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STANDING COMMITTEE ON CLIMATE CHANGE, WATER, ENVIRONMENT AND THE ARTS
29/04/2009
Climate change and environmental impacts on coastal communities

CHAIR —We would now like to welcome Ms Morris, the representative from the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, to our public hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise you that these hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The committee has received your very insightful submission and it has been authorised for publication. I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions and discussion.

Ms Morris —Thank you. I will give a quick introduction to the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. It is a consortium of both research providers and major end users, of which your previous speaker is one. It basically brings together 300 researchers to work on very specific public-good solution based science. Many of the issues that are of concern to you today are collectively worked on by this group. There are 15 research organisations working in the RRRC and we carry on from the Department of Environment, the Marine and Tropical Science Research facility, which is a $40 million investment into public-good research in the reef, rainforest and in the Torres Strait, and climate is a major factor in that research.

You will know from the IPCC report and what will emerge out of Copenhagen that the Asia-Pacific region will experience climate impacts up to two times greater than other areas. This is particularly around catastrophic events. I listened to your discussion earlier, so I thought I would break up the discussions around some of the response and give you an update of where some of the science is at the same time. Catastrophic events with more frequent higher intensity, particularly cyclonic events which have associated tidal surges, are an increasing worry for low-lying areas, particularly the Torres Strait. This year we had the highest tide ever. It was the highest AHT and the highest tide ever. Three streets back from the Esplanade in Cairns went under water and whole townships and islands on Saibai and Boigu went completely underwater. The arguments and discussions we have had are that a rise in sea level of between 10 and 40 centimetres may see those islands inundated up to 40 times a year. You could probably take being inundated once or twice, but if you are inundated 40 times a year then you cannot live there anymore. These are real and emerging issues in the Torres Strait.

We will do further modelling to refine that, so I will say this is early modelling. The highest tide ever was enough to highlight it. We are looking at both tidal surge and a rise in HAT, the highest astronomical tide, in these regions. We do note that rise has not been taken up in any of the planning processes to date. An immediate response is to redress what is known in planning as HAT and adjust that for the new measurement of what is actually occurring in real life. It was set in 1930 and I know it has been revisited, but I do believe that level needs to be revisited in terms of any sort of planning policy and legislation around the coastal act. I was using Torres Strait as an example, but that has to be redressed. We have also had the highest rainfall recorded ever in the Townsville region over the first three months, so the one in 100 year events are being surpassed and we are starting to move into a new regime.

I would like to comment on some of the emerging science areas. You heard the previous speaker, Dr Reichelt, talk a little about the importance of resilience to the reef. We work very hard on the fact that there are matters well outside our capacity, and that is the global response to climate change, but we do find that there are local adaptation capacities within the reef and some of the bounce-back capacity that you have been hearing about revolves around a pre-existing adaptation capacity within the zooxanthellae of particular corals of the reef. This is an exciting emergence in the science, because it means that, in terms of temperature, we may have some ability to adjust. It is a little more than what we expected. It will be patchy. It will not be across the entire reef, but in what looked like a very dark cloud there are a few glimmers of hope, which is clearly bringing strong focus from us into this area, but also asking what adaptation capacity do we actually have. We are working closely with the marine park authority and others to look at how we can help manage that.

The other emerging science is very much around water quality, reef resilience and climate, with some early modelling—I do stress early modelling—that will need further work. It is showing that with substantive improvements in water quality—and this is looking at an 80 per cent reduction in nitrogen leaving the land—that we could buy the reef in terms of its resilience up to 60 years in the face of a two degree rise in climate. It is linking improvements in water quality and the high necessity to improve water quality to the actual resilience in real terms and real figures. How far will this come and where will it actually go? An 80 per cent reduction in nitrogen is massive in terms of our capacity to achieve that. We are going to model for more realistic figures and see what that actually gives us in terms of resilience to the reef, but there are clear links now and measurable links in those relationships.

We have also had absolute and significant improvements in our technologies for monitoring. We can now monitor pesticides in ways that we have not been able to do before through things called passive samplers, which can stay in the water up to one month. It captures pesticides as they move through these areas. They are cheap and effective. We can place them all over. We also have more automated loggers that have come down in price, so we can now monitor and know what is going on in the reef system much better than before. It is to the point where we are seeing land use change, say, in the Innisfail region, where they are starting to use herbicides like tebithion and simizine in the timber industry, where it is going from sugarcane to timber production. Out on the islands and the reef systems out the front of that we can see the extent of land use change. We can pick it up. These are big changes. Previously we have never been able to do that. We have talked broadly and say, ‘Yes, we have chemicals.’ We can say what chemicals, where, how and what is happening on land. These are major steps forward that we have not been able to do before.

Picking up on diuron, diuron is pulled out a lot, because it has high toxicity. One microgram per litre affects the actual coral function. The zooxanthellae affect photosynthesis. That is why it is important, but also because it persists in the marine environment. Most pesticides, when they are going through the mixing zone, can exist quite successfully in pH neutral environments, like six or seven pH, but when they go into more alkaline environments like seawater, which is about eight or 8.3, through that mixing zone they often get broken down. Diuron is very persistent. It is focused on because it does persist in the marine environment and it can be measured and picked up.

Some of our newer technologies allow us to pick up pesticides that were more difficult. There are things like chlorpyrifos, which is an insecticide and is ubiquitous right the way through the agricultural industry. It ends up in a lot of waterways and drinking water. We can now pick that up in those processes. We are also working on indicators for picking them up in species. The latest work shows that some of these pesticides, particularly the organophosphates of which chlorpyrifos is one, cause DNA damage in some of our icon species such as barramundi. We can catch barramundi in, say, the Johnstone River and know that they have been quite substantially exposed to these pesticides. That information is not out in the public forum at this point, but we will put it in the public forum in due course. However, that sort of thing has to be managed very carefully. We do have those emerging issues. We do have significantly improved technologies and capacities and we will continue to do that. That is on the federal based side and that is working with the marine park authority.

On the Queensland side, where Queensland has jurisdiction, I would say the understanding is there but the monitoring is not anywhere near as comprehensive, connected, linked up or integrated. We also have concerns that the monitoring does not link through to the marine monitoring at this point in time. It is a clear show in the coastal zone of jurisdictional tensions and institutional failure. Many of the matters that you alluded to earlier about that actually play out on the ground when you are trying to put systems in place to monitor, to improve, to do adaptive management and inform back.

I will put on the record that I am a farmer. It is one thing to have the agricultural industry understand that there are pollutants going downstream. We now have the capacity to show people exactly what is coming off their farms. That changes your focus, because you know what is yours and what is not. I think that is a very important part of that education process. We are keen to see that engaged, but we are not at that point yet. Again, that is a jurisdictional and institutional issue and it will be part of a negotiated process to introduce some of that technology into Queensland systems. I thought I would give you a quick update on some of the science.

I would like to talk about rainforests for a second, and emerging science about the absolute importance of lowland rainforests and lowland habitat, particularly in cloud cover. We know that 30 per cent of the water in the rainforest is actually stripped out of the cloud. It does not rain on it. It is taken out of cloud. When we do not have lowland rainforests the cloud is not held down low on the mountains. It is pushed up the mountain. As a result, we are dehydrating those systems at a rate faster than what we originally expected. To have a continuum and vegetative cover that draws water in from the coast and up the mountain is extremely important. Whether that is done through corridors or done through protected continuum of vegetation is important, and that is a policy decision undoubtedly. We do know that we are seeing less cloud cover on our major Great Dividing Range in the Tropics which is resulting in issues around frogs, arboreal mammals and the like. This is a dehydration of the system. It is unexpected, but that is how it is.

Again, it shows the importance of maintaining coastal vegetation and coastal habitat, not only for the fisheries and the fact that 70 per cent of the fish we catch and the fish on the Great Barrier Reef spend some part of their lifecycle within coastal wetlands and then move out to the ocean, but in addition to that it is also the actual trees and the connectivity to the range system for water. I think that will emerge further and further as water, even in the wet tropics, becomes an issue around some of the development areas. That was my update at this point in time, just to bring you up to speed with some of the science that is emerging.

CHAIR —One of the issues that you touch on in the submission where we do not really have good science informing our committee is the issue of ocean acidification and the impacts of that as a climate change outcome. Could you tell us a little bit about the sort of work your centre and other academics are doing in this area and the likely impacts that we should be mindful of?

Ms Morris —Acidification is a really big concern. We do know that with temperature increase there is some light in the capacity of some corals to adapt. I will say that very carefully. Acidification we do not know. We do not know what the tipping point is. Acidification is about the capacity to lay down calcium carbonate within the corals themselves. There are many species in the ocean that require calcium carbonate, from crustaceans all the way through to the actual corals. If there is a lack of capacity to actually lay down calcium carbonate, which makes these systems strong, if they are weakened—and they are may be weakened not only through acidification but also through the presence of nitrates and nitrogen from water quality pollution—if the two of those are combined and those systems are weakened then the whole of the coral reef systems, as well as many of the species like clams and things are highly vulnerable to storm effects and things along those lines. At the moment they form a very strong barrier. They can tolerate storms. They can tolerate those processes. In the face of weakening from acid situations and the failure to lay down calcium carbonate then they will become highly vulnerable.

We do not know the tipping point for that. We do understand there has been a 14 per cent reduction in the rate of lay down of calcium carbonate that we know from the coral coring that has been undertaken through the Australian Institute of Marine Science which looks back through the centuries that we have had the coral reef systems there. That 14 per cent reduction does raise concerns. Clearly, we are seeing a slowdown in the rate of calcium carbonate. We do not know at what point that will make the reef vulnerable.

CHAIR —What impact does it have on marine life beyond the reef in terms of acidification of the ocean?

Ms Morris —Right across from the Antarctic and all the way through—everything from krill/prawn, nearly everything that has an exoskeleton or a hard shell requires calcium carbonate. It has an impact that is incredibly broad reaching. There is no concept of what your adaptation capacity to that will be or how we could adapt to it, because it is highly linked the global issue of climate and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

CHAIR —Is this an area of research that needs to assume a higher priority in terms of funding arrangements and research undertakings funded by various levels of government?

Ms Morris —Clearly, it is an area that needs more focus. More importantly, it is how and what we do about it. It is one thing to know that is happening. It is just like climate. How and what do we do about it? What can we change to improve it? Resilience is clearly one thing. We always go back to resilience, because we know it does not matter what organism you are the healthier you are the better you are at surviving any situation. Acidification is a bit of a stumper. We are very worried. But we do not know exactly how to respond to that process yet.

CHAIR —Dr Washer, did you want to pursue the issue about chemicals?

Dr WASHER —Yes. I guess there must be fairly strong laws about nitrification, runoff from farms and agricultural areas, and also wastewater management and runoff, but obviously they are not being enacted to the degree that you would like?

Ms Morris —Non-point source pollution—runoff from farms—constitutes about 90-plus per cent or 95 per cent of the pollution load into the Great Barrier Reef. Point source pollution constitutes about three per cent to five per cent of the pollution load. Point source pollution, under Queensland legislation, is regulated under the EP Act and the EPP Water, which are pieces of legislation that are clearly and often used in these circumstances. Non-point source pollution is not regulated at all. There currently are no regulations around it. However, the Queensland government, as an election platform, announced that it would regulate farming activity. There are discussions on that being had at this point. The extent of that regulation farming activity and how it goes about that is obviously still in the hands of Queensland cabinet and is an emerging policy and legislative position. So, no, there are no regulations around non-point source pollution at this point in time.

Dr WASHER —Have you been invited to contribute to that?

Ms Morris —Yes, we have been invited to contribute to mechanisms around that. There are ways of doing it. One is to regulate on the input side, to say to farmers, ‘We’ll tell you how much fertiliser you’re allowed to put on. We’ll tell you what chemical you’re allowed to use. We’ll tell you those things and then you’ll do it.’ The other is to come from the output side, like what happened in the Great Barrier Reef aquaculture regulations, and you monitor the output side and say, ‘You’re welcome to do your business, but don’t pollute. If you do pollute, don’t go past these guidelines and standards.’

In the second case, where you are regulating the output, you allow for innovation from the farming side or the aquaculture side because, in our experience in aquaculture, the farmers are quickly innovated. They quickly change their behaviour in the amount of feed they apply and in how they go about treating their effluent. In under two years we had more effluent being treated before it entered the GBR to the standards that were required. That was a use of a piece of legislation in the Marine Park Act called 66(2)(e) that combined with EPBC to bring about those regulations. It was probably one of the most successful things that has happened in terms of coastal regulation, but it was intense and very focussed. It said, ‘You will meet these standards.’ It set the goalposts very clearly for industry and allowed them to innovate to meet those goalposts. It is a slightly different philosophy to some of the regulation that is floating at the moment, which is talking about regulating input, but there are considerable dangers in prescribing regulation on the input side. One of them, of course, is to totally prohibit innovation around that. You also get high resistance when you start to prescribe how to do business on people’s farms. It is a very difficult issue at this point.

Dr WASHER —Just to continue on that, in the west and I guess over here, you have Waterwise funded federally, which is part of the whole catchment management group. I am sure you have Waterwise over here.

Ms Morris —We have the equivalent of it.

Dr WASHER —They do monitor this and look at the wiser use of water, but also nutrient and nitrification runoff. They are certainly very active and doing a good in the west. Are you seeing that here?

Ms Morris —That sort of work is done through the NRMs, which are non-statutory. In other states they are statutory. In Victoria and Queensland they are non-statutory. However, they are quite plugged in to the communities and they are running that style of program. They are highly educative, which is the nature of those programs, but they also rely on the sort of work that our groups do through the marine park authority and the like to provide the science backup and then they do the education components of those science backups. That is quite a nice system, if we can have it working. It is happening well in the marine area. I can say quite bluntly that it is not happening particularly well on the Queensland side.

Dr WASHER —Thank you.

CHAIR —Ms Marino.

Ms MARINO —Thank you for your submission. It was interesting to hear that you are a farmer, from my perspective, as well.

Ms Morris —A banana farmer.

Ms MARINO —In the state government inquiry you referred to, who is contributing on behalf of the farmers? Also, I noticed you focused on some of the research that you are doing on scenarios for costs and environmental outcomes, tillage management, fallow, no till, low till and so on. What sort of research and resources, to your knowledge, are going into improvements of the types of fertilisers that will not produce the runoff that are the types that allow the farmers to—as they are required to do—increase their productivity and lower their outputs as a result because, let us face it, their profitability is taking a fair whacking? What sort of work and research are going into the development of fertilisers and ‘tools’ for farmers to be able to be competitive and yet meet these types of requirements?

Ms Morris —As to the development of best management practice components, which are packages about assisting farmers with how to get the best out of their process, currently the fertiliser regimes are such that about 30 per cent end up in the plant, 30 per cent volatilise—it goes up in the air—and 30 per cent are leached out and run into the water systems. There is $200 million from the Reef Rescue package that comes out of the Commonwealth government’s Caring for our Country. That is specifically for on-farm change. That is focussed very strongly into on-farm change. There are the RDCs that are funded through DAFF and those areas. They are the rural development corporations and they all have a sustainability and environment program within them. There are funds associated with that.

There is also Land and Water Australia, which is another RDC funded through DAFF, but that looks very much at the environmental components of land use practice and farm management practice. There are a number of agencies focusing on this process. The $200 million from the Department of Environment through Caring for our Country, in conjunction with DAFF, is a major investment. It will bring about model farms. It will bring about some substantive change. It has a large education component and is being delivered through the NRM bodies. We are hopeful, and with GBRMPA and others, we will be working to downstream monitor the effects of those changes to show the success if it is there.

Already existing on the market are a numerous number of herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers that are in patent and some out of patent that significantly reduce the discharge into the marine park. The use of Urea, even though it is cheap, has massive losses around it. One of the classic examples, and something to understand why we are in this situation, is that traditionally if you are a canefarmer you would use two bags of sulphate of ammonia per acre to grow cane. Sulphate of ammonia was taken off the market, mostly by Incitec, even though you can still buy it, but it was principally replaced by Urea. Sulphate of ammonia was 22 per cent nitrogen. Urea is 46.5 per cent nitrogen. They still put two bags on per acre. They have doubled the amount of nitrogen going on. It costs about the same amount of money, but it is much more readily available. It was a marketing process and it was a change and dominance by a different company. You can see fertiliser company policy actually play out in what we monitor out at the end of the reef. It is an interesting connection, but it is clearly there. If they are sourcing cheap urea out of South Africa, we will see it out on the reef. That is probably a very crude way of putting it, but that is how it operates.

Ms MARINO —The focus on the fertiliser company side of this process is also part of it?

Ms Morris —It is a cognisant part. I am not privy to how far that goes. I know there are discussions between the federal government, various fertiliser companies and the like, but I am not privy to them. When fertiliser prices went through the roof in 2003 we saw nutrient levels seriously flatten out that we were monitoring coming out into the reef systems. It is very good to have these long-term monitoring sites, because then we can reflect back on policy and what is happening on the land, and then be able to say what was important. There is clearly a price factor in that relationship.

Ms MARINO —You spoke about the potential for regulation of what farmers do on their properties, and I note your reaction there. What is the reaction so far—and it is probably out of this area—of the farmers to that particular initiative, given the issue is connected to climate change and others?

Ms Morris —That is tricky. Again, thank you for the question.

Ms MARINO —I appreciate that. Thank you.

Mr ZAPPIA —Is there any evidence that some of the remedial action being taken to prevent the pollution of the water is in fact being transferred back on to the land and therefore we are seeing environmental damage caused on land rather than off the land?

Ms Morris —The only example I could possibly find of that is in the sea dumping regulations and the Fisheries Act around dredging, looking not to put dredged spoil back into open systems and then placing that dredged spoil back up on land. In that circumstance often it is placed on salt flat and the like, which interferes with fishery habitat. That would be the only case where I think you would see those processes. Most of the other mechanisms would result in improvements, such as reduced fertiliser use, as long as you are not actually inhibiting the production. Given the vast amount of fertiliser that is lost to the system, then it would not be a hindrance to the land. As a matter of fact, such large amounts of fertilisers such as urea cause acidification in the top 30 centimetres of soil itself. We see that quite frequently, through the Tropics in particular, but we are getting acidification at depth. Many of the practices will improve what is happening on the land.

There is a potential of constricting some of the herbicide use around feral weeds. If you have a lantana outbreak and suddenly you cannot use tebithion or any of those herbicides, then the capacity to control some of the feral woody weeds, which are very difficult to control, may get away. There are those trade-offs happening and we need to be alert to that. To bring up best management practices you have to put all of those things into a package, do those trade-offs and look at the costs. There are chemicals that do not persist in the marine environment that can be used for those things, but there are costs to the farmers for using those chemicals.

Mr ZAPPIA —Thank you.

CHAIR —I would like to ask about the impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities. I note that the federal department recently released funding for a study to assess the impact of climate change. Is your research centre involved in any of that work?

Ms Morris —We are involved in work linked to it looking at climate impacts on vulnerable Indigenous communities, particularly around fire regimes on the Cape, and around the Torres Strait with inundation and cultural aspects associated with community movement and things along those lines. And also access to food resources, particular around turtle. We are seeing a fundamental reduction in turtle, particularly in the northern GBR and in the Torres Strait, which in the next five to 10 years is going to have significant cultural and food source impacts around the Torres Strait. We do work on specific issues associated with that, and the changes.

We also work back with Indigenous communities for knowledge exchange. We put in a lot of automated observation networks and high technology, and we exchange that for 60,000 years of Indigenous observation networks around amazing things like various sexual regimes of bush turkey and things like that, where we see fundamental changes in the face of some of the climate change. It is even around temperature, turtle egg, crocodile egg and various macropoda eggs in the rainforest regions.

CHAIR —We have had a very comprehensive submission from the Torres Strait Regional Authority, for which we were very thankful, but we did not get anything from the Northern Land Council, despite our best efforts on several occasions to get the perspective of Indigenous communities on this issue. You might take on notice whether there are any particular pieces of work that you could draw to the committee’s attention looking at the particular impacts on Indigenous communities, other than the work that you are currently doing? Is there something that would be of benefit for us?

Ms Morris —There is. I would like to take it on notice, and would like an opportunity to input that to the committee because it is an emerging, interesting and concerning area.

CHAIR —From the evidence received yesterday, I understood that there was not a coastal management plan concluded for the Torres Strait; is that your understanding?

Ms Morris —Yes, it is for the whole of the Torres Strait. There are a number of islands that have developed small-scale plans. However, the coastal plan almost falls into the coastal plan emergency response plan-type process. I think the islands that are getting closer to the emergency response plans or are seeing areas of the island erode away at a very high rate are starting to respond, but it is not comprehensive across the whole of the Torres Strait, and there probably is not a collective view at this point.

CHAIR —We will have the federal department back to brief the committee before we start writing the report, so that is an issue that we need to pursue directly with it. It is a worry that it is out of sight out of mind, and yet the impacts up there seem to be very catastrophic, particularly on the infrastructure. What happens when inundation occurs if you cannot get food supplies in?

Ms Morris —Your sewerage plant goes under. Your desalination plant goes under. This changes the scheme of things quite quickly, and they only need to be inundated once or twice and you have major infrastructure problems.

CHAIR —It points to some of the issues about infrastructure and asset protection on the mainland in worst case scenarios. In your submission under the heading of recommendations to bolster coastal defences you talk about the Queensland act but go on at the end of that section to state:

There is potential within the existing Commonwealth legislative framework to explore options that would afford these vital coastal areas the protection they require.

Would you like to expand on some of your views about those options?

Ms Morris —EPBC, through its development, has come under enormous criticism, but as it has evolved it has some facility in it to do planning processes. They can identify an area and put a collective plan across that area. To my knowledge, in my sphere it has only been used once around aquaculture in the Mourilyan Harbour region, where there was a series of developments for that region. They were going to collectively pollute and probably breach the guideline levels for a closed receiving water. EPBC was used to put a whole planning process in place, to consider all the developments in one process, which is something that the Integrated Planning Act in Queensland does not do. It does not consider collective or cumulative impact. It considers only individual impacts at that point. The Integrated Planning Act then relies on state planning policies to start picking up the cumulative impact or the broader scale. However, those state planning policies must be considered, but do not have a prohibition capacity associated with them.

The only piece of legislation with a full prohibition capacity is the Coastal Act, but that prohibition capacity only acts in about a 40-metre strip in that highest astronomical tide area. Whilst it must give regard to the broader coastal zone, whilst it must do those things, your capacity to prohibit under the Queensland legislation is limited to some very small areas. Before IPA, local government could prescribe areas of prohibition. That does not exist now under IPA. Those fundamental changes, whilst they were to smooth out the local government process, actually still have some flaws in them when they become operational.

EPBC had a similar flaw in it until it was tested under the previous government with Minister Kemp, under the Nathan Dam here in Queensland. The EPBC proposal was only constrained to looking at where the dam was and occurred. It did not consider the expanding agriculture and the downstream effects. The Wilderness Society and WWF challenged Minister Kemp in court over the EPBC and won that court case, which you may be aware of, and the result of it is that EPBC can span the temporal and spatial scale of the actual development. That is not often used. It would change how the piece of legislation was used considerably in places like Queensland and the coastal zone if it was used frequently. Both the planning component within EPBC and the expansion of temporal and spatial extent of the impact would change how things operated.

CHAIR —The capacity for the federal government to intervene in those situations would still have a threshold about the issues of national significance.

Ms Morris —The trigger of that, of course, is the World Heritage Areas. Queensland has both the Great Barrier Reef along its coast and the Wet Tropics, which tend to trigger it. EPBC is very real for us, as compared to some of the other places around Australia, because we have such significant triggers. That is probably why we look to that in the management regime more frequently. In some ways it has meant that Queensland probably did not have to be as rigorous as what it could have been in its coastal management and its coastal legislation. With the drafting of the legislation in 1994 a whole suite of NRM legislation went up through the Queensland parliament but never made it. The only successful piece of legislation to make it through was the Fisheries Act that had NRM components in it around protected fisheries areas on the coast. As a direct result of that we did not see the structure and the collective natural resource management and coastal management actually go forward. The Coastal Act then came in as a patch-up to that, but because it did not go forward as a collective right from the start we have not seen comprehensive legislation well structured in Queensland as a result. That is obviously my view, but there are others who would have other views. I have worked in this area now for 20 years, and you see the consequences of some of that failed structure.

CHAIR —You are saying that there are currently provisions in the act that are not often used, so it does not require a further amendment to the act?

Ms Morris —I do not believe it requires a further amendment. I think it requires a different approach for implementation.

CHAIR —On notice, could you take the opportunity to flesh out your views on that issue in a bit more detail?

Ms Morris —Yes.

CHAIR —You touch on it here. If you could forward that to the committee for our consideration that would be useful. One of the things that really alarmed me—and I am sure the others—when we visited Western Australia recently was a Ramsar listed wetland here and a canal estate here, where the draining of the wetland was mind boggling, with the developer leaving all the liability and transferring it to the local government authority after it was a state determined project.

Ms Morris —That is what terrifies local government. You are a small local government and to prohibit or to try to prevent has compensation components associated with it.

Ms MARINO —The liability issue.

Ms Morris —And there are liability issues. At a local government operational level it is very difficult and it is hard work.

Ms MARINO —With limited resources.

Ms Morris —Yes. Through the Integrated Planning Act the devolution of that responsibility from state down to local government—even though we went through the amalgamation in Queensland of local government, which was a positive thing for these outcomes—still puts a lot of pressure on small local governments.

Ms MARINO —It does.

Ms Morris —Particularly with the responsibility of these big World Heritage triggers in the areas. Whilst it is easy to sit back and say, ‘This is dysfunctional and that is dysfunctional’, there are considerable pressures on trying to make those decisions.

Ms MARINO —And at a practical level they are very difficult to manage.

Ms Morris —Yes. The fact that the Integrated Planning Act does not have specific prohibition capacity in it for local government means that everything is challengeable.

CHAIR —I understand that the injurious affection provision will continue in the new legislation that goes to parliament.

Ms Morris —Yes, because of the residual compensation component.

CHAIR —Local government was telling the committee that that acts as a real break in terms of approval or non-approval of development applications, even when they could see that those applications might have long-term consequences with the impact of climate change. That whole issue is exercising. We had an interesting submission from Professor Jan McDonald—I do not know whether you have come across her—from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Centre at Griffith. It would be worth having a look at the transcript.

Ms MARINO —The liability issue is a very big one for local government.

Ms Morris —And clearly prohibitive.

CHAIR —That is all I have. Thank you for attending the hearing today. The secretariat will send you a copy of the transcript for any corrections that need to be made and we would be grateful if you could also forward on to the committee any relevant research in terms of the impact on Indigenous communities that you think should be brought to our attention. Also, if you could take the opportunity of fleshing out your proposals in regard to the EPBC Act—what exists currently, how it could be better used, or if indeed a further amendment might be contemplated—we would be grateful if you could forward that information on as soon as possible. We commend you and all the people at your centre for the excellent world leading and world-class research that is being undertaken. It is a great compliment. I think it is very important that science is made useful to people on the ground, and your centre certainly shows the way that science can be fed into programs, policies, and certainly the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority benefits enormously from the kind of useful work that you and your colleagues are undertaking. On behalf of the committee, I would like to convey our best wishes for their future endeavours, and thank you very much for your thoughtful contribution to the work of our committee.

Ms Morris —Thank you for an opportunity to submit to the committee. It was our pleasure.

[10.51 am]