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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30866

Ms CORCORAN (12:36 PM) —The Standing Committee on Science and Innovation was sent out to inquire into the coordination of the science to combat the nation's salinity problem. This inquiry was set up to try to discover whether the best science is readily available to and/or being used by those on the ground addressing the problem of salinity. We wanted to know if the science and research being done in the universities, by CSIRO or by the cooperative research centres set up for the purpose is actually getting to those on the ground.

This inquiry was not about the salinity problem itself. Formally, we were not interested in why we have this problem, nor were we formally interested in the many solutions that are being put forward. Our task was clearly to focus on whether and/or how the science being done is available to other scientists and those responsible for land management and the implementation of salinity programs. The decision not to be interested in what is causing salinity nor in the many solutions proposed was deliberate and very sensible. It was sensible because we needed to stay focused on the question and also because a lot of work has already been done on the causes of and solutions to salinity.

However, this is a very interesting area and it was quite often hard to ignore it as we listened to the evidence being given to us. It was hard to ignore partly because, as I have just said, this is an interesting area but also because of the enthusiasm of those giving evidence on the subject. Both on the field trips and in the more formal sessions we met many people who were absolutely determined to solve this problem. We met people who had installed programs or systems and who had achieved a measure of success. They were justifiably proud of their achievements and keen to share their experiences.

As a result of this inquiry, what we did find in simple terms is that there is a lot of information out there but that no-one really has a good overview of what is around or where it is. Ironically, I wonder whether this situation has occurred because of the seriousness and immediacy of the problem. There has been a concerted effort by many people to address the situation. Scientists have done a lot of work and so too have many land managers. The trick now is to make sure that everyone is aware of what is around, or at least knows that research is available, and to ensure that it is accessible.

The situation is not confined to rural areas. We saw plenty of evidence of salinity being an issue in urban areas. We saw evidence of urban land managers taking steps to address the problem. Again, though, it was not clear that urban land managers are aware of work being done by others on this problem. We got the feeling that a lot is happening in isolation and that that may not necessarily always be a bad thing. There is some credibility in the argument that every area is different and has its own problems and therefore its own solutions. Again, it was hard not to get drawn down the track of trying to assess this theory because it was interesting, but we were on a different mission.

The main thrust of this report is therefore about getting a handle on what is around. The member for Eden-Monaro has mentioned that we have made a number of recommendations. They essentially call for an audit of all the salinity research and development undertaken by agencies in Australia and for a register of all this research. This should be extended to the solutions and systems developed through trial and error by those on the land as well as to those developed through more formal research and development methods.

The point was also made that solutions need to be economically viable. It must not be forgotten that salinity occurs on public open space and also in urban areas, but obviously it occurs most often on land being used for grazing or cropping and so people's livelihoods are involved. It is clear that not every situation can be addressed by a solution that ensures the continuation of current land use. It is fairly obvious that if science is to propose alternative methods or alternative land uses then these must be economically viable if landowners are to be encouraged to stay on the land.

I would like to record formally my thanks to the committee staff—Catherine Cornish, Jerome Brown, Zoe Smith and Suzy Domitrovic—for their hard work on this very interesting inquiry. Finally, I want to record my appreciation of the work of all committee members on this inquiry, especially the chair, the member for Eden-Monaro, for his drive and unflagging commitment to the job.

The SPEAKER —Does the member for Eden-Monaro wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?