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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5633

Mr OAKESHOTT (11:27 AM) —I just want to make a point about coastal erosion and the Jennie George report. Before I do that, whilst the minister is here I want to comment on some of his comments. One is the Indigenous ranger program, which is very welcome. Any investment in natural resource management and Indigenous employment is welcome. I would ask the minister and departmental officials behind him to remember that, if we are going to close the gap, please do not forget the largest Indigenous population is in that window on the east coast between Sydney and around Rockhampton. It worries me that we spend a lot of time focussing on Northern Territory interventions—on Cape York, on Noel Pearson. If we are serious about closing the gap, we need to consider what reform means in that window between Sydney and Rockhampton.

CDEP reform has had a mixed reception in that window on the east coast. I only last week saw a business go under called Aboriginal Connections, in South Kempsey, largely because of reform around CDEP and universal employment changes. If we are serious about this topic, it cannot all be about rural and remote. That is not the only answer. There are many other parts of the equation. I know the minister knows that. I would hope that stays part of any future policy considerations.

Likewise, I heard mention of air quality. Whilst the minister is here, I want to tell him that only last week I received a letter from the New South Wales health minister on the population health front in regard to the Upper Hunter region to say that the results have come in from the area health service study on air quality in the Upper Hunter region. The results are saying that there are comparatively high respiratory and cardiovascular issues in the Upper Hunter. They are not directly drawing the link yet to mining activity and mining expansion. They are looking at things like smoking prevalence rates. But, really, the canary in the coalmine is coughing, and that is a concern of the communities of the Upper Hunter and it is a concern that we need the alternative voices in government to be fighting about on behalf of communities. We need to make sure that people’s health has a significant place in policy development alongside royalties received by government.

I wanted to ask about the Jennie George report, which was released in October 2009 with great fanfare. I remember the Prime Minister talking, for just about a whole question time, about the significance of that report and its 42, I think, recommendations, which were seminal in trying to get the Commonwealth to engage with the problem of coastal erosion. Just last week we had further heavy seas, which saw coastal erosion working much more quickly in my patch—and, I suspect, those of other east coast members—than what was predicted. It is a huge concern. There are houses falling in the water. In fact, Ross Keys from Old Bar, whose situation was used as an example in the report, has now had two houses demolished. With the global financial crisis, he has not been able to get reimbursed. So he was hit by two storms, from two different fronts, in the one year.

We need the Commonwealth to engage on coastal erosion. I hear, through the gossip train that is Canberra, that it is getting parked until after the election. I hope that is not the case. The report was delivered in October last year. I think enough time has now passed for there to be a government response. I ask the minister for confirmation that that response is coming and for any details of that response. More importantly, if it is not coming—why not? Is that exciting work of 12 months ago yet another example, along with Landcare and Caring for Country—you name it—of the government going missing on climate change over the last six months?