Mr CRAIG BAUMANN
(Port Stephens) [11.00 a.m.]: I move:
(1) notes that Corrie Island in Port Stephens has been listed on the World Heritage List and the International Ramsar Convention on Wetlands register, which means the island is "recognised by the international community as being of significant value not only for the country, or the countries, in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole";
(2) notes the Government has failed to include Corrie Island in its Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan; and
(3) condemns the Government for continuing to ignore the environmental significance and ongoing degradation of Corrie Island.
It is truly a disgraceful indictment of the New South Wales Labor Government that we are here today, on 18 March 2010, debating problems with the Myall River at Tea Gardens and, more specifically, the internationally recognised Corrie Island. I raised the problems regarding this important and significant ecosystem with the Minister for the Environment in October 2008 during question time. But here we are, almost 18 months later, still with virtually no action from this Labor Government. In October 2008 I advised the House of an unusual build-up of sand at the eastern mouth of the Myall River which was hampering the river's ability to flush itself. This caused the water to become a dark, murky brown and led to the death of thousands upon thousands of fish due to low salinity. This in turn was taking its toll on the local oyster industry and indeed the economy, with locals expressing their very genuine fears of devastation of their vital tourism industry as a result of the ailing river. But, without any studies being conducted, in October 2008 the Minister said:
The closure of leases, fish deaths and temporary changes in water quality are due to natural phenomena related to unusually high levels of rainfall in the river's catchment.
But the river got worse and worse, even without heavy rainfall. Boats could not enter the river via the eastern channel at low tide. In the western, or navigation, channel boats were running aground and the operators of the Nelson Bay ferry feared they would be forced to close the service down due to siltation of the channel. Oyster farms that were not being buried under the sand build-up failed through reduced salinity levels and owners faced losing their businesses altogether. And still the Minister claimed it was all a "natural occurrence" and that the river would correct itself. The satellite image of the eastern channel shown on Google Earth is less than three years old but bears little relationship to the eastern channel today.
Twelve months ago extensive local media coverage showed the eastern channel markers that are meant to be in six metres of water high and dry, being buried in sand. Then there was a shocking discovery: locals spotted, and photographed for proof, dingoes sunning themselves on Corrie Island, which, as the name suggests, is an island and should have been surrounded by water. By the Government's own admission, Corrie Island is used by 25 per cent of all shorebirds, five species of which are threatened. The island is also home to an endangered plant, the coastal saltmarsh. Previously the island provided safety for flora and fauna from predators such as dingoes. But not anymore. By way of background, allow me to enlighten the House about the significance of Corrie Island. In June 1999 more than 44,000 hectares of the Myall Lakes region, which includes Corrie Island, became the 994th wetland ecosystem to be added to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, otherwise known as the Ramsar Convention.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! There is too much audible conversation in the Chamber. Members who wish to conduct private conversations will do so outside the Chamber. The member for Port Stephens will be heard in silence.
Mr CRAIG BAUMANN:
The Myall Lakes National Park was recognised as one of the few coastal brackish lake systems in New South Wales that has not been greatly modified by human activities. The Ramsar Convention, according to its website, is:
An intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem, and the Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.
The convention's mission is:
The conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.
Governments of all levels across the world agreed to take steps to protect and nurture these important and fascinating ecosystems. That is, of course, governments of all levels across the world except the New South Wales Labor Government! In the 11 years since Corrie Island was included in the Ramsar Convention the New South Wales Government has done nothing to protect this important environment. As my motion claims, the Government left Corrie Island out of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan. In fact, the border of the Lower Hunter ran right along the edge of the island but did not encompass the internationally recognised island. But the Government's negligence does not stop there. In May last year the Minister admitted that the Government had no management plan whatsoever for the internationally recognised Corrie Island—10 years after the island was listed. The local community was stunned that the Government's incompetence could reach such levels. All the Minister could offer was:
A plan of management will be prepared for Corrie Island Nature Reserve.
But it gets worse! More recently, I asked the Minister in a question on notice about when a management plan could be formulated. The Minister responded:
I am advised that preparation of a draft plan is scheduled to commence in 2012 with its public exhibition to occur early in 2013.
But that is another three years away! It is utterly despicable that the Government has allowed its negligence, its incompetence and its mismanagement to blatantly disobey an important international treaty. How can members opposite possibly vote against this motion, which states in part:
(3) condemns the Government for continuing to ignore the environmental significance and ongoing degradation of Corrie Island
The Government is incapable of coming up with a management plan for an internationally recognised ecosystem in a 14-year time frame. The arrogance of this Government is breathtaking; its incompetence is frightening. To update the House on the current condition of Tea Gardens and the Myall River, the local communities say that the river is worse than ever. A local resident and tireless campaigner for the river, Gordon Grainger, stated:
The sand build up between Corrie Island and Winda Woppa is such that the entrance is now easily crossed on foot at low tide. Even small tinnies cannot get through and dingos/dogs have been regularly spotted chasing birds on the island. Erosion of the island continues at an anticipated rate of about 8 metres per annum.
Almost all 13 oyster farmers in the area have had to give up their business, with oyster farms impossible to maintain. Mind you, in the true style of this Labor Government, the oyster farmers are still being forced to pay the Government's lease fees on the farms. Locals say there has not been anything like the same number of visitors' boats coming up the Myall River this year as in previous years. However, the Government claims tourism has not been affected. In fact, the Minister for Tourism, in answer to a question on notice lodged by me late last year, said:
there is no evidence to suggest a downturn in tourism as a result of the health of the river.
She went on about the success of the Myall River Festival, which was held in October 2008, around the same time that I first raised this issue in the House. Clearly, the Government has not assessed the impact of this environmental issue on the local economy in the 18 months since then. But, credit where credit is due: the Government has announced some funding for Great Lakes Council to dredge the navigation, or western, channel of the river. This has not happened yet, despite the funding being announced last August. The Government also announced funding for a study into ways to fix the river's condition—a certain admission that there is something wrong with the river.
Every day locals are testing and measuring the quality of the river and sending the result to the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. However, I understand that the department recently told locals that the Myall River is not a priority and that there are more urgent jobs across the State. I imagine those more urgent jobs may involve getting the department's fifth Minister in three years up to speed on the portfolio. The Government has allowed its infighting, its leadership spills and political scheming to get in the way of running the State. We all know that means we now have to put up with a failing health system, dangerous roads, nightmarish traffic and chaotic public transport. But now it also means that we run the serious risk of doing irreversible and irreparable damage to an internationally recognised ecosystem, and destroying our environment for future generations.
The Government should immediately clear the eastern channel of the lower Myall to, in the short term, stop feral animals from walking onto Corrie Island, and enable the Myall River to flush itself. The Government must recognise that there is a longer-term sand migration problem in that part of Port Stephens, a problem that will not simply go away. The Government must take action to save Corrie Island and the Myall River and lake system before it is too late.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN
(Camden) [11.09 a.m.]: I note the concerns of the member for Port Stephens, and I congratulate him on bringing this motion forward. I have visited Port Stephens and been in the member's company at times, including on one unfortunate occasion. I know about the member's concerns and those of his predecessor about the areas around Port Stephens and Corrie Island in particular. I will not pretend that I know much about Corrie Island: I know where it is.
Mr Russell Turner:
An honest politician.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
There are many of us here, and I will deal with the issue of honesty in the Government. I am happy to go through the Government's environmental achievements with the member for Port Stephens. However, I do not want to get dragged away from the issue of Corrie Island. The member raised concern about the Government's environmental record. I am happy to be a member of the New South Wales Government, from Premier Carr to Premier Keneally. The New South Wales Government has an excellent conservation record. Bob Carr introduced more national parks than any other leader probably in the history of New South Wales. He did a fantastic job while he was Premier, and we have built on those wonderful achievements. Too often those achievements are overlooked and denigrated. However, I am proud of them. One particular achievement during Bob Carr's time as Premier was the creation of the Western Sydney Parklands, which were spoken about last Thursday in this place. I congratulate the Government on that achievement. I have some advice from the Deputy Premier on initiatives in the Lower Hunter. I think the member for Port Stephens referred to the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy.
Mr Craig Baumann:
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
I will talk about the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy for a minute. A media release issued by the Deputy Premier on 11 March 2009 stated:
"The [Lower Hunter Regional] plan provides a focus for conservation efforts over the next 25 years by identifying priority biodiversity areas in the Lower Hunter," Ms Tebbutt said.
The Lower Hunter is a highly diverse region; it contains a range of biodiversity values including wetlands and is home to a number of threatened species—
the member for Port Stephens raised that issue in relation to Corrie Island—
Among the areas identified as being of high conservation value is the corridor from the Watagans to Stockton, including the wetland reserves around Port Stephens and Karuah.
Around 20 000 hectares have already been protected for conservation in the Hunter as foreshadowed in the draft plan.
The plan provides further opportunities to build on these strong foundations, announced by the NSW Government in 2006 as Stage 1 of the plan.
The Minister for the Hunter welcomed the adoption of the final plan. On 11 March 2009 she said:
The Regional Conservation Plan and the Regional Strategy provide a 25 year blueprint for local government, industry and the community for development and conservation in the Lower Hunter.
That was said at about the same time as the member for Port Stephens gave notice of his motion. I am sure the Government will take note of the member's concerns. I commend the member for raising this issue. I am sure the Government will respond to it.
Mr MICHAEL RICHARDSON
(Castle Hill) [11.13 a.m.]: That was a stunning contribution from the member for Camden! I must ask whether the member has been to Tea Gardens and Corrie Island and seen what is going on there. I know the area very well.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! The member for Camden has contributed to the debate. The member for Castle Hill will direct his comments through the Chair.
Mr MICHAEL RICHARDSON:
In the 1980s I used to holiday at Hawks Nest. I also included Myall Lakes in my book entitled Australia's Natural Wonders
. I know the area very well. Corrie Island was absolutely worth preserving. The member for Camden talked about the national parks that Bob Carr created when he was Premier. The great problem with those national parks is that the Government did not prepare plans of management or provide the funding that was needed to look after those parks. That issue is at the core of this debate today.
As the hardworking member for Port Stephens pointed out, the Government's neglect is now posing a direct threat to the ecosystem on Corrie Island and the water birds that nest there. Corrie Island is a Ramsar-listed site, and it is Ramsar listed for a good reason. The wetlands have been recognised as one of the most critical types of ecosystem in the world, and it is the only case where there has been international agreement to protect and preserve the wetlands and this particular ecosystem. Corrie Island is not only Ramsar listed—it has been listed since 1999—it is also listed by the Commonwealth Government on the Register of the National Estate. Did the member for Camden talk about that? Did he talk about the Government's onus to look after this area? No, he did not.
The member for Camden talked about the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan. The member for Port Stephens made the point that Corrie Island is just across the border in the Great Lakes shire and therefore falls outside the boundaries of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan. The Government is prepared to do something about protecting, for example, the important Kooragang wetlands, the Watagans ranges and the South Wallarah Peninsula but it is not prepared to do anything to protect this important Ramsar-listed wetlands because it is just across the border. Nature does not understand borders. I give one example.
The Arctic tern has been seen there—I have also seen them down at Bermagui. Members might be interested to know that the Arctic tern has the longest migratory passage of any living thing—77,000 kilometres. It lands and nests maybe only once every year and sometimes only once every three years. It circulates the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic. It is extraordinary. Protection of the birds' nests on Corrie Island is critical. Yet, because the Government has not put a management plan in place and does not understand the Corrie Island ecosystem, it has refused to carry out what the local people want. It has refused to dredge the eastern channel. That means that at low tide there is a connection between the mainland, the Winda Woppa peninsula and the island, and dogs, cats, dingoes and foxes cross to the island, where they interfere with nesting sites and eat the birds and their eggs.
It is absolutely critical that something is done about this. Yet the Government is now talking about drawing up a management plan. It might do that sometime in 2013. I return to the point I made earlier in the debate: Bob Carr was good at creating national parks but he was dead lousy at looking after them. It is critical that the motion be carried. The Government should understand clearly that it must invest money in protecting Corrie Island and the Myall Lakes ecosystem while looking after the tourist interests of the people of Port Stephens. It is an absolute disgrace that the Government should oppose this motion.
Mr JOHN AQUILINA
(Riverstone—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.18 a.m.]: Listening to the member for Castle Hill, one cannot help thinking about the conspiracy theorists in the Opposition. There always has to be some kind of conspiracy. The Government is always doing something that is against the interests of the public and against what is good. I will put the member at ease: there is no conspiracy in relation to this. The Government is fully aware of the conservation significance of Corrie Island and has taken steps in relation to that. Let me reiterate some facts, as opposed to the fiction and hypotheses from members opposite. Corrie Island is listed as a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar treaty. Corrie Island is already fully protected as a nature reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
The environmental significance of Corrie Island is fully acknowledged, as is evidenced through the high level of protection afforded to the island through its status as a nature reserve and listing under the Ramsar treaty. The motion moved by the member for Port Stephens relates to the environmental significance of Corrie Island and its omission from the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan. Surprise, surprise, Corrie Island is outside the boundaries of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan. That plan extends only as far north as the Port Stephens local government area and does not include the Great Lakes local government area where Corrie Island is located. Therefore it was clearly beyond the scope of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan. It does not make sense for an island that is outside a designated area to be covered by an Act of Parliament that says it should be included in the plan for that designated area. Conservation policies cannot be run in that way.
Corrie Island is already highly protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and is recognised as a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar treaty. It is ineligible to be part of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan because it is not located geographically within that area and as such it is clearly beyond the scope of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan to consider the environmental significance of Corrie Island. The plan is essentially about where our conservation efforts should be focussed in the lower Hunter, not in the northern part of the Hunter. The plan focuses on other conservation mechanisms that will ensure that important lands with high conservation values are managed for those values. The plan guides and focuses those efforts, concentrating on a range of effective voluntary conservation tools.
This has nothing to do with conspiracy theories or a so-called lack of funding. How dare Opposition members talk about a lack of funding in relation to nature conservation areas and national parks! Which Government established the national parks? This is the Government that established the vast majority of national parks forming a continuing link of parks from the northernmost tip of the State to the southernmost tip of the State along the eastern seaboard. This Government is very proud of the heritage it has established with national parks. The concept of these national parks was developed when former Premier Bob Carr was a Minister for the Environment in the Wran and Unsworth governments. When Labor lost government in 1988 what did the Coalition do? It did nothing with national parks. In fact, it started a turnaround on national parks and it was not until Labor was elected in 1995 that they were established and backed up with funding. Corrie Island is a fully protected nature reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. It is an area of international significance under the Ramsar treaty. It has the funding to make sure that it is properly looked after, and it falls outside the boundaries of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan.
Ms PRU GOWARD (Goulburn) [11.23 a.m.]: The member for Riverstone has confirmed the worst fears of people of the region. Of course, it is well understood that Corrie Island has enjoyed protection for 30 or 40 years but today it is home to feral animals and dingoes. Species, both flora and fauna, on the island are in a fragile state. Despite the fact that there has been ongoing formal protection of this area, not a cent has been spent on ensuring that the island is protected. As the member for Port Stephens has constantly reminded the House, that comes back to the fact that the channel around Corrie Island is silting up, and has continued to silt up. It has got worse over a number of years, and most recently that silting up has enabled feral animals to access the island. Dingoes have been chasing birds on the island.
One would hope that if the Government makes a hero of itself publicly about signing conventions it would also spend some money on ensuring that Corrie Island is protected. However, that has not happened. This motion condemns the State Labor Keneally Government for continuing to ignore the environmental significance and ongoing degradation of Corrie Island. Despite the Government's claim that it is proud to have ensured the protection of the area, not a cent has been put into it and the ecological colonies of Corrie Island are in grave danger. The second paragraph of the motion moved by the member for Port Stephens reads:
(2) notes the Government has failed to include Corrie Island in its Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan; and
The member for Riverstone made much of the fact that Corrie Island is not in the plan. The Opposition knows it is not in the plan. After looking at the areas included in the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan I find it remarkable that Corrie Island has not been included in the plan. The regional conservation plan applies to the same local government areas covered by the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan, namely, Maitland, Cessnock, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and Newcastle City councils. It also includes sections in the north-east of Wyong Council area at Gwandalan and the Wallarah peninsula. The argument made by the member for Port Stephens and the Liberal-Nationals Coalition is that if it is good enough for those areas to be included in the conservation plan it is certainly good enough for the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan to include Corrie Island.
If Corrie Island were in a conservation plan there would be scope to get something done. However, it has taken enormous pressure from a lone member of Parliament, the member for Port Stephens, and his constant questioning to extract from the Government the very reluctant observation that this very precious area will now be the subject of a management plan that will be developed some years hence and open to public exhibition in 2013. There is a very good chance that by that time any remaining colonies of eastern curlews and other shore birds that frequent the island will have been driven away or their nesting colonies destroyed by the feral wildlife that is now able to invade this area.
This is a simple proposition. The Government signed the treaties, it signed up to these conservation values, it proclaimed them loudly and yet the silting up of the channel has resulted in an ecological disaster. This very special place is in grave danger of losing any of its ecological significance yet the Government is not prepared to put a cent into it. It is unforgivable for a government to leave it for another three years before a management plan is put in place. It is not good enough for a site that has been protected, as the member for Riverstone so proudly told us, since 1974.
Mr CRAIG BAUMANN (Port Stephens) [11.28 a.m.], in reply: I thank members representing the electorates of Camden, Castle Hill, Riverstone and Goulburn for their contributions to this debate. The Government's response is typical: an attempt to shift the blame and responsibility and to avoid all accountability for the problems facing the people and, indeed, the environment of New South Wales. I wonder if any of the speakers who spruiked about how the Government's handling of the Myall River and Corrie Island disaster have actually been to Tea Gardens. I know the member for Camden went to Port Stephens under rather unfortunate circumstances a couple of years ago. I wonder whether those members have been to Tea Gardens to see the condition of the local marine environment for themselves. How many members on the other side of the House are willing to stand and say, "Hasn't the Government done a good job", in the face of a seriously unhealthy river and the possible destruction of an internationally recognised ecosystem, which is home to endangered bird and plant life?
There is simply no excuse for the State Labor Government's failure to devise some form of management plan for Corrie Island in the 14 years since it was enlisted to the Ramsar Convention. The Government's piecemeal measures to fix the Myall River and thereby better protect Corrie Island simply are not good enough. Committing funds to a study of how to fix the Myall River is one thing, but leaving the local community to more or less carry out the testing and studies themselves, with no finishing date or commitment to seeing the project through, does not stack up. The member for Riverstone mentioned the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan and put great weight on the fact that Corrie Island was not in the Lower Hunter. The boundary of the Port Stephens local government area is on the northern side of the Port Stephens port itself. Corrie Island is just about surrounded by the local government area of Port Stephens, but this Government did not see fit to include it in that plan.
The member for Riverstone also assures us that the island is fully protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Unless guards stand there with shotguns at every low tide, I do not know how it is going to keep feral animals away. Like everything else the Government says and does, it may claim to be protecting it, but it is not. In summary, despite the fact that the eastern channel was regularly dredged until 1998 and despite the fact that numerous reports have recommended a regular dredging program, the State Government is simply not listening. Those who live, work and play in Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens need to see real commitment from the Government to fix the Myall River. This House needs to honour its Ramsar Convention obligations and move immediately to reverse the lack of action and neglect that the Government has shown toward Corrie Island and the Myall River.
The House divided.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr R. C. Williams
Question resolved in the negative.
|Mr J. D. Williams||Mr Sartor|