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NSW Liberal Party

Andrew Humpherson - Shadow Ministery for Environment, Planning, and Sydney Water

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for having me and can I say a number of things from a Liberal opposition point of view.

Firstly, thankyou for having us along to offer you some general thoughts in relation to environmental management. Can I say that, if you've achieved nothing else, one thing you have achieved is to make me more familiar with Port Hacking because, having had a look at the Report Card and recognising some of the issues which obviously a lot of people here feel very passionate about and are deeply involved with, I have a higher level of knowledge in that area than I had a week ago. I'm an engineer by background, a chemical engineer. And engineering has delivered a lot of things for civilisation and society. One of the great inventions, or innovations for example was the cochlea implant. And what that does is enables people who haven't got hearing or haven't been able to hear, to use the technology and engineering to hear. It is not as good as the natural thing, but it's very close to it. The point I'm making is that with innovation, science, and engineering, you can replicate pretty well the natural things that we are given, but not quite. You never get to the real thing. So the objective always should be to preserve what we have rather than try and recover what we've lost. So as a general principle I think that's a sound principle. We should recognise that once we've actually taken something away, once we've lost something, you can never fully replicate what was there in the first place. I was interested to learn, in doing a bit of research, that two thirds of the fish and shellfish that we eat in Australia have their breeding grounds, and nurseries in the estuaries. Now that's a very substantial part of what we rely on for seafood. Clearly, if we don't respect, preserve and protect our estuaries, then there are a lot of other consequences beyond recreational or passive recreational use of those estuaries. Habitat conservation in that respect, needs to continue to be a priority and ought to be a priority in a bi/tri/multipartisan sense. And I think increasingly that is the case. It may not have been seen to be that way going back a decade or more ago, but I think there's a recognition, almost wherever you go in Australia around the coast or even inland, that there are a lot of benefits in preserving our natural environment and utilising some of the benefits that that can provide. And whether you're involved in land use, or in recreation, or in preserving our coasts, there are many advantages in preserving and protecting what we've got.

Can I say, and I don't want to dwell excessively on the government, but I noticed there's a couple of comments in the Report Card, which were criticisms of the government in the sense that, yes, there's a lot of rhetoric, which they scored highly on, but they didn't score very highly on delivery. I would share that view and I concede that it's very easy in Opposition, because you can't judge us by our actions; you can only make a judgement on what we say and whether you believe that we would do what we say. But I think we actually achieved a number of things when we were previously in government. I do think we will achieve a lot of things when we get into government again in this state.

But can I give you some recent examples where the Government really has failed in its rhetoric and failed to deliver. A couple of weeks ago there was a story about the Cooks River which is not insignificant to this part of Sydney because it flows into Botany Bay, I hadn't been aware of it until that story. Regarding the Cooks River, you can't fish in it, you can't actually have human contact with it, and yet it is one of our core waterways in the middle of Sydney. I think that's a disgrace and the fact that it's there, in that state, in this day and age, I think is unacceptable. You can blame governments going right back for that problem, but there is no commitment, in my view, on the part of the current government to fix it and that's one thing, along with other waterways, that I would rank as a priority. Can I also say that there's conflicting messages. Just another example are the fairy penguins which live in the Manly Cove area in Sydney Harbour. We're down to about 75 breeding pairs. The Government recently said, OK we're going to declare their breeding habitat - which is the foreshore - as critical habitat, Great! No-one disagrees with that. Only the fact is, a significant portion of that habitat happens to be the foreshore of the Quarantine Station which the Government is hell-bent on leasing-out to the private sector as a commercial tourist facility. So because the primary access to this facility will be by water, you're going to have literally tens of thousands of people, every year, stomping through that habitat. So what you get on the one side from government in terms of preserving habitat, preserving species is correct, i.e. the rhetoric is good, but when you actually look at some of the reality, it's different.

Can I just touch on a range of issues which impact in one way or other on our waterways and our estuaries. Firstly, overdevelopment is a significant issue right across Sydney. We're not primarily talking about overdevelopment, or urban style in today's forum, but one example of development which we had previously been supportive of whilst in government but one that I would like to state my strong opposition to which applies to coastal areas, is canal-type development. There are numerous examples of canal development, where excavation below water level, in acid sulphate soil areas, has occurred, and has had significant environmental consequences. It's something which I don't support, and we will not be supportive of in government and there ought to be multi-partisan support in that regard.

There's also a current issue which I think pertains to the catchment of the Georges River where I understand there's some Federal government land there and I've received representations on expressing concern as to what the intentions are with that land. I certainly intend to pursue that with Bruce Baird as the Federal Member. But we have been asked as an Opposition to take an interest in that issue and in concert with the Federal Government, we'll certainly be seeking to do that.

Can I identify that dredging is raised in a number of the submissions in the Port Hacking Report Card. I'm no expert on dredging, but I know sufficient that if you dredge substantially and you change the depth of the waterway, you impact substantially on the growth of seagrasses, and that effects the fish stock and matters related to the spawning of fish and the availability of fish for fishermen whether recreational or otherwise. I think, wherever possible, we should make sure we're achieving a sensible balance when it comes to dredging and the preservation of what are obviously important seagrasses in any area. And clearly there has to be a balance drawn - when you're dealing with Port Hacking, or any other estuary - in the degree to which you can actively use it for recreation without impinging on passive recreation or indeed the need to preserve the natural habitat and environment which is there.

Can I say a few things in relation to foreshore areas. Now the principle applies broadly, but Callan Park in Sydney Harbour is a good example of where we are very strongly committed to preserving large public areas of land on foreshore areas in public hands with ongoing public access. That applies to Callan Park, it applies to the Quarantine Station and it would apply similarly to other large portions of foreshore land. It's a matter not just of the environment, it's a matter of aesthetics and also of the principle of ensuring that the community continue to enjoy access to foreshores. And I note that there are a number of areas which you'd certainly be keen to have us state policy-wise, but I'm not going to state explicitly today, but let me tell you that in addition to what I've already said, there are a number of areas that I'm very keen to pursue and to consider for policy. One is, the issues related to the alienation of public foreshore. I'm more familiar with Pittwater, but certainly the principle applies widely. There are many examples where the community has been alienated from the foreshore whether it's by ownership, or by way of slipways, boat ramps, seawalls, or by reclamation in one form or another. The community, in my view, should have free access to waterways and ought to have free access to the foreshore section of the waterways. I certainly intend to look at ways of enhancing and doing that. I note that there was a suggestion that the National Park on the southern side of Port Hacking should be extended to the centre of Port Hacking to the southern side. I'm not aware of the practicalities of that. The principle sounds very good and it's something which I'd like to have a look at too.

I mentioned foreshore development but I also have a very personal and strong view about ridgetop development. I think there are many examples around Sydney, given our topography, where there are inappropriate developments right on ridgetops. I think one of the things that makes our entire coastline throughout this state particularly special - and certainly in the Sydney region - is the many areas such as headlands, good hills and the ridgetops, which remain free of development. But there are, scattered amongst that, a lot of unfortunate and unnatural developments which break up the skyline. I have a pretty strong which would apply up and down the coast.

There are a couple of issues in regard to Sewage overflows and effluent management.. I want to see an ongoing connection of overflows or treatment of overflows so that they don't go into the waterways. I don't know what the incidences are around the Sutherland area, or Port Hacking. It is a problem in other areas and clearly if you have overflows on a fairly regular basis, which is frequently the case during heavy rain, then you have a substantial impact, not just for recreational use of our waterways, but in an environmental impact too given the nature of those ingredients which enter them. I think in relation to boating, and I don't know to what extent this is a problem here, but there seem to be conflicting laws in relation to the requirements for boat owners to contain effluent on the boats and pumpout onshore. There's an example up in the Hawkesbury area where one particular houseboat operator spent $150,000 converting all of his houseboats so that they had on-boat storage and a pumpout facility where he actually hires out his houseboats. So he did the right thing by the environment in accordance with what he understood to be the legal requirements, and all around him, other operators just ignored that requirement and the government's basically done nothing about it. So there are bays at various times of the year, where you can have literally in excess of 100 boats, many of them there for a couple of nights, where they're a just pumping straight into a fairly confined waterway. It's one or the other but you clearly can't have a mixed message. If you're going to be serious about these things, the let's be serious about them. If they're obligations, then they're obligations. If they're not, they're not. So that's an issue which I think needs to be looked at.

Finally, there's the suggestion of an integrated plan for Port Hacking. The logic of that seems very simple and very obvious. I think it may well have advanced more-so since the suggestion was made which I think was dated last year, but there are clearly a range of stakeholders in Port Hacking be they passive users, active recreational users and certainly those with a substantial environment interest and community interest. There is a need to balance all of that and if there were to be an integrated management plan, that seems to be very sensible, provided all the stakeholders actually have a fair opportunity to have their input and have their desires or needs recognised. It seems to be a very good idea. Now it may well have advanced beyond the idea stage, but as a principle, I support that and I think it's a good mechanism for many areas where there is a need to balance a recreational desire on the part of many, against the need to preserve and conserve our waterways.

So thank you very much for having me here. I've actually had the planning and environment portfolios with Sydney Water thrown in, for two months now. I inherited those from John Brodgen who's doing other things at the moment. But I can say that he is familiar with a lot of the issues as well. His electorate in fact, Pittwater, would share a lot of the issues which you probably deal with and agonise over on a weekly basis so he is not unfamiliar with the need and the desire to manage our waterways, manage our foreshore and recognise the significance of them in every sense in Sydney or this state.

Thank you very much.
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