmental projects at Chowilla and Hattah, icon sites.

Of course, repair of the Kooyong-sorry; that would be good for a tennis court repairer! I mean the Coorong. Repair of other iconic sites along the Murray will rely not only on the combination of state Labor governments working with the Commonwealth government to bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment but also, practically speaking, on some substantial rain falling into the catchment.

The problem the Labor Party and the Greens have with their policy, which is to deliver 1,500 gigalitres of water into the Murray, is that it is yet another example of a slogan that Labor and the Greens continue to refer to as a substitute for a detailed environmental policy. The problem they have, and the problem I invite them to address, is: firstly, exactly where are they going to find the 1,500 gigalitres of water-where are they going to get it from; and, secondly, how are they going to pay for it.

We are putting in hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of water to find 500 gigalitres, working with the states in a cooperative way, and the best we have been able to do this year is make a good start with 35 gigalitres.

The trouble with the Greens' and Labor's policy on the Murray and repair of wetlands along the Murray is that not even 1,500 gigalitres have flowed into the entire Murray-Darling Basin this year. If the water does not exist, it is pretty hard to deliver it to the environment and, of course, impossible to deliver it to the environment without denying all of the agricultural and horticultural interests along the Murray-Darling Basin. So you need to have a policy that balances those. The policy of Labor and the Greens entirely ignores that balance.

In relation to the Gwydir wetlands, the Commonwealth has invested in excess of $13 million in the repair of those wetlands. We want to see that money spent, we want to see some water go into those Gwydir wetlands and we need to have the cooperation of the New South Wales government as well as that of some of the landholders around the Gwydir wetlands to make sure the water actually gets there.

We have put our money on the table. We need to see the water delivered. We would like to see both those very important wetlands looked after under the auspices of the commitments that we have to the Ramsar convention. (Time expired)

Supplementary Question

Senator SIEWERT-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the minister did not answer my question in terms of whether he intends to list it on the Montreux list. Bearing in mind, the adverse findings in the Australia state of the environment 2006 report on wetlands and water, does the government still intend to go ahead and drain the wetlands of the Murray system over the next 12 months?

Answer

Senator IAN CAMPBELL-This is the trouble when you write a supplementary question before you have listened to the answer. I just informed the Senate that the Commonwealth is investing in excess of $700 million in the Murray-Darling Basin to ensure the health of those wetlands. We are spending money to pump water into those wetlands to restore the river red gums to make sure the habitat for threatened species that use those red gums have a chance of survival in this, one of the worst droughts in Australian history.

I also said that we are spending money on the Gwydir wetlands and we want to ensure that the water actually goes there. That is the commitment of the Australian government. We believe that you can satisfactorily and sensibly balance the agricultural interests, the interests of the people who earn their money off the land and provide the food to put onto our tables and earn export incomes, and also deliver historic levels of investment to environmental repair, including along the Murray river.

The report that was released today shows that environmental expenditure under this government has quadrupled over what Labor and the Greens would have supported 10 years ago. That is a substantial achievement we should be proud of and not denigrated- (Time expired)

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