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Opening Address

John Aquilina - NSW Minister for Land and Water Conservation

I’ve had a look at the program for today and I trust that it will be a very beneficial one which will enable us to explore many matters that are affecting our estuaries, I look forward to having the benefit of the outcome of today’s deliberations.

I’m pleased to be here in my own right because, as the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, I have direct responsibility for involvement with the estuaries of NSW and also a lot of the coastal protection work that goes on in the State. I’m especially pleased to be here today to talk about estuaries as a precious natural resource.

Today’s conference is about forging new partnerships and pathways to achieving a common aim – the improved health and long term protection of the State’s estuaries.

The first thing that we should remark upon is the fact that we really haven’t been doing enough in terms of working together in order to achieve better outcomes for our estuaries.

I speak from a governmental point-of-view initially in saying that we haven’t been doing enough in terms of forming partnerships between Federal, State and local governments to achieve common supportive objectives. But also from a government-and-community perspective in terms of forming partnerships between government and community organisations and groups to also achieve positive outcomes.

NSW has some 130 estuaries of immense economic, social and environmental value. However, these estuarine and coastal environments are under increasing stress as coastal areas become more urbanised. More than 80% of the population of NSW lives in coastal areas. These are facts that everybody is aware of, but it’s important, I think to restate these facts.

Rapid population growth in these areas exacerbates pre-existing problems. In the past we have practised poor catchment development and lacked real understanding about how these natural systems work. I am not quite sure that our understanding even now is all that far advanced, but I certainly welcome and congratulate conferences like this, the people who are involved with them and congratulate for example Professor Bruce Thom for the work he’s doing with the Coastal Protection Council.

Today we realise that estuaries are assets worth protecting and managing for the future. We need to work in partnership, as State and local governments, agencies, industries, environmental organisations, and local communities, to minimise the impacts of development and to ensure that the environment is considered. The NSW Government is committed to protecting and improving estuaries in the State and I’ll explain how we’re attempting to do that.

In the few months I’ve been Minister for Land and Water Conservation, I’ve had the pleasure of many discussions with Professor Thom, and others, about managing our estuaries in the most environmentally sensitive ways. That is certainly something that I am personally very keen to do. There is the need to ensure that the way in which we deal with the estuaries, recognising the many divergent needs of those involved with our estuaries, is environmentally sensitive.

So far, I’ve been able to witness two innovative infrastructure projects in the last two months. The first was on the State’s north coast at Evans Head where the Department of Land and Water Conservation is trialling a sand ‘fluidiser’. The sand ‘fluidiser’ is a way of working with nature to help produce a desired outcome. What it does is that pressurised water is put deep into the sandbank that has gathered across the mouth of the Evans River. That pressurised water loosens-up the sand, the wave action then carries the sand away from the entrance to the river. So instead of very harmful and harsh measures such as dredging, which may be environmentally objectionable, we have a situation where we’re working with nature in order to clear the mouth of the Evans River. By doing so, we remove a very grave danger which exists there for the fishing fleet which has to negotiate the entrance into that river. It was a very dangerous situation, but we’ve been able to come up with what is a relatively inexpensive solution and one that appears to work very well, as I said, by using the natural wave action. All we do is loosen-up the sand, and the wave action does the rest. As I said, it serves a dual purpose. It is a less aggressive way of maintaining water quality than dredging, and allows safe passage for professional fishermen returning to dock.

The second example was again on the north coast – at Tweed Heads. This is a joint NSW/Queensland project known as the ‘sand bypass system’. Now it’s a very expensive project; over the years it will cost approximately $100m (Around $20m a year). But it is also, from what I’ve seen so far, a very successful project.

What we’re doing there is actually a combination of dredging and the use of a sand bypass so as to remove the sand from the entrance into the Tweed River, and bypass it around the breakwaters of the Tweed River. It is then deposited into the sea on the Queensland side of the border and again the wave action replaces the sand back on the beaches. What we’ve seen so far is actually the re-depositing of about 1.1 million cubic metres of sand over the last four years onto replenishing beaches that had been very severely eroded. If you look at aerial photographs, as I’ve had the opportunity to do, of what has happened in just four years alone, the change is absolutely dramatic. What were once beaches with about 20 or 30 metres of sand on them, are now beaches of 200-300m of sand on them. The severe erosion which had taken place previously has now well and truly renourished and replenished those beaches. Again it’s an example of dealing with an environmental challenge in an innovative way. The sand removed from the Tweed nourishes the depleted beaches of the Gold Coast, and both environments benefit.

The NSW Government believes in, and pursues, an integrated approach in Natural Resource Management, from assistance with planning and capital works, through to policy initiatives, and legislative reform.

Through the Estuary Management Program, the State strongly supports local government in the preparation and implementation of Estuary Management Plans. We provide $1.4m annually, matching Council contributions, and already more than 70 Council-managed community-based estuary management committees are preparing and implementing estuary management plans throughout the State.

This year alone the Great Lakes Shire Council has received $113,000, Mosman Municipal Council – $110,000; and Warringah Shire Council – $335,000, to plan estuary management policies that benefit the environments and communities they serve.

We are also working together on major projects such as the $2.7m Kooragang Island Wetland Restoration Project in Newcastle, the implementation of the Lake Macquarie and Tweed River Management Plans, and also the rehabilitation of Lake Illawarra.

I visited Lake Illawarra last week for the opening of the new foreshore park at Kanahooka Point. In the past many people knew Lake Illawarra by other names. I think it was former Prime Minister Bob Hawke who once referred to it as ‘Lake Stinky’. The last time I visited Kanahooka Point, the foreshore of this particular area was severely degraded with large concrete blocks, and a lot of industrial waste had been deposited there. There was also a car park area that was very environmentally degraded and the place was strewn with rubbish. But now the degradation has been halted and the place is seeing real environmental improvement, it’s a picture, from every perspective. It’s a place that the locals really like, and it’s a place now attracting many tourists.

We are also taking care of our waterways which are undoubtedly one of the State’s greatest assets. Certainly, since becoming the Minister for Water Conservation, I’ve begun to see water from a much different perspective than I had previously.

Under the NSW Waterways Program, the State Government approves facilities for recreational boating in a way which is environmentally sensitive. The NSW Coastal Package provides $8.6m for a comprehensive coastal assessment, we are making sure that we spend money on the analysis, and on the studies, to ensure that future works are carried out from a basis of knowledge and understanding.

$1.2m for a pilot coastal water quality monitoring strategy, and $825,000 for water quality monitoring and water quality improvement in oyster growing areas will also be provided. Included in this package are legislative reforms that will enable the Minister for Planning to have the power of approval over developments in sensitive estuary environments.

The existing NSW Coastal Management and Estuary Management Manuals will be combined and updated to form the new Coastal Zone Management Manual. This will improve the integrated strategic management of the whole coastal zone. This package will give state and local governments, industry, and the community an high quality information to make decisions about coastal development and conservation. We will also provide information to guide investment decisions by coastal industries.

Key government reforms in catchment, water and vegetation management will also improve the health of our estuaries. One of the major tasks that I am involved with at the moment is the preparation and exhibition of the catchment blueprints.

Catchment blueprints will coordinate and set future investment directions. The new Water Management Act includes, for the first time, legislation covering estuary and coastal waters management. Vegetation reforms will assist in protecting foreshore ecosystems and estuary water quality. The Government also strongly supports and continues to encourage community-focused programs such as Landcare, Coastcare and Streamwatch.

One of the most rewarding things I’ve found as I’ve moved up and down the NSW coastline, is the thousands of volunteers – the members of the community – who are so committed to the work that they do on a voluntary basis through organisations like Landcare and Coastcare and Streamwatch.

In the Lake Macquarie area for example, there are 85 Landcare groups involved in working hand-in-hand with the local authority. Almost 3000 people, on a voluntary basis, are working every week to do wonderful things in Lake Macquarie, replenishing wetlands, and breaking up the old concrete stormwater drains and channels that had been constructed back in the 1970s. This is done so as to reconstruct the wetlands area, and thereby creating those natural filters for the water that’s goes from stormwater areas back into Lake Macquarie.

The State’s Wetlands Program assists local communities and councils to protect and rehabilitate remaining wetland habitats for the future. Rehabilitation is necessary as some 60% of the State’s coastal wetlands have been lost since early colonisation. This year wetlands from Yarrahapinni Reserve in the State’s north, to the Murray wetlands on the NSW/Victorian border, have benefited from NSW Government grants to community groups and Reserve Trusts.

The NSW Healthy Rivers Commission has undertaken inquiries into Botany Bay, Georges River, Shoalhaven, Bega and Hunter Rivers as well as coastal lakes and lagoons. Key elements of the inquiries adopted by the Government are being implemented to improve the management and condition of these estuaries.

Locally, Sutherland Shire Council, through its Port Hacking Estuary Management Panel, is developing management strategies for Port Hacking. I understand there are several community-based sub-committees looking at management issues for local bays including Yowie Bay and here at Gunnamatta Bay.

The Government has provided almost $100,000 in matched funds for the development of these management plans. You will hear me talk about plans and studies quite regularly, because I feel it is important that we do take a little bit of time to undertake a detailed examination of what needs to be done.

Even in the short time I’ve been Minister, I have become aware of examples of where we have actually attempted to do things the right way, but instead of improving the situation, we have made it a lot worse. We’ve moved in and done things which were well intentioned, and also very expensive, but which, instead of improving the environment, ended up making it a lot worse.

I was out at Manly Beach last Monday, announcing a major grant for further studies and further works. At Manly, there is a typical example of where some years ago, in an attempt to stop substantial erosion during major storms at Manly Beach, some $3m was spent on putting in rocks as a way of protecting the shores. Instead of stopping the erosion, those rocks ended up becoming instruments of further erosion. In fact it accelerated the erosion. So, sometimes things can be done in a well intentioned way, but instead of improving the situation, they can end up harming the situation even more severely.

I’d like to congratulate the Council and the people of Sutherland Shire for their role in assuring that Port Hacking remains such a scenic and healthy waterway. Being only 30km from the Sydney CBD, it is encouraging that Port Hacking remains a relatively unspoilt waterway.

What is happening here in Port Hacking is a great example of the plans and work already underway. Today is about improving our understanding of urban estuaries and producing a better plan for their long term management.

I believe that the State Government’s funding, policies and legislative programs provide a good framework for local governments and communities to get ahead.

I’d like to finish by stressing once again, the need for partnership, improved partnership –between state and local governments, partnership between government and community organisations. I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this conference and, again, congratulate you for the commitment you’re making today to your local estuary.
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