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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1141

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:00): I am sure in future years when I look back at my time in this place I will remember some events that I will think back on very fondly, or with some pride. The day we introduced the legislation that abolished Work Choices, for example, was one of those times. And the day we introduced the legislation on the NDIS, just last year, was undoubtedly one of those days. But, for me, so is this one, because the Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013 is a very special bill that tells a very, very special story.

Most of us, particularly where I live, down in Sydney, know of Kakadu. We have the images of Kakadu in our mind; it is part of our understanding of what Australia is as a nation. We assume that it will be there and that one day we will go and see it. I hope that one day I do—and I am sure I will. But many of us probably did not realise that part of it, when Kakadu was first created back in 1979, was excluded from the original boundaries.

My ears sparked up when I first heard the name Jeffrey Lee, because my state counterpart is called Geoffrey Lee—a different person, not this Jeffrey Lee, although a fine man in his own right. When I heard the story of Jeffrey Lee, it was news to me that this part of Kakadu—this Koongarra area—had been exempted from the park and was now finally being brought home. The story of traditional owners fighting to have the lands they care for brought into the park is a great one—the story of Jeff travelling to Paris to personally put the case for World Heritage listing and managing to succeed. The action that this parliament will, I assume, take today in passing this bill that puts that part of Kakadu back where it belongs as part of one of our great environmental parks is, in its own right, a great one.

We do a lot of things in this place—tax law, Centrelink, consumer law, health policy and education policy. And the thing I am always aware of is that of all of the things we have worked on in this House there is actually only one that we did not create by living together as people, and that is the environment. Everything else we govern in this place is actually a thing of our own creation. The environment is different, because it is this profound creation, this profound thing that we as people could not ever have imagined, let alone created. It contains things that are of such marvel and such wonder, when you go out and stand in it, that it puts us very much in our place. We sometimes pretend to govern it, I think, when we decide what we can and cannot do on it. But the environment is of course something that exists incredibly well—and much better—without us.

We also introduced some other good bills last week. In fact, it was a particularly good week for the environment. This bill, of course, was introduced into the House. There was also an announcement by the WA government that it had created a substantial marine park in the Horizontal Falls area, an 80-mile beach area near Port Hedland and the Kimberley, and effectively extended the federal marine park all the way into the tidal areas of one of the most significant bird habitats in the world. In fact, it is considered to be the largest breeding ground for migratory shore birds and waders in the world. So that also was this interesting little moment in this House, when the work of this place contributed to the creation of an extraordinary space where the marvels of this earth can flourish and survive and be available to us all and to future generations.

The announcement by the minister to extend the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was also made last week, with an additional 170,000 hectares in the Tasmanian wilderness—again, a great decision by the minister. And of course there was an announcement on the Murray-Darling, also a substantial one. I spent some time on the Darling in the last years of the drought, and I remember a mud puddle, I have to say. I looked at that and thought, 'This river system cannot survive what we do to it.' So, again, it was a great decision, as was the decision to allow applications for urban rivers in Caring for our Country. They were great announcements that, along with this one last week, made it a great week for our environment.

It is unfortunate, particularly in my state of New South Wales, that we have some things happening that are not so good for the environment. I spend a lot of time in our national parks; I am a great camper. I am lucky enough to have actually seen a cassowary—and, while I say 'lucky enough', it actually took a lot of effort to get out to a place where I could see one. I have seen a lyrebird in full dance mode, trying to attract its mate—and if you have not seen that you have missed one of the great performances of all time; it puts all of our actors to shame! I have heard a lyrebird trying to imitate the call of a kookaburra. They get all the bits right; they just don't get them in the right order. You can always tell it is a lyrebird because it is kind of 'right and wrong'. I have got up in the morning and heard very young magpies trying to learn to call. I have heard black mynas practicing their songs in their early years. And I thoroughly enjoy being out in a place where I can marvel at these wonders of nature.

I have spent a bit of time in the last years in swamps, surprisingly. The first camping trip my partner took me on was to a swamp and I got to tell people that we had gone away to a swamp for the weekend. I am particularly fond of alpine swamps

Honourable members interjecting

Ms OWENS: I know, he is a good guy, he has got good taste. Swamps are great places if you are into the wonders of nature, they are quite special. But the alpine swamps are very, very special. They are special because they are almost a mistake. They happen because, just below the snow melt, the land is flat, and as the cold air comes down it stops the vegetation from growing. As the snow melts the sphagnum moss swamps develop. The material, called sphagnum moss, which is actually used in nappies because it is so absorbent, extends quite significantly far below the land and absorbs the snow melt and then releases it slowly over a period of time. They are phenomenal, almost a mistake of nature, a fluke of nature and something that human beings would never have thought of and could not have created. They are something that happens where they are needed and need no maintenance. I dare any human engineer to come up with something so extraordinary.

Yet, at the moment, we have the New South Wales government following the path of the Victorian government and bringing cattle back into those swamps. As a person who has spent considerable time in those areas marvelling at this wonder, this functioning part of our ecosystem,—not just for the natural environment but for the human beings who live on the springs and watercourses that flow from those sphagnum moss swamps—that you would put cattle back into something that is that fragile and that special is quite beyond my comprehension. Similarly, we have the New South Wales government agreeing now to bring shooters back into our national parks. I joke about it, although it is not funny, that I will be looking for lyrebirds in hi-vis vests in our national parks, but we do actually have a government that is allowing shooters back into our national parks.

I want to return to the bill because I want to talk about the role of the Indigenous traditional owners in the way they care for the land which is their custodial home. We have seen an extraordinary display of this over many years when it comes to Koongarra, something that all of us, as a nation, will benefit from. We will all benefit from the care that they show.

In my electorate of Parramatta we have a number of clans of the Darug nation. Where I live, I am on the traditional lands of the Burramattagal clan of the Darug nation. It was a very small clan, it varied between about 50 and 200 people, and its lands were a really quite small area which extended down the river from a place called The Crescent, which was a natural amphitheatre on the Parramatta River—where surprisingly we have actually built an amphitheatre and a stage—to the mouth of the Duck Creek. It is a tiny little area. We still have some descendants of the Burramattagal clan that live in the area, but very few. As a group they have lost the history of their clan because they have moved so often and they have come and gone. We have a number of people that come from elsewhere, whose relatives lived in the area at various times who have some of the history, but we lost a considerable treasure when we lost tens of thousands of years of history in relation to the land on which we live. We know that there are some very special places on the Parramatta River. We know that the site of the original female convict factory was the sacred women's site, for example. We built the convict factory for women on the sacred women's site, which is interesting. We know that where we build the government house was the sacred men's site. That is perhaps an interesting statement on us. Our knowledge of our land and the way in which it was cared for and the stories about its creation are something that is lost to us. So, when we as a nation see these extraordinary examples of a people standing up and arguing so strongly for their heritage and their history and assisting to protect it for all of us, we should all be profoundly grateful. We have lost so much as a nation, and this is an example of something of incredible value to us all.

Can I commend the minister for the environment Tony Burke. It was a great week last week. We have had some extraordinary achievements as a government. The marine parks is one of those moments I will probably remember in years to come. But this is a very, very special one, because Kakadu is in our hearts as a nation. It is part of who we think we are. It is an image of this continent that we live in which sits in all of our minds, and it is now a little more complete than it was because of the work of these traditional owners. I personally thank them for the years of work and commit to getting up there at some point. It is on my bucket list, in fact it is at the top of my bucket list. Mr Perrett is nodding as well. I think it is on the top of all of our bucket lists. And now it is an even more extraordinary place to visit.