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Commonwealth and Queensland commit to war against salinity.



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Joint Media Release Minister for the Environment and Heritage Dr David Kemp & Warren Truss Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry & Stephen Robertson Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines

3 July 2002

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Commonwealth and Queensland Commit to War Against Salinity The Commonwealth and State governments today jointly committed $15 million to kick-start their combined $162 million campaign to limit salinity damage to Queensland's agricultural land and ecosystems.

Salinity, which has already devastated Western Australia's wheat belt and threatens vast areas of agricultural and grazing land across the country, has been described by Prime Minister John Howard as the biggest environmental challenge facing Australia.

The first two major projects in the Queensland arm of the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality were jointly announced in Brisbane by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp and Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Stephen Robertson.

The biggest project involves $11.5 million for mapping areas at high risk of developing salinity, while $3.5 million will go to regional bodies to develop plans for $147 million to combat the salinity threat in priority areas over the next five years.

Dr Kemp said spreading salinity would create an environmental, as well as an economic disaster. He said the plan represented the biggest single investment by the Commonwealth and the States on a natural resources project since federation, reflecting the seriousness with which all Australian governments regarded the "scourge" of salinity.

"Queensland's native plants and animals, its entire, unique, biodiversity, is just as reliant on a healthy landscape as the economy is. If we are going to have environmental as well as economic sustainability then we have to meet the salinity challenge head-on. That's what the National Action Plan sets out to do," Dr Kemp said.

Mr Robertson said Queenslanders needed to be prepared for the harsh reality that the impact of salinity on Queensland agricultural and grazing land could take decades to emerge after land clearing in salinity prone areas.

"Until not so long ago few people believed Queensland had a major salinity problem but the latest data is telling us otherwise. More salinity mapping through the NAP is going to give us a much clearer idea of where we need to concentrate our joint efforts," he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss, who was unable to be in Brisbane today, said salinity had the potential to reduce, or even totally destroy, the productivity of large areas of Australia's grazing and agricultural land.

"We've seen that happen already, to a devastating extent, in the Western Australian wheat belt, and we simply can't afford for that to happen in Queensland," Mr Truss said.

Media contacts: Catherine Job Dr Kemp's office (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400 Tim Langmead Mr Truss's office (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 221 443 Paul Lynch Mr Robertson's office (07) 3896 3688 or 0417 728 676

Salinity Fact Sheet Salinity occurs when water tables rise and collect salts that have accumulated in soils, carrying them into the root zone of trees and other plants and crops. ●

Dryland salinity occurs long after land in salinity prone areas has been cleared - by increasing the amount of water that seeps into the ground. ●

Irrigation salinity occurs where the water added to salinity prone land raises water tables. ●

Australia, like other ancient, flat, hot, dry landmasses is naturally prone to high levels of salt in soils. Our generally flat landscape means movements of water, both above and below ground, are relatively low-energy. High temperatures mean high evaporation rates, which concentrates the solution of salts before it seeps through the surface. The age of our landmass means salts have been accumulating for a very long time.

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The Land and Water Resources Audit says 5.7 million hectares, or 5%, of Australia's agricultural and grazing land are now at high risk of developing salinity problems. ●

By 2050 the area at risk could be 17 million hectares or 15%. ●

Queensland is currently estimated to have some 630,000 hectares at high risk of salinity. ●

This is expected to grow to 3.1 million hectares by 2050. ●

The audit also estimates that the length of roads affected by salinity nationally could increase from the current 20,000 kilometres to 52,000 kilometres by 2050. The length of railway line that could be affected is likely to increase from 1600 kilometres to 3600 kilometres

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When the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality was announced in October 2000 Prime Minister John Howard said land and water degradation were already costing Australia $3.5 billion a year. Salinity is estimated to be costing $300 million per year.

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Salinity may take up to 100 years to be expressed. ●

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Last Updated: Wednesday, 03-Jul-2002 13:40:26 EST

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