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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5225


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (19:45): The 40th anniversary of the Ramsar convention reminds us of the significance of conserving wetlands through wise use and management. This is particularly important for migratory shorebirds, which fly right around the world every year in remarkable journeys of endurance and persistence. They depend on every link in the habitat chain remaining intact. Australia, China and South Korea are signatories to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Australia also has bilateral agreements on migratory birds with both China and the Republic of Korea.

Unfortunately, some nations have failed to live up to their obligations to protect shorebird habitat. One such threat involves the Yellow Sea and the preservation of its tidal flats to ensure the conservation of the remaining shorebirds in our flyway, the Australasian-East Asian flyway. With a sustainable future for our shorebirds under threat, I believe it is vital that we take action and honour the commitments we have signed up to at the international level. At future meetings concerning these bilateral migratory bird agreements, Australian delegates need to ask their counterparts what is being done in their countries to ensure sufficient appropriate habitat remains to ensure that birds can successfully stage their migration.

The Australian government should also advocate for the issue of shorebird habitat to be listed as a standing agenda item at each Conference of the Parties of Ramsar, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Migratory Species, the Bonn convention. I urge the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to request and lobby for the issue of reclamation of shorebird habitat in the Yellow Sea to be included as a major agenda item on the program for the next International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources world congress, to be held in the Republic of Korea in late 2012.

As a quote from the book Invisible connections: why migrating shorebirds need the Yellow Sea highlights:

Like the shorebirds that rise into the air to cross continents and oceans, so too we must all rise to the challenge—to secure a future for the birds, the tidal flats and the living world which we all share.

Moving now from the global to the more local I want to talk about the Murray-Darling Basin, as some others have done before me. The Murray-Darling Basin contains 16 internationally significant Ramsar listed sites, which are hotspots for unique wildlife: the Macquarie Marshes, Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth are all Ramsar listed; in fact, the Lower Lakes complex is the biggest Ramsar site in the Southern Hemisphere.

It has been clear for more than a generation that the way water is used in the Murray-Darling Basin is destroying the river system and dismantling the environmental foundations underpinning community wellbeing. In November last year, the Murray-Darling Basing Authority released a report filling an important gap in our knowledge about the economic benefits of bringing the basin back to health. Written by leading academics from the CSIRO and Charles Sturt University, the environmental benefits reportoutlined a way of estimating the economic value of the environmental benefits that flow from the basin and its rivers. A key conclusion within the report is that restoring the Coorong, an internationally significant wetlands system at the end of the Murray River, from poor environmental health to good health is worth $4.3 billion to Australians.

An Australian Conservation Foundation report takes the methodology and source data from the report and expands on it to ask, 'What would an improvement in the health of all the Murray-Darling Basin rivers be worth to Australians?' Their analysis concludes that restoring the entire Murray-Darling Basin towards health is worth $9.8 billion to Australians. The costs of inaction if we do not return water to the Murray-Darling river system include ongoing costs of salinity across the basin, loss of dairy farms in the Lower Murray, blue-green algae outbreaks, blackwater events and lost revenue to nature based tourism operators relying on healthy rivers. We are at risk of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Australians care about the health of this river system, as demonstrated by the current email campaign by concerned Australians anxious that this parliament puts the science first. A key concern in these emails is the environmental values of this great river system. I hope that the opposition, and the National Party in particular, stops running interference on the measures needed to better protect the river system.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.