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Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No. 2]

CHAIR —Welcome, Dr Mosley, and thank you very much. You have sent us a submission, which we have numbered 2 for our purposes. I assume that there are no changes or alterations to that.

Dr Mosley —I sent in two submissions: a preliminary submission and a supplementary one—

CHAIR —Two; that is right.

Dr Mosley —and there were various attachments to them.

CHAIR —Would you like to make an opening statement before we go to questions?

Dr Mosley —Yes, certainly. I have been involved with protected areas in Australia for 50 years now, so I thought it might be helpful if I provided some information about river conservation from a national perspective—its history and the different approaches that the states and territories have taken. If you have read my submission, you will have seen that across Australia the main approach that has been used to protect rivers is through national parks. That is reflected in the names of many of the national parks in the different states, such as the Fitzgerald River National Park and the Jardine River National Park—which has been mentioned—and the Staaten River National Park also in Cape York Peninsula. But three states—obviously, Queensland; and Victoria and New South Wales—have passed special legislation for river protection. So I thought I could perhaps help provide some information about that history, which goes back quite a long way.

But my other reason for getting involved was in hoping that the committee might recommend some further action by the Commonwealth. As you can see from the points that I have made in my submission, the Commonwealth has done an awful lot of work on river inventories and that has been very useful; but I believe that it could do much more by encouraging a national approach. As I see it, there is a lot of unfinished work across Australia in this particular field of river conservation. We could, for instance, start by accepting wild or unimpacted rivers as a type in the Commonwealth National Reserve System; that is not even there.

I suppose the other reason for trying to help, apart from my involvement in this for many years, is my view that, since most Australian rivers have been significantly altered, the ones that survive in a relatively natural state are particularly important to us. I think this is a very important aspect of protected area conservation.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Dr Mosley—

CHAIR —Excuse me, Senator Heffernan. Just wait until you get the call; thank you. Dr Mosley, thank you very much for that opening statement.

Dr Mosley —It is a pleasure.

CHAIR —Senator Siewert, do you have questions?

Senator SIEWERT —I am happy for Senator Heffernan to go first.

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, Senator Siewert has agreed to defer to you.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Dr Mosley, I think every Australian would agree with the sentiments that you have expressed—and, obviously, where there is human endeavour, there is human failure. But there is also an obligation to the balance between protecting the environment with the latest of science and meeting the global food task. By 2050, with nine billion people on the planet, 50 per cent of the world’s population poor for water, 30 per cent of the productive land of Asia going out of production, the food task doubling and up to 1.6 billion people on the planet displaced, isn’t there room in any sensible development to say that we do have an obligation to produce food?

Dr Mosley —I think the right balance is to recognise that we have done an enormous amount of damage to the environment and the remnants of the natural environment are far more important kept in that state than turned over to things like food production.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But, Dr Mosley, isn’t there a balance? If you are an Indigenous person with 50,000 acres of beautiful river-frontage land, surely a couple of thousand acres could be a commercial farm for food production. I give you the instance—I am sure you are familiar with it—of the situation over in Carnarvon. There, with 8½ gigalitres of water, they produce $70 million worth of food. They are 40 times more efficient than the Ord and 20 times more efficient than the average across the Murray-Darling Basin. They use Israeli and Spanish technology out of the Gascoyne River and they do not interfere with the river. So it is possible with the latest science that, instead of having an obligatory, mandatory lockup, you can use this sort of land sensibly—and, as I say, 40 times more efficiently than the Ord—to produce food. Surely there is a possibility in all the science, in all the academia and in all the politics for the people on the Cape York Peninsula—which is the size of Victoria and, if you take off the coastal areas, has 14,000 people, with 800,000 feral pigs and 20,000 feral cattle behind them—to develop such land sensibly.

Dr Mosley —No. I think that is a failure to recognise the role of protected areas in a sustainable economy. Take Victoria, for instance: we have 25,000 kilometres of protected river frontages; that is, they are in the public domain. Would you be arguing that having these river frontages in the public—

Senator HEFFERNAN —No, not at all. I would be arguing that you can protect the river frontage with the setback that is used agriculturally—they do it at Wantabadgery, between Wagga and Gundagai, where they are now fencing off the Murrumbidgee River—and still have sensible development, and that is within the first kilometre.

Dr Mosley —Well, of Victoria’s 18 heritage rivers, just take the Yarra, for instance. The heritage river between Warburton and the City of Doncaster it is about 103 kilometres long and you have agricultural activity—grazing and various other things, like vineyards—on either side of the protected area. I think the things sit very well together. The protected area makes a contribution in many different ways in terms of providing for recreation—fishing and so on—and wildlife conservation. For instance, the Macquarie perch contributes to science and the preservation of cultural values. I think that is the right mix. A proper approach to balance, I think, means that we retain the last remnants of natural areas, and we make the most of them and see a place for them in our approach to a sustainable economy.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But, with great respect, within the first kilometre of some of these rivers, there would be the opportunity for Indigenous communities to have economic opportunity and advantage without interfering with the pristine nature of the flow of the river or the surrounding flora and fauna. However, I have to say that the wild rivers legislation does not allow that to happen, unless you have a train full of lawyers and people who are able to go to a lot of expense; for the average person, it is an impossible barrier to climb. With the latest science—as I say, the science is proven in that, over in Carnarvon out of the Gascoyne River, they can extract 8½ gigalitres of water, which is not much water and would produce $3 million worth of cotton, if the crop were cotton, and it produces $70 million worth of food—isn’t it possible to set up an argument that, sensibly, we could, within the first kilometre of some of these rivers, have a local commercial advantage for food production within these communities without destroying the environment and all the precious things that you talk about?

Dr Mosley —That is not my understanding of the land use provisions of the declarations. My thinking is that the traditional uses can continue.

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, we need to go to Senator McLucas now. Thank you.

Senator McLUCAS —Dr Mosley, Jan McLucas; I am a senator based in Cairns. In your submission you said, ‘As a result there is more fiction than fact in the claims of the wild river opponents.’ Do you want to expand on that?

Dr Mosley —No. I am just basing that on the politicisation of the issue, and it appears that the issue has gone well beyond the actual provisions of the legislation. That is what I was referring to there.

Senator McLUCAS —Today during this hearing we have heard from the various sides of this discussion about what they think will be the impact of the current regime in Queensland. The difficulty that we have as a committee is trying to come to a view about which position can be supported. The Queensland government, as you probably would be aware, is saying that very few proposed activities are banned outright—they include in-river mining, large-scale irrigation et cetera—and that any other application can be received and assessed on its merits, so to speak. Alternatively, others are saying that no application, in fact, can be received by the state government in certain circumstances, particularly around land clearing, even small-scale land clearing.

Dr Mosley —Correct.

Senator McLUCAS —Can you assist the committee in some way to find a way through that?

Dr Mosley —No, I do not think I can assist you there, because I do not have a detailed knowledge of the Queensland situation, particularly the declarations on Cape York Peninsula. My more detailed knowledge is to do with Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. I am not thoroughly enough acquainted with the situation on the ground in Cape York Peninsula with regard to these declarations to be able to answer that question.

Senator McLUCAS —Thank you.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Could I ask another question?

CHAIR —No, you cannot, Senator Heffernan. Senator Barnett is going to ask a question—we are running very short of time—and then we are going to finish.

Senator BARNETT —Dr Mosley, very briefly: I note that, just responding to Senator McLucas there, you have made it very clear that you are not entirely familiar or even broadly familiar with the Queensland Wild Rivers Act—

Dr Mosley —I know something about—

Senator BARNETT —Let me finish, please—and, indeed, you are not familiar with the declaration process, which has been a key feature of this Senate inquiry at least today and, indeed, at the Canberra hearings, in terms of its validity or otherwise, with at least one witness here saying that the Queensland government is acting in breach of its own law; yet you are quite happy to criticise at some length Tony Abbott, saying that he is motivated purely by politics rather than considering the merit of the bill. I just find that somewhat hypocritical. Would you like to respond to that?

Dr Mosley —Yes, I would. What I said was that Tony Abbott appears to be motivated by trying to win the federal seat of Leichhardt for a Liberal Party member, Warren Entsch. That is what I said in my submission—

Senator HEFFERNAN —That is—

Dr Mosley —I am sorry?

Senator HEFFERNAN —That is garbage!

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, just let Dr Mosley respond, please.

Dr Mosley —You can say whatever you would like to about it. That is my view.

Senator BARNETT —Dr Mosley, with your years and decades of experience, we would be interested in hearing your views on the bill and the merit of the bill rather than your views on the political motivation, which you indicate you have no evidence to support other than your opinion that you think Tony Abbott is politically motivated, which I just do not think is going to assist the committee or the committee members. We are interested in your views regarding the merit or otherwise of the bill before us, and that is why we have a Senate committee process. Perhaps you might like to respond to that question—

Dr Mosley —Certainly I would, yes.

Senator BARNETT —and then we can move on.

Dr Mosley —Yes. I believe that action in this matter is constitutionally a matter for the states and territories and that Queensland has acted properly in that regard with its plans to establish across that state 19 wild rivers. In my submission I have tried to say that there is also a role for the Commonwealth and that the Commonwealth has done an enormous amount of good work in inventorying Australia’s rivers. It is now a time for it to step up and do something more. I hope that my recommendation that this committee do something about that will be accepted.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Should that be seen against the background of the global food task?

Dr Mosley —You obviously want me to comment on that. I think the situation that we have is one of global overpopulation, and things like the Green Revolution and what you are recommending now do not provide a proper solution to that situation; they, in fact, encourage further overpopulation. A proper approach to that would see every part of the world achieve sustainability and an approach to living within the means provided by the local environment and its resources.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Look, I do not doubt did your sincerity and passion in that regard. But, if you were in Bangladesh, where they are going to lose their peak water supply because of interception at the top of the Ganges and lose their ground through being inundated by the sea because of rising sea levels—

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, we are running short of time and we are going to finish now. We have one question from Senator Barnett.

Senator BARNETT —Dr Mosley, I have one very quick question: do you support World Heritage nomination and listing of Cape York?

Dr Mosley —Yes. I have been involved with that since the 1970s—since approximately 1977.

Senator BARNETT —I thought that might be the case. Thank you.

CHAIR —Dr Mosley, thank you for your submission—

Dr Mosley —It is a pleasure.

CHAIR —and thank you for your time this evening.

Dr Mosley —Thank you very much.

[6.14 pm]