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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 801

Mr IRONS (8:49 PM) —It is good to hear the member for Dawson talking about saving the environment. The electorate I represent is named after the Swan River. However, there is a problem with the Swan River: it is slowly dying and this government is doing nothing to prevent it from doing so. Just before Christmas, six river dolphins were found dead in the river, which is symptomatic of rising nutrient levels. Yet remarkably, as this was happening, the federal government allowed funding for a vital pollutant monitoring scheme to lapse. In the wetlands there is a constant battle against feral weeds and animals, yet the federal government is cutting available funding, causing job losses and project cancellation. The Swan River foreshore is suffering from erosion, yet the federal government ignored a proposal from local governments to help fix the river walls. My grievance tonight therefore is with the federal government’s environment policy, which is far removed from tackling the real environmental problems in my electorate of Swan.

In mid-January I hosted a morning in the Canning wetlands for local environment groups with the state Minister for the Environment, Donna Faragher. It was good to see the Canning citizen of the year, Russell Gorton, from the Wilson Wetlands Action Group, Jo Stone from the Canning River Regional Park Volunteers with her husband, Dick, and representatives from SERCUL, Perth NRM and regional parks. Russell, Jo and I led the group on a walking tour designed to highlight the many problems facing the wetlands.

One of these problems is the prominence of hydrocotyl, a weed that spreads rapidly over the surface of water, choking marine life. The weed can even colonise land. Hydrocotyl has taken hold of Wilson Lagoon and there are concerns that it could once again colonise the major Canning River waterway as it has done in the past. Hydrocotyl is a very difficult weed to remove and it is sucking up resources in the Canning wetlands at the moment. Although hydrocotyl is a declared weed in Western Australia, it does not feature very highly on the Weeds of National Significance list. I think it is about No. 58 on the list. This means the wetlands cannot benefit from federal funding to the extent they should, placing more pressures on state and local voluntary resources.

We then crossed the Kent Street Weir and headed south to see the work Jo Stone has been doing at the Litoria Flats. Jo’s group, the Canning River Regional Park Volunteers, has been carefully revegetating a previously degraded area with natural vegetation. The result is a testament to the work of those volunteers. I think in the actual Canning River Regional Park area there are about 17 different volunteer groups that, without any government funding at all from a local council, state or federal level, do work on this magnificent jewel in my electorate. However, this work done by volunteers is being undermined by Labor’s cuts to Caring for our Country, which I have mentioned in this place before. Perth NRM has had its budget cut by millions, meaning it has had to cut back on jobs and projects.

Last Tuesday was the World Wetlands Day and to celebrate I hosted a group of River Guardians in my electorate of Swan. River Guardians are a group established to help protect and restore the rivers and foreshore. Members share ideas and knowledge, take part in river events, enjoy new networks and receive training to better understand the rivers and their cultural heritage. The meeting was productive, with members raising a number of important issues. The issues ranged from river erosion to water quality and pests such as bees, feral cats and lorikeets. However, as diverse as the issues were, for every single issue raised the federal government is guilty of not doing enough to tackle it.

The World Wetlands Day celebrated on 2 February marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1971. The day is celebrated by undertaking actions to raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits and to promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands. It is worthy of note that this year’s international theme is ‘Wetlands, biodiversity and climate change’ and its focus is on ‘Caring for our wetlands—an answer to climate change.’

This Labor government has neglected the link between the wetlands and an answer to climate change. It is cutting funding when it is needed the most and it is neglecting the Swan River when it is in its most serious trouble. By contrast, the coalition’s new direct action on climate change policy is a policy for the wetlands. The direct action policy would plant 20 million trees by 2020 to re-establish urban forests and green corridors. No-one I have spoken to in my electorate has said that the idea of planting 20 million trees is wrong. The Liberals’ green army proposal will also help with our wetlands issues by establishing a workforce of up to 15,000 people dedicated to local environmental projects across the country. Think how much easier it would be to control the hydrocotyl at the Wilson Lagoon with this.

Australia has some of the world’s most spectacular wetlands, and these policies would help preserve them. The wetlands are a complex issue and require careful management and care. On Sunday, I met with a group of local residents in Waterford, in my electorate of Swan. These people enjoy living next to the wetlands, with all the environmental benefits that this brings. However, there has been an explosion of mosquitoes recently and locals have been calling for fogging. Mr Luciano D’Ambrogio, who is organising the Waterford residents group, told me about his frustration in dealing with the council on this matter. This was reinforced by the 60 residents whom I met. I would also like to acknowledge Jacqueline Valente, who first contacted me about this issue and who is significantly involved with the group.

I now want to quote fairly extensively from the WA Department of Health’s latest information, which I believe explains why so many people in Waterford are concerned about these mosquitoes. According to the WA Department of Health, there are more than 100 species of mosquitoes in Western Australia. Members may be interested to know that only the female mosquitoes bite, as they need blood to help develop their eggs. While taking blood, mosquitoes can pass on disease-causing viruses and parasites. Exposure to large numbers of mosquitoes may increase a person’s chance of being infected with a mosquito-borne disease.

Worldwide, mosquito-borne viruses are a major cause of human and animal sickness and death. The Department of Health advises that in Western Australia there are four main mosquito-borne diseases of concern. The first disease, Ross River virus, is the most common mosquito-borne disease in WA. Its symptoms include joint pains, swelling, sore muscles, rash, fever and fatigue and may persist for several months or even years in unlucky individuals. In epidemic years, there may be hundreds of people affected in WA. The second disease, Barmah Forest virus, is not as common but has very similar symptoms to the Ross River virus disease. The third disease, Murray Valley encephalitis, is a rare but serious disease, occurring mainly in the northern half of WA. In severe cases, brain damage, paralysis or death may result. The fourth disease is dog heartworm. This disease of dogs is caused by a parasitic worm, which, in large numbers, can clog the heart and seriously affect the blood flow.

The Department of Health advises that, in collaboration with local governments, it conducts mosquito control programs in areas where mosquitoes are suspected of carrying disease. However, despite these programs, the Ross River virus and the Barmah Forest virus will always be a threat because they occur in natural cycles between mosquitoes and animals, and it is simply not possible to eliminate all mosquitoes. Whilst mosquitoes are part of day-to-day life in Australia, I can understand why the residents of Waterford might be concerned about them when there is a population explosion like the one we are experiencing at the moment.

Fogging should always be the method of last resort because it does cause some damage to native flora and fauna, but I am confident that a balance can be struck which preserves the magnificence of the wetlands for future generations and enables the communities living along the wetlands to live in some comfort. I was happy to listen to the concerns of the local residents on Sunday, and I will try to facilitate a dialogue between them and the local council. Communication and consultation is so often the best way to go.

In conclusion, I have spoken about some of the key issues affecting the environment in my electorate, particularly the Swan River and the wetland areas. These are not easy issues and can only ever be solved by direct action. It is time this government got to grips with the local environment. Thank you.