HAWKESBURY-NEPEAN RIVER BILL 2009
The Hon. HENRY TSANG (Parliamentary Secretary) [12.43 a.m.], on behalf of the Hon. Eric Roozendaal: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
The Hawkesbury-Nepean River is an iconic waterway and an important ecological and community asset.
Sydney is very fortunate to have such an asset in its backyard. A river that can supply most of our drinking water needs, irrigate a productive food bowl, estimated to be worth in the order of $259 million per year, and provide recreation for many residents.
However, this also means the operation and management of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River System is complex, because there are so many competing demands.
Providing a water supply for Australia's largest city, irrigation, recreation and a home for the plants and animals that depend on the River is a major challenge.
The New South Wales Government is determined to address this challenge.
It is for that reason that I bring the bill before you today, into the House. This bill establishes a new Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, and gives it the power to coordinate the whole-of-Government action needed to manage this critical and iconic waterway.
The bill has four objectives and it gives the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean the clearly defined functions it will need to achieve each of those objectives.
Firstly, the Office will improve coordination and implementation of management strategies relating to the health of Hawkesbury-Nepean River System. To achieve this, the Office will:
? Co-ordinate the management of aquatic weeds; and
? Manage the implementation of any agreed arrangements between New South Wales and the Commonwealth, or local Government, to improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River System.
Secondly, the Office will improve public access to information and advice about management strategies concerning the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River System. To achieve this, the Office will:
? Act as a single point of information and advice about management strategies;
? Respond to inquiries for advice and provide advice about management strategies; and
? Compile information on management strategies, and provide that information to the public.
Thirdly, the Office will provide increased opportunities for the public to be involved in the development of management strategies to improve the Page 2 of 9 health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River System. To achieve this, the Office will:
? Carry out public consultation to determine the views of the public or stakeholders; and
? report to me, as the relevant Minister, and relevant public authorities, on the results of any public consultation.
Lastly, the bill provides for the Office to improve the management of instream development in the Hawkesbury-Nepean waters. The bill provides for the Office to do this by:
? liaising with planning authorities to ensure they fulfil their responsibilities in an integrated and efficient manner;
? providing information and assistance on development to members of the public who propose to carry out in-stream development; and
? accepting development applications for developments in the Hawkesbury-Nepean waters, and forwarding them to the relevant consent authority, along with associated documents and fees.
Before elaborating on these functions, I will briefly outline the administrative arrangements established by the bill. The bill establishes the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean as a Corporation, under my direction with an Advisory Board and a Director.
The Advisory Board will include representatives of the Department of Water and Energy, as chair of this board, the Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Department of Planning, the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority, the Sydney Catchment Authority and the Sydney Water Corporation.
The bill defines the area to which the functions of the new Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean will apply.
The first three core functions, that is, coordination, provision of information, and public consultation, will be applied to the entire Hawkesbury-Nepean River System.
The last of the Office's functions, that is, the promotion of effective management of in-stream development, will apply to the waters of the River, and its tributaries.
These waters are defined in the bill.
They include the waters downstream of the Upper Nepean Dams (Cataract, Cordeaux, Avon, Nepean) and Warragamba Dam, but upstream of Brooklyn.
Under the bill, these waters also include land that is permanently or intermittently submerged by those waters within a distance of 40m inland from the top of the bank in non-tidal areas, and the 40m from the high water mark in tidal areas.
Under the bill, the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean is subject to the control and direction of my portfolio.
Very importantly, the bill requires agencies to cooperate with the Office. This agency cooperation is critical, and the inclusion of this power in the bill will allow the Office to succeed in its coordination role.
In addition, the Premier and I will be closely monitoring the progress of the Office to ensure better outcomes are delivered for Western Sydney.
By establishing an Office with these functions and these administrative arrangements the Government is today taking a big step forward in managing the Hawkesbury-Nepean.
The four key reasons why the Office is a great thing for people in my part of Sydney:
? the Office will deliver improved coordination across Government;
? it will provide a single point of contact;
? it will provide opportunities for the public to be involved; and
? it will facilitate consideration of in-stream developments.
Coordination of Hawkesbury-Nepean Activities
Firstly, in relation to coordination of the management of the HawkesburyNepean, the bill provides for the new Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean to coordinate the range of Government programs already in place to improve river health, such as:
? the Hawkesbury-Nepean Nutrient Management Strategy;
? the Diffuse Source Water Pollution Strategy;
? the Development of an environmental flows regime;
? the Water Sharing Plan for the Hawkesbury-Nepean;
? the Sydney Metropolitan Water Plan; and
? the Weirs Modification Program.
The bill also provides that the Office will have the power to require cooperation from other agencies. This means the Office will be able to coordinate appropriate Government activities in relation to works on river banks. Agencies, including the Department of Planning and the Department of Lands, will be brought together to ensure effective working relations on issues associated with river health.
It also means the Office will be able to coordinate agency effort to support the delivery of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Action Plan. In doing this, the Office will work closely with the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority to ensure consistency of effort and reduce duplication.
Importantly, the bill gives the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean the ability to administer funding programs and on-ground works, which may contribute to significant water quality benefits.
My colleagues the Member for Penrith, Member for Londonderry and Member for Riverstone have been long term advocates for a single point of call for the river. I am pleased to say that this is exactly what the Office will be.
By establishing the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, this bill will create a 'one-stop-shop' for members of the community, bringing the programs and expertise of the New South Wales Government together under the one roof.
The Office will act as a single point of access to Government services, including those relating to water quality and quantity management and river use issues.
This will provide the residents of the area with an access point for services and inquiries related to the River. Being located in the community it will be aware of the issues facing river communities and be able to bring these issues to the Government.
The bill also provides for improved community input to the management of the River. The people of the Hawkesbury-Nepean are passionate about their river and the bill recognises this by establishing a stakeholder committee to advise the Government on the best way to manage the health of Hawkesbury-Nepean River.
One of the specific functions of the Office will be to engage with the local community through effective communication and education campaigns. This will create a two way dialogue, in which the community gains a greater understanding of the current Government strategies and actions on the river, and the Government learns about community concerns.
In response to the community, this bill provides for the new Office to simplify the application process for people undertaking in-stream developments.
Under the current planning system, an individual with a development application for in-stream developments, such as building a jetty on a river, must first apply for land owner's consent from the Department of Lands, who manage the river bed, as it is Crown Land.
Once land owner's consent has been granted, the applicant must lodge their development application with the local council, who act as consent authority.
The new Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean will provide assistance to individuals seeking land owner's consent, including the ability to arrange one-on-one consultation with officers from the Department of Lands.
The Office will also work with officers from the Department of Lands to ensure the processes for granting land owner's consent are clear, and streamlined.
The bill will not override existing statutory powers, such as Councils' development consent role, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
The integrated development framework has been refined in the 12 years since its commencement, and the Government is not going to create another level of bureaucracy. Rather, the primary role of the Office is to make this legislation work more smoothly.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS
For example, the Office may accept development applications for developments in the Hawkesbury-Nepean waters, and forward them to the relevant consent authority, along with associated documents and fees.
However, if the Office advises the Government that existing planning, pollution, fisheries or water management legislation is part of the problem, we will act to address the issues.
Further, the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean may work with councils, relevant agencies and the community to identify ongoing concerns with the approvals process for in-stream developments. Such work may feed back into broader whole-of-Government work on strategic issues within planning, land-use and natural resource management.
In summary this new Office is a great thing for people from my part of Sydney. It gives them real access to the decision makers and it gives all the authorities involved in managing the River a chance to coordinate their activities.
By improving information flows and coordination, and by providing onground restoration services such as weed management the Office will deliver the people of western Sydney a better river.
I commend the bill to the House.
[12.44 a.m.]: The Opposition supports the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Bill 2009. This legislation establishes the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean as a statutory corporation and confers functions and powers on the office. The legislation also establishes an advisory board made up of representatives the from Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Department of Planning, the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority, the Sydney Catchment Authority and the Sydney Water Corporation.
On 13 August 2008 a River Summit was held to establish the problems facing the river and recommend a solution. The member for Hawkesbury made a private member's statement in the other place on 30 October 2008, highlighting the problems of erosion control, aquatic weed infestation and shallow depths caused by siltation and called for a single authority to be established. The State Government's intention to establish an Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean was announced by Premier Rees on 7 October 2008. It is proposed the office will be staffed by 11 personnel, two of whom will be part-time, drawn from the Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Catchment Management Authority and the Department of Water and Energy.
The member for Hawkesbury supported the broad thrust of this legislation. I have been unable to find any negative criticism regarding the establishment of this office, other than what I will expand upon a little later in my contribution to the second reading debate. All arguments against this legislation so far centre on the lack of detail in the bill, the lack of public representation on the advisory board, the definitions of some terms, such as "in stream development", and the possibility of cost shifting by the State Labor Government on to councils. There appears to be no consideration of environmental flows or the impact of stormwater and minimal consideration of outflows from sewerage treatment works, and the impact on existing riparian rights has not really been addressed.
The Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment is a waterway of national significance, covering some 21,400 square kilometres, with a catchment length of 470 kilometres, making it the longest coastal catchment in New South Wales. More than one million people live in the catchment, with land use ranging from traditional sheep, cattle and cropping in the upper reaches, through to dairying, market gardening and horticulture in the mid reaches, to fishing, prawning, recreation, oyster farming and residential in the lower reaches. There can be no doubt this iconic river is under stress. Many people are saying that the prolonged dry period has contributed to this situation.
It is a fact there has not been a flood in excess of 9.15 metres, or 30 feet on the imperial scale, since 1992—a period of 17 years. It should also be pointed out that since 1799 there have 65 floods in excess of 30 feet: 65 floods in 210 years is a flood frequency of one every 3.2 years. If we look more carefully at these flood frequency figures we see that the current non-flood period of 17 years is the second-longest period without a flood since 1799. There was a big flood in June 1819, and the river did not exceed 30 feet again until July 1857—a period of 38 years. The river will need not to flood again until 2030 to break that 150-year-old record. This current dry spell is the eighth time since 1799 that the river has gone more than five years without a flood—a frequency of 26 years—so it is not uncommon for dry periods of low river levels to impact on the Hawkesbury River. There have also been many periods of regular flooding in the river, with more than three floods in any 12-month period being recorded on seven occasions—a similar frequency to the extended dry period frequency.
Between May 1955 and June 1956 five floods over 30 feet were recorded, so repeated floods in a short space of time are not uncommon. On several occasions there were two floods within a month—we have seen the same situation in Coffs Harbour in the last month. The fact that these events are sometimes 30 or 40 years apart means that people's memories of these big events fade with time, and there is a whole new generation of people who have never experienced it at all. This is certainly the case in the Hawkesbury valley now. There has not been a flood over 30 feet since 1992, and in the past 17 years a whole new generation has grown up that has never seen a flood, and many under 25 years of age probably have only vague memories of it from their childhood.
In addition to the new generation, whole communities of new residents have moved into places such as Windsor, Richmond, Scheyville, Pittown, Penrith and all the other suburbs within that new residential area of north-western Sydney and they have never seen the Hawkesbury River in flood. It is these people that are in for a shock when the next big flood comes, and it is coming. The biggest flood in the Hawkesbury is reported to have been in 1867, and while there remains some debate about the level that flood reached, it was almost certainly around the 50-feet mark.
It is especially important to look at these long-term trends when making management decisions about this river, and any river system for that matter, rather than to look for short-term causes, such as blaming anthropogenic global warming, for the problems and then to look for short-term quick fixes in order to overcome the inherent management deficiencies. There has long been a call for a single river management authority in the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment, and this bill creating the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean was crystallised from a summit held last year, at which the then Minister for Water, now Premier, made a promise to establish such an authority. The establishment of the office was called for because of a substantial failing of this Government to achieve any level if coordination and integration between government departments, with development applications taking up to two years to gain approval.
This time lag was not caused by delays in local government ranks, as member opposite would undoubtedly try to convince us. It was caused by the varying agencies required to grant approval to the development application process, in particular the Department of Water and Energy, the Department of Environment and Climate Change, the Department of Primary Industries, the Department of Planning, the Sydney Catchment Management Authority and the Sydney Water Corporation. Those agencies were not pulling their respective weight in relation to the Hawkesbury issues they were confronted with—they simply could not get their act together on a collective basis to provide a coordinated and integrated result for the people of the Hawkesbury. It is of great concern that this office has many functions that are duplicated by the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority. The Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority's website states:
The Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority was formed to help protect the natural values of the Hawkesbury-Nepean and ensure it continues to be a healthy and productive catchment.
The Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority's vision states:
A healthy and productive catchment valued now and into the future.
It goes on to explain that the Hawkesbury-Nepean authority has six broad functions:
1. Planning and Investment
2. Native Vegetation
4. On ground works
5. Community engagement
6. Provide advice to Governments
The long title of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River bill 2009 reads:
An Act to establish an Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, to provide for its functions and to make other provision for the purposes of improving or maintaining the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system.
The two organisations have the same objectives. It is also appropriate at this stage to restate the objectives of the bill before the House, and the level of duplication is self-evident. The objects of this Act are as follows: to improve the coordination and implementation of management strategies in relation to the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system; to improve public access to information about management strategies in relation to the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system; to provide increased opportunities for public involvement in the development of management strategies in relation to the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system; and to improve the management of development in the Hawkesbury-Nepean waters.
This is going to be further complicated by those two organisations being responsible to two different Ministers—the authority is responsible to the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, and the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean will be responsible to the Minister for Water. Which agency will be the lead agency? Keep in mind that the authority supposedly is a community focused and run organisation, although the department still plays an active role by providing much of the administrative functions such as payroll, et cetera. Which Minister will have the final say in the case of a dispute? There is a history of overlapping roles by various agencies with respect to natural resource management and it has long been difficult to bring all the relevant players to the table together and to get them to reach a consensus.
I fail to see how adding yet another layer of bureaucracy is going to help that problem; in fact, it may well exacerbate the problem. If those issues are to be resolved, the most important ingredient is a will amongst the players and the bureaucrats to resolve the issues. In situations that are difficult to resolve they need to have a philosophy of finding a way to say yes rather than throwing up dozens of bureaucratic reasons to say no. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the way most bureaucrats think. It matters little as to how the bureaucracy is structured, it matters little as to how many government agencies there are and it matters little how many instruments of legislation there are: if the will is not there, it will not happen.
Part 3 of the bill relates to the functions of the office, and the duplication with the authority is clear. Most of those functions are also functions that I am sure the authority would see as its role, such as assisting with the implementation of management strategies, liaising with public authorities, acting as a single point of contact and compiling information about the health of the river. The only obvious extra function is that the office may—I repeat "may"—accept a development application, and charge a fee, from any person relating to a development in Hawkesbury-Nepean waters. Again, that is an extra level of bureaucracy. If there is a real issue surrounding the lack of integration and coordination by various government agencies then it is also obvious that the problem arises because the relevant government agencies do not have a seat at the board level of the authority since the introduction of the Catchment Management Authorities Act 2003, which removed senior departmental personnel from the boards of the new authorities.
This was indeed a mistake. As a board member under the original Catchment Management Act 1989 I know that it was the presences at the table of senior departmental people that facilitated prompt decision making and resultant action, as demanded by the board—and the bureaucrats were forced to act promptly. That does not happen under the Catchment Management Authorities Act 2003, as the senior bureaucrats are no longer present at that table. Rather than introducing a whole new piece of legislation with a staff of 11, it would seem to be a far preferable solution to introduce an amended Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Act, which should have basically allowed for the inclusion of those senior bureaucrats as described in part 2, clause 10 (3) of the bill and by broadening the powers of the authority to include the assistance with the in-stream development as allowed for under clause 15.
This would have led to immense savings in office accommodation and staff resources that I would have thought the Premier should have been aware of given the global financial crisis that we hear so much about. Eleven staff at a conservative cost of $100,000 each, including on-costs and so on, is a cost of $1.1 million per year, and while the amended authority alternative may have resulted in an extra one or two staff being employed by the authority, there would have been a huge saving when compared to the cost of establishing and operating a whole new government agency.
In conclusion, the Hawkesbury River is personally an important part of Australia, as the Colless family started in Australia with a grant of land at Castlereagh, adjacent to the Castlereagh Uniting Church, on the banks of the Nepean River. That land is now largely the site of the Olympic rowing facility. During the early 1970s I lived, studied, worked and played in the Richmond-Windsor area while a student at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. From picking fruit at Bilpin, cutting turf on the river flats at Richmond, working in a dairy, carting hay from North Richmond to Kurrajong and shovelling mushroom compost somewhere where I can no longer recall, as well as an occasional burst of study, I knew that the influence of the river was involved in everything we did in those days and it remains an icon in my mind. The river is also important to many other millions of Australian workers and families. It is a river that must be preserved and looked after. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr IAN COHEN
[12.57 a.m.]: The Greens support the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Bill 2009. In 2001 I opposed the then Minister Richard Amery's dissolution of the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Trust, which was a blatant cost-cutting exercise. Hence, I am wary of the Government creating new entities when there are existing ones. Shuffling bureaucracies usually slows or stops action from being taken. The Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Trust, established in 1993 by the Hon. Kevin Rozzoli, was an effective group with representatives from the community, councils and government departments. I objected when the trust was dissolved in 2001 by this Government and its funding moved to the Department of Water and Energy. The proper care and management of the river system has suffered since then. The role of this new Office for the Hawkesbury-Nepean seems to largely replicate the functions of the old trust.
I am hopeful that the new office will do as good a job as I believe the trust was doing when it was summarily axed. The Hawkesbury-Nepean is a significant waterway in New South Wales. Its length is 470 kilometres. It supplies drinking water for the Sydney area, irrigates farmland, supports industries such as prawn farming and tourism, and is the site of leisure activities such as swimming, boating, fishing and waterskiing. The importance of this waterway and its careful management cannot be understated and so I look to this bill with some hope for a future for this magnificent river system. There can be no doubt that the Hawkesbury-Nepean and its dependent ecosystems and their components are under stress. This river system has suffered pollutants, effluent, algal blooms and invasions of exotic weeds. Added to these are the stresses placed on the river by diminished water volume—a result of the presence of dams and weirs, and the direct extraction of water for irrigation.
Recently the river volume has diminished further because of low rainfall. Since the axing of the trust the management of the river has clearly been lacking in coordination or it has become so bureaucratic in a cross-departmental jumble that little can be done in a timely manner. Balancing interests and working with communities dependent upon the river can pose a challenging task, even when all parties have the good health of the river as a common goal. Associated with the river are 23 local councils, two catchment management authorities and a host of government departments. Regulation of the river relies on layer upon layer of legislation and departmental responsibility. I appreciate that the coordination of tasks can be difficult.
The Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, as constituted by the bill, is meant to have a coordinating role in enabling the river to be better managed. Whilst I have no doubt that this is a desirable outcome, as the river has suffered from ad hoc or unauthorised activities I am slightly concerned about the functions and powers of the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River. One objective of the office is to "co-ordinate and assist with the implementation of management strategies in relation to the health of the Hawkesbury Nepean river system". The bill says:
The Office may liaise with public authorities, and establish arrangements or procedures, for the purposes of:
(a) co-ordinating works and other activities to manage aquatic weeds in the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system, and
(b) managing the implementation of any agreed arrangements between the State and the Commonwealth or local councils for the recovery of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system.
On examination of this bill I do not know how the Office of the Hawkesbury Nepean River will ensure that councils and agencies will cooperate with the office. What muscles will the office flex, or will it rely less on coercion and more on engagement? I note that the bill does not give the office any consent authority in relation to developments along the river, nor does it give the office powers to compel the associated agencies to cooperate. The bill merely says that public authorities are "required to co-operate with the Office". If the river has suffered from bureaucratic mismanagement in the past, what is there to stop this office from being just another Byzantine government agency tied up in red tape and at the mercy of rival agencies with differing agendas? If there are complaints or dissent about the activities of the office, to whom can a person or organisation appeal? Another issue that caught my attention is the office's objective of "provision of information to the public about management strategies". This is a good idea and concept, which the Greens support. The Government must consider how to facilitate strong mechanisms to educate stakeholders and draw together multiple consultation forums, which historically have been run independently by different departments.
The bill states that a function of the Office of the Hawkesbury Nepean River is "to provide opportunities to the public to be involved in the development of management strategies in relation to the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system". I have been present at many "community consultations" that pay lip service to the community and then ignore their wishes completely. The tick-a-box consultation culture has become pervasive in our planning systems. Whilst I do not suggest this will be the case, I am concerned that the bill is not clear on how public consultation will be taken into consideration in the decision-making of the office. I welcome the Minister's effort to improve the management of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, which is a significant waterway of great importance and an area that needs our urgent attention. However, I want to be assured that this new office is constituted to attain the best possible outcomes for the Hawkesbury-Nepean River.
On reading the bill I was reminded of the Riverstone West Development Plan, covering an area through which the Eastern Creek tributary runs. Coordination of government departments to ensure that the health of the river is maintained will be particularly critical if this development proceeds. I have concerns about the impacts of 17 metres of proposed fill on a flood plain that is a primary catchment of the Hawkesbury River and home to three creeks—Bells, Eastern and South creeks. This flood plain was completely inundated in the flood of 1992. I understand that commercial structures and houses will be built on top of the fill. Silting of the river by some of the fill will inevitably occur downstream of these creeks and the health of the main river will be affected. I sincerely hope that the new office will liaise very closely with planning authorities on this proposed development and ensure that the health of the river and its flood plain is protected.
The bill represents a growing realisation that our environment management systems have become considerably fractured and disjointed, not through any fault or wrongdoing of any particular agency or department but through the lack of integration in the architecture of natural resource management and land use planning. I would expect that the Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Natural Resource Management in current and previous inquiries has wrangled about integrating the natural resource management activities undertaken by catchment management authorities with the land use planning decisions of local councils. Professor David Farrier from the Institute for Conservation Biology and Law, University of Wollongong, has discussed in a number of publications the practical and legal barriers to harmonising the way in which local councils approve certain land uses and natural resource management programs initiated by catchment management authorities under catchment action plans.
I raise this issue because I believe the bill is, in some ways, an implicit acknowledgement of this problem. More importantly, this bill may offer a potential way forward in redressing the disjuncture between authority natural resource management activities and local council or State Government land use planning mechanisms. While we may not need to create an overarching office for all significant river systems in New South Wales, this new office may demonstrate the possibilities of expanding catchment management authority roles into land use planning processes. As the Catchment Management Authority Act is due for its five-year legislative review, it would be beneficial to monitor the effectiveness of the office and whether the catchment management authorities could adopt some of the roles that have been given to this new office. I ask the Minister for Primary Industries and the Minister for Water to consider this proposal. I commend the bill to the House.
The Hon. HENRY TSANG
(Parliamentary Secretary) [1.05 a.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contribution to the debate on this bill. The Hawkesbury-Nepean River is an important ecological and community asset. It is the lifeblood of greater Sydney. The river deserves renewed focus. The Government intends to provide it through the efforts of the new Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean. The bill, by establishing the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, will empower the Government and the community to manage this critical and iconic waterway. In summary, the bill has four objectives for the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean. Firstly, the office will improve the coordination and implementation of management strategies relating to the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. Secondly, the office will improve public access to information and advice about management strategies relating to the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. Thirdly, the office will provide increased opportunities for the public to be involved in the development of management strategies to improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. Lastly, the bill will provide for the office to improve the management of in-stream development in the Hawkesbury-Nepean waters.
The bill is necessary to ensure the office has a clearly defined set of objectives and functions. This means it is a discrete organisation with a core purpose. It also demonstrates to the community that the Government recognises the concerns of the community and the value the community places on the river. The bill also gives the office a clear statutory mandate to improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. This clear focus and the power to require cooperation from other public authorities will allow the office to cut through the complexity and deliver real river health improvements. The bill delivers on clearly identified community needs. For example, at the River Summit, held in August 2008, members of local councils called upon the Government to establish a single body to coordinate overall river management. Accordingly, the bill establishes the office as a one-stop shop to meet the needs of local councils and other stakeholders. Local members of Parliament have been long-term advocates for a single point of call for the river. In response, the bill provides for the office to work with councils to ensure improved coordination of government programs and activities.
The office has established an interim advisory group, with representation from Wollondilly, Penrith and Hawkesbury city councils and the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils to assist with planning a two-day workshop. A key objective of the workshop will be to identify how the office can be effective and ensure the office delivers useful outcomes for councils and their communities in the longer term. Twenty-three councils in the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment will be invited to the two-day workshop to contribute to the longer term functioning of the office. I seek leave to have the remainder of my speech incorporated in Hansard
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed to the third reading of the bill forthwith.
The bill gives the office a number of important mechanisms to resolve complex issues.
Firstly, the office will have access to CEOs of all the key agencies because the bill establishes an advisory board. This board will provide a forum in which to raise and get resolutions to any ongoing problems of coordination between levels of Government or between agencies.
In addition, the bill confers functions on the office in connection with maintaining or improving the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system and the management of in-stream development. It gives the office the power to require the cooperation of agencies in relation to the exercise of its functions.
Further, the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean may work with councils to identify ongoing concerns and feed those concerns back into broader whole-of-government work on strategic issues within planning, land use and natural resource management.
Finally, there are a number of other mechanisms within government that can be used to resolve disputes. These include direct discussions between CEOs and ministerial level negotiation.
It is important to note that the office's approach will be one of collaboration and cooperation. In the event of a dispute, then discussions will be entered into with appropriate levels of the executive and Government to seek a successful outcome.
Consultation will be an integral function of the office. There are numerous upcoming river projects and management actions which will require ongoing engagement with stakeholders.
Engagement will be varied ranging from workshops and seminars to education programs associated with specific functions and responsibilities of the office. For example, one of the first tasks of the office is a two-day workshop with stakeholders.
The office will operate as a knowledge broker providing information on Hawkesbury-Nepean river health and management strategies.
The office will also provide technical and management information to inform both the broader community and key stakeholders.
The office will also be developing a website to provide advice to the public on the activities and programs of the office.
The focus of the office will be on in-stream and riverbank works, such as jetties.
However, the office is not taking over or duplicating the existing consent authority functions of local councils or other agencies.
Its purpose is to provide a source of advice or assistance for members of the community seeking assistance. This means it is not adding another layer; rather it is helping people use the existing system.
The office will have customer service expertise and some expertise specifically in relation to in-stream developments such as jetties.
There are a small number of such developments proposed each year. There are a much larger number of other developments, such as houses, proposed each year. These will continue to be assessed by the existing consent authorities such as the Department of Planning or councils.
The office is not a consent authority but seeks to facilitate the timely processing of DAs where requested by proponents. As there is no change to the consent process there is no change to the timelines.
In summary, this new office is a great thing for the people of Greater Sydney.
It gives them the opportunity to discuss issues of concern about the river face-to-face with the decision makers.
By improved coordination and increased flow of information, the New South Wales Government, directly through the efforts of the Office of the Hawkesbury-Nepean, will give the river the fighting chance it deserves.
I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now read a second time—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Motion by the Hon. Henry Tsang agreed to:
That this bill be now read a third time.
Bill read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly without amendment.