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2nd Panel Discussion

Gary Caines, Lynne Turner, Dr Dave Alden, Errol McLean

Question: I know that native title is associated with Crown Land and I was just wondering what your views are in relation to freehold land and management plans for areas that you may not have a direct responsibility over but you certainly have an interest in?

Gary Caines: Interest can be exercised through access under our land rights at a local level by making application to a secretary who can negotiate with the landholder and provide that access for investigative purposes, cultural access and rights. And there's not enough of us around to take up these rights and I'm not sure whether it's well exercised. But that process can deliver a peaceful coexistence through recognising legal and moral rights. Personally, an interest, well maybe paying the rent is an issue but something else has to be done about that. But for now, access has to be found, thought about, asserted.

Question: On the topic of multi-criteria analysis. Recently, David I spent some two hours filling out an AC Nielson poll which covered a multitude of topics from my television viewing habits, to whether I use Dolmio on my food. The questions that were asked obviously had far wider implications than I had ever foreseen. The sorts of things obviously started to test some of the values I held when I was asked about communication at the dinner table when we ate Dolmio, whether or not it improved my relationship with my wife because she had more time available to her and that nature of question, which I found fascinating. In view of the question you posed about jetskis, I wonder whether you see any merit in that type of analysis on behalf of the industry or on behalf of any other interested party.

Dave Alden: I don’t know whether I can speak in direct answer to that type of questioning. I guess the important thing that I was trying to allude to in introducing the idea of the usefulness of analytical tools like multi-criteria analysis, is that they have the wonderful benefit of allowing vast varieties of information to be considered by decision makers in the one hit. It allows not just the overwhelming influence of economic dollar values to be the overriding influence on decision makers, but the weighing-up of that type of information and that type of influence, with the variety of non-dollar values of influences of impacts. So whether it be that a particular policy option will have a significant impact on the likelihood of seagrass beds being degraded by that activity or a relatively small impact. It allows you to capture some of those different types of information for decision-makers to be able to have them on the same page at the same time. I guess that was the thrust of the benefits of multi-criteria analysis.

Question: Taking that into perspective Dave, we’ve just gone through the change in management of Fisheries from commercial and recreational fishing-only areas, where documents have been prepared by our state governments with the socio-economic figures in those documents having now gone out to our communalities, over estimating, in many instances, the value of recreational fishing, and under-estimating the value of commercial fishing. These documents have been put out for our communities to assess and the overall decision made based on the communities selecting options. I question how our decision makers use the socio-economic studies and information available to them when that is the process used to determine the way we are going to protect our estuaries.

Dave Alden: Even though that’s a comment, I’d still like to make a response comment. Even though numbers may be out there, I guess the important thing for decision makers is to weigh up the influence of those numbers. It may be that a value, in dollar terms, could be very high. but if the community attitude is “We’ve got to draw a line in the sand here” then it is also equally important to be able to weight those different numbers; not just the absolute numbers, but weighing up the relative importance in the decision making. Is it going to override for example the carrying capacity of the ecosystem? Is it going to override the integrity of that habitat type? And if so, is that more important to decision makers than any dollar value? So it’s a tool to be able to allow decision makes to address that.

Question: Given that one of your outcomes in your survey of coastal estuaries was the need to improve community literacy my question to you is: how do you think we can improve community literacy?

Lynne Turner: Thank you for your question. It’s an important aspect of the work that we’re doing and we’re tackling estuary literacy in a number of ways. Firstly we’re trying to get the information out to groups like yourselves who are currently already doing really good work, but would just like more information to support the work that you do. We’re feeding into the Waterwatch groups who are wanting to tighten up some of their monitoring and make sure that they’re measuring things that are meaningful and appropriate e.g. things like depth and berm height, opening and closing frequency, those sorts of things, that unless you live there you don’t really have a good feel for and when we’re sitting down trying to interpret data, its exactly the sort of information that’s gold instead of some of the more complicated things that even scientific research teams have difficulty both measuring and interpreting.

The Australian Natural Resources Atlas website is where all the information on a range of things from catchments right through to estuaries can be found. The Oz Estuaries Database includes a lot of the habitat information and a lot of the Geoscience information. There’s also a simple estuarine response model that, although it won’t replace the need for more detailed hydrodynamic modelling in your estuary management planning processes for Port Hacking and specific estuaries, it will allow you to explore how estuary behaviour changes in response to moving points for instance further upstream, so it allows you to explore estuary behaviour. The site also has all the assessment sheets for all of the estuaries online and you can see what makes up the assessment for your particular estuary and their classification by type and condition. What we encourage people to do is actually to have a look at what the scientists and the team that were looking at this actually based their decisions on and comment on it if you think we’ve got it wrong. It’s a great tool for community involvement in trying to get people interested in their particular estuaries because quite often they know more about the system as a whole than we’ve been able to.

Question: Given that we’ve got Catchment Management Boards that look after an estuary and after planning for an estuary, or a group of estuaries in the case of Southern Sydney Catchment Management Board, and in some of those estuaries you’ve got estuaries committees like Kemps Creek and Salt Pan Creek in Georges River, doesn’t that lead to a conflict between the aims and aspirations of the estuary committee and the Catchment Management Board?

Errol McLean: I guess that question’s obviously directed towards DLWC. No, the CMBs are really a very broad-based committee and if you look at the Blueprints, they’re very broad statements, when in fact the estuary statements generally say that a certain number of estuary management committees will be supported, and by a certain date, a percentage of their management strategies will be implemented so there’s been a very definite link established between the various levels of management. As I say, the CMBs have the overview, they’re the ones who look at the bigger picture and the strategic view over a broad area. The estuary management committees are still, I think, quite essential in the sense that they promote a much better local community ownership. The CMBs have got, by necessity, a restricted membership, and therefore representation by the local community is very much filtered at that level. So it’s very, very important for the estuary management process that there be an adequate representation of community interest.

Comment (Ron West): We’re talking about “the values” as it relates to an economic theory and so on. The observation I have is that in a lot of situations, we’re not in a position to know the value at all. The problem we have is not just one of lack of information, but also lack of knowledge about which way we’re going and what prediction we can make about that. One of the examples I always give to my classes is that if people are going fishing, one of the things economists do is ask them, for example, the value of the fish they’re catching as a method of getting some idea of the value of that fish to the economy or the value it adds to the experience and they say, “well that fish is worth $3 or $5”. So I’ve been fishing, I’ve bought a rod and reel and off I go. If I said to that person, as a background to that fishing exercise, that the fish is actually the last of 10 that’s in that estuary, then the value changes completely and some would say that it’s much more valuable if they leave it in the water. And I guess the point I’d like to make is that lack of information and lack of knowledge about predictable outcomes is actually quite important and it’s one of the things we talk about all the time – the precautionary principle – but it is very hard to actually implement.

Question: Waders, or shorebirds as some people call them, are migratory species that come to Australia every year from their Arctic breeding grounds. The NSW Wader Study Group is currently doing an assessment of all estuaries in NSW. We’re actually putting numbers on all of these estuaries on how many migratory waders use these estuaries, where their feeding habitat is and where their roosting sites are, so that this information is available to Councils and anyone looking at plans of management for the estuaries. But the information is left off just about every plan of management I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I‘ve ever seen an assessment made of the migratory waders or shorebirds generally in any of these estuaries. Now we put in for a small amount of NHT funding which enabled us to get started, and we’ve still got a fair bit of work to do, but basically my question is, how is the best way to communicate with all those catchment committees to make sure that information gets to them and to also get feedback from them of what perhaps we should be doing and what areas we should be looking at?

Errol McLean: There are a number of different ways of doing. At the back of the hall you’ll see the Chairman of one the CMBs who would be very useful to feed information to. I think, in one sense this is why the CMBs were set up, in order to be able to filter and disseminate information to the relevant groups. I think if there are contact numbers for the CMBs, that might be a way to start.

Question: Errol, as one of the architects of the existing Port Hacking Plan of Management, I’m happy to accept that there are things in that Plan which need to be updated. One of the things I challenge you with is the fact that it lacks scientific authority. And the reason that I throw the challenge is that firstly from day one the scientific knowledge was recognised as being deficient and was tasked for the agencies that had the funding power and the intellectual power to develop that knowledge and feed it back into the plan. From 1984 to now, that has generally not happened, with the one exception being knowledge of the behaviour of the sediment in the marine estuary. In about 1996, after the formation under the EP&A Act of the Hacking River Catchment Management Committee, there was a community forum held at the Fisheries Office where all the agencies from the Sutherland Shire Mayor through to Fisheries, DLWC, Waterways Authority, etc. signed-off on the implementation of the management plan. That has never happened. So the question is what magic wand do you intend to wave to bring all of these agencies together with their hearts and minds to provide the data, I mean we’ve not had anything, despite requests about wading birds, and as an estuary management committee, we still have agencies tell us to go through FOI for info. Now the question is what magic wand?

Errol McLean: Well I don’t know that it’s a magic wand but I think you’re illustrating the problem of being leaders in the field, the first ones to do it. Because you are inventing a structure and the other structure that’s been developed since then is separate from that. The reason why we proposed that it be turned into an estuary management planning process is purely because it has the links with the agencies and the structure as it exists. For instance, in terms of getting agencies on board, agencies recognise that the estuary management committees and plans are a fundamental process of how we approach estuary management in NSW. Some agencies will send somebody along to every meeting, other agencies that have some resourcing problems with that say look “Just tells us when you want us to come along and contribute”. So under the estuary management process in the committees, it’s quite often that we actually ask agencies to come and attend and present on particular issues or supply information. And so it means that you’re not just operating on your own as you have been doing. You do have the resources of the structure within DLWC and the State Government agencies system to work with and that does make a difference I think in terms of coordinating the information. Perhaps if we had have been a bit more awake a bit earlier on, we could have lobbied to get that communication happening before now. Certainly it should have happened at least five years ago for Port Hacking.

Bruce Thom: I’m not going to offer you any magic wand either George, but a couple of things will happen as a result of the new Coastal Package. One is that Port Hacking will come under the Coastal Policy so the Coastal Council will then have statutory obligations to work in Port Hacking which should prevent any of this FOI nonsense that you’ve encountered and I promise that we’ll do our best – and I’ll personally take that on board – if you have an issue that you would like to raise with us. The second point is that the estuary management plans will be signed-off by the Minister, so they won’t be just Council plans that will reside on Council shelves, they will have a statutory base to them. That will then commit agencies. The question of resources becomes an important issue.

Question: From the government perspective, what do you think is an estuary? Where does it actually begin and where does it finish?

Lynne Turner: I can answer that just in terms of what we called an estuary for the purposes of the study. Basically we used the upper tidal limit as far as the National Land and Water Resources Assessment went. Where you actually had that transition zone between freshwater and marine water, is where we actually called the ‘head’ of the estuary, and then the ‘head’ to the ‘middle’ to the ‘mouth’. So the actual points on either end, ended up being the exclusion zones where we actually drew the end of the estuary. Having said that though, all the geometric measurements and where we actually called head, middle and mouth can be found on that Oz Estuaries Database. So when you’re looking at an assessment of a particular estuary, its important to note that we actually characterised both parent and children estuaries. So for instance Gunnamatta Bay was assessed separately as a child estuary of Port Hacking in addition to the assessment for the whole of Port Hacking. So that distinction is probably important as well.

Errol McLean: Technically, we agree entirely with that definition, but the practical reality of doing an estuary management plan is that if, for instance in Gunnamatta and Gymea Bay, we don’t consider some of the catchment processes in our whole process then we may as well pack up and go home because the major impact is going to be from stormwater and sewage overflow. If you could solve those two issues, you probably solve 80% of the problems that you have in those bays. So while we have a technical definition for the boundaries, we certainly are concerned with the processes that input into those estuaries. So we go outside our territory and ‘interfere’ into other agencies jurisdictions and other areas within the catchment to extract information and make comment on appropriate strategies.

Gary Caines: I think there’s a legal definition under the Water Management Act 2000 and there’s a definition for state coastal waters, and the estuary is what is between the mouth of the river and states coastal waters”, that’s the estuary between the two – legally defined, but there are other definitions.
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