DHARAWAL NATIONAL PARK
Mr MARK COURE
(Oatley) [7.12 p.m.]: It is with great pleasure and pride that I have the opportunity to talk about an issue of great concern to my community. It was an important election commitment and is being delivered. Of course, I refer to the commitment by the O'Farrell Government to turn the Dharawal State Conservation Area into a national park. This decision was announced on 8 January 2011 by the then Opposition leader, now Premier, and the then shadow Minister for the Environment and Climate Change in the other place, the Hon. Catherine Cusack, MLC. An important milestone toward the creation of Dharawal National Park was announced last Sunday, on 16 October 2011: BHP Billiton has decided to modify its Bulli coal project to exclude the area that will make up Dharawal National Park.
The national park is expected to be established at the end of this calendar year, which is a fantastic outcome for members of my community who are passionate about our local environment, especially along the Georges River. I acknowledge, of course, the member for Kogarah and you, Mr Acting-Speaker, as member for Heathcote. The health of the Georges River is vital for our local community, and the establishment of a national park will help protect our community from pollution downstream. This is an important first step of a long-term commitment to protecting and rehabilitating the Georges River.
The Dharawal National Park will cover 98.7 per cent of the current conservation area and be established without depth restriction to protect the declared area from mining activity. This is great news as the Dharawal area is a unique and beautiful part of our natural environment and is home to a rich biodiversity, including a number of endangered plants and 20 endangered animals such as Sydney's largest surviving koala population, possums, the yellow-bellied glider and the powerful owl. Dharawal also includes natural swimming holes, waterfalls, gorges and over 2,000 upland swamps that feed into O'Hare's Creek, the headwaters of the Georges River. These swamps are full of unique plant and animal life, which will be adequately protected by the declaration of a national park.
It is worth noting the importance of the Dharawal area to the Indigenous community of New South Wales as it contains important cultural sites, not to mention the invaluable and beautiful rock art. The establishment of the Dharawal National Park has been an issue dear to my heart for some time. I took this issue before Kogarah City Council last year in my capacity as a local councillor. I was successful in championing a motion to urge the New South Wales Government and Opposition to turn the State conservation area into a national park. I was thrilled when the then Opposition, now Government, took up the cause as we now are seeing the fruits of those labours. One of the highlights of the March election campaign was bushwalking through the Dharawal with the Premier and my friends the member for Wollondilly, the member for Heathcote and the member Campbelltown. It has been a pleasure working with my colleagues to achieve this important milestone, including, of course, the former shadow Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Catherine Cusack, MLC.
The next step along the way came with the 2011-12 New South Wales budget, which indicated that $107,000 would be committed to erecting signs and establishing walkways. In the last year I had the opportunity to bushwalk the area about five times and see firsthand the pristine environment and stunning landscape, as well as the Aboriginal cultural sites and sacred rock art. However, it is worth placing on the record the shocking lack of interest in the establishment of the Dharawal National Park shown by those opposite. The Opposition spokesperson for the environment in the other place, the Hon. Luke Foley, MLC, stated on 8 September in response to the first O'Farrell budget that there was "no funding to suggest the O'Farrell Government is serious about creating the Dharawal National Park."
Yesterday Opposition members voted against a motion to debate the importance of establishing Dharawal National Park. Opposition members should be ashamed of their actions towards the environment. I expect the Opposition spokesperson in the other place to show some contrition for his cynical spin. However, the actions of those opposite do not detract from the benefits of this announcement, which has been championed by many groups in my community, including the Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society, the Oatley Heritage Group, the conservation society and, of course, Rivers SOS Georges River. I am proud to be a member of a Government that delivers on its election commitments and puts the environment front and centre of its policy making. The Dharawal National Park is an excellent initiative and one that will allow future generations to enjoy a pristine environment on the edge of the Georges River, Sydney. I look forward with anticipation to the formal establishment of the park.