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Monday, 21 June 1999
Page: 6817

Mrs IRWIN (12:53 PM) —The Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage has considered in detail the annual report of the Department of the Environment and Heritage. I acknowledge the work of the committee chair, the member for Page, and other members of the committee for their examination and review of the department's report. There are a number of issues contained in the report which I would like to comment on—in particular those issues dealing with the urban environment. That is not to say that the broader national issues are not important but rather that there are important issues in urban environments which demand the attention of governments.

The committee's review made note of the government's Living Cities program announced in the lead-up to the 1998 election. May I say in passing that the objectives of the program are worth while. However, the overall funding of $50 million over three years, with only $10 million in this coming year, is really only scratching the surface when it comes to addressing the problems in this area.

Included in the program is the National River Health Program. While it was announced after the public hearings of the committee, the inclusion of the program in the budget was welcomed by the committee. This program is of particular interest to me in the Fowler electorate. The electorate contains the middle reaches of the Georges River and its major tributaries—Cabramatta, Orphan School and Prospect creeks. Before closer urban settlement, this river system contained natural filters which protected the water quality of the Georges River.

I am fascinated by photographs taken in the 1920s showing picnickers boating on Prospect Creek at Lansvale. Like many who grew up in the 1950s, I can remember Sunday school picnics on the Georges River at the Hollywood picnic grounds. Today, however, this river system drains the large industrial areas of Wetherill Park and Moorebank, with the risk of industrial pollution. The area is now almost fully developed, with urban areas covering much of the catchment, resulting in further pollution from urban run-off. A significant improvement to the system was undertaken through the Chipping Norton Lakes Scheme undertaken by the New South Wales government. Indeed, the member for Page may well recall his own involvement with the scheme when he was water resources minister in New South Wales.

The scheme involved the expansion of areas which had been dredged for building sand and which have now provided the largest inland recreational waterway in Sydney. In recent years the scheme has come under the care and maintenance of Fairfield and Liverpool city councils. The continued enjoyment of this recreational facility depends on the water quality of the Georges River system. It is here that the National River Health Program will be essential. The budget papers state that the program:

. . . will establish a national monitoring regime for urban rivers. Activities will encompass both river health bioassessment monitoring activities as well as ongoing development of nationally consistent protocols for assessing urban river health.

The Georges River catchment is an area which could benefit greatly from the National River Health Program. While flooding has always been a problem in the catchment and has deservedly received great attention, if the Georges River and its tributaries are to be something more than an open stormwater system greater attention must be paid to the issue of water quality in the catchment.

A second area of the Living Cities program concerns the compressed natural gas, or CNG, refuelling infrastructure program. This program has the objective of encouraging greater use of this alternative transport fuel by establishing a network of publicly accessible CNG refuelling stations. The need for this program has greater urgency in the light of changes proposed for diesel fuel excise which would make diesel fuel more attractive to heavy vehicle users, and the imposition of a tax on CNG which would make this fuel more expensive.

In the course of the Senate inquiries into the GST, the dangers of increased diesel emissions in urban areas were confirmed. This is of great concern in the Fowler electorate. Being at the south-western gateway to Sydney, Fowler is traversed by the bulk of road and rail freight entering and leaving Sydney for the southern states. This already results in levels of diesel pollution above acceptable levels in parts of the Fowler electorate. Increased use of diesel fuel can only lead to greater health problems arising from such pollution.

Liverpool now has the largest bus-train interchange in Sydney. People in the Fowler electorate are among the highest users of bus transport. They do so, I stress, out of necessity. Without the luxury of a second car—or in many cases a first car—bus transport is well patronised by residents in Fowler. The progressive introduction of CNG fuelled vehicles into the local bus fleet would greatly assist in reducing diesel pollution in this area and in many other parts of Sydney.

Finally I mention the nomination of the Blue Mountains area for world heritage listing. The nomination of this beautiful and unique area has been supported by governments and the community at all levels. This cooperative approach contrasts with nominations for other areas which have not been fully supported. (Time expired)