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Monday, 24 March 1997
Page: 2822

Mrs VALE(12.09 a.m.) —I wish to bring to the attention of this parliament a threat to a unique wetland area in my electorate of Hughes at the northern end of the Illawarra escarpment, midway between Sydney and Wollongong. It is known as the Stanwell Tops hanging swamp and is an area of outstanding scenic beauty.

It is a relatively small but regionally significant wetland, recognised as a botanical, educational and scientific resource, and mainly under the ownership of about two landholders. It falls within the Stanwell Park coastal conservation area classified by the National Trust and, as such, is relevant to the coastcare program.

Briefly described, Hargraves Creek rises about two kilometres west of the rim of the Illawarra escarpment at Stanwell Tops, drains through the hanging swamp to the scenic and historic mineral pool on the rim and then plunges over the cliff waterfall, down the escarpment through littoral rainforest gullies, through to the Stanwell Park beach northern lagoon. The lagoon and beach are popular visitor destinations, surrounded by an amphitheatre of lush green hills and Bald Hill, a venue for world championship hang-gliding events.

These spectacular areas will doubtless be on display to the world during the Sydney Olympic Games as scenic drawcards. A world-class walking trail is being constructed linking the Royal National Park southwards to the Illawarra escarpment and ultimately to Ulladulla. This trail passes the hanging swamp, which is therefore a vital link in the chain.

Valiant efforts have been made over the years to safeguard the Illawarra escarpment and this wetland. Wollongong City Council commendably pioneered a fair trade policy for that purpose. This policy allows some development entitlements for trading of other lands to the Illawarra State Recreation Area but, in this case, it has been inadequate. Despite all the good intentions, this wetland is now under imminent threat from an unsewered development application for six lots only a few metres from the swamp. This would inevitably lead to ribbon development along most of the northern edge of the wetland.

It not only makes good ecological sense to preserve this wetland from more unsewered development, but it makes economic sense due to the concerns over increased hard surface stormwater run-off affecting the stability of the Illawarra railway line below the escarpment in an area renowned for landslip problems. This is the most expensive section of railway line in Australia, consuming enormous amounts of taxpayers' money to protect it from landslip.

State Rail has had deep concerns about impacts on the stability of the rail line below the escarpment through altered water flows from extra hard surface areas and diversions from this high rainfall area. This section of the rail line is notoriously unstable and costly to maintain, thus the resources of other state departments should be involved.

The small Hargraves Creek catchment is within the Stanwell Park coastal conservation area and is classified by the National Trust. Thus, coastcare federal and state wetlands policies should reasonably apply. It would be a massive blunder not to initiate negotiations to acquire the handful of lots involved to protect this precious swamp, the walking trail, the railway line and the Stanwell Park beach.

In accordance with Senator Hill's statement that it is time for the federal government and the states to work together to save what is left of our wetlands, I urge our government to immediately commence negotiations to preserve this wetland to a complete creek catchment basis as a loop walk of the walking trail through public acquisition. Otherwise, it will become another wetland lost. It would be a sad day for Australia when the combined resources of the federal and state governments could not acquire a mere handful of lots to preserve this very small but very precious wetland.

Following on from Senator Hill's welcome announcements, and before it is too late, our government should take up that relatively low cost pledge and safeguard the significant stretches of spectacular Illawarra escarpment for the benefit and enjoyment of all Australians and future generations. I look forward to some positive and urgent action on these important issues.

One of my constituents, Mr Maurie Dowson of Stanwell Tops, has worked tirelessly and hard for many years to protect this excellent and unique wetland of high regional significance and has worked with other dedicated local identities as the Illawarra Escarpment Coalition. To date, they have been successful in their efforts to preserve this delightful area. I look forward to some positive and urgent action from our government on these important issues.

Question resolved in the affirmative