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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1286

Senator WEST —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. I notice that yesterday was World Environment Day and the minister announced $6 million of grants under the national river health program. How will these grants improve the environment?

Senator FAULKNER —Yesterday, on World Environment Day, I did announce that I had approved funding of $6 million to improve the state of Australia's rivers. This is the first part of $10 million funding promised in the Prime Minister's environment statement for the national river health program—a program which has been established to get a national handle on the state of our river systems, to identify where the major problems lie, and to work out where our resources will most effectively be targeted.

  There is no doubt that the health of Australia's river catchments is vital. Our rivers are threatened by the large and competing demands of agricultural and urban users. We see the effects of this competition in reduced water flow, increasing pollution, salinity, and problems that Senator West has drawn attention to before, such as algal blooms. We need access to more detailed, timely and precise information about Australia's freshwater systems if we are going to manage our water resources effectively.

  While there is a growing body of information on the physical and chemical characteristics of our rivers and streams, we still lack critical biological information. There will be $3.5 million used by the states and territories to develop a national system for assessing river health and for integrating biological monitoring with existing water quality monitoring by the states and territories at 1,000 key sites across Australia. The new national system will monitor the health of aquatic life in the rivers, providing a yardstick to measure the effectiveness of catchment management programs.

  An additional $2.5 million will be provided to research organisations. This will enable research to improve scientific understanding of the water flows which are necessary for healthy rivers and their inhabitants. The projects will cover areas such as the effects of river flows on nuisance algae, aquatic systems and the water requirements for flood plains and their flora and fauna. The national river health program is an excellent example of Commonwealth, state and territory governments and research organisations all pitching in and working cooperatively to tackle a major national environmental concern—the water quality of Australian rivers. This complements the programs that are already in existence which enable local communities to watch over their rivers and streams. I commend this program to the Senate.