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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9654

Ms COLLINS (7:43 PM) —I rise today to support the motion put forward by my Tasmanian colleague the member for Lyons. I acknowledge the points that he has made in the motion and in the House today. This month the Bureau of Meteorology reported that parts of Australia have experienced the longest, hottest drought on record. In fact, the words used to describe the situation by the bureau were ‘very severe and without historical precedent’.

The drought that the bureau is referring to is now in its 12th year and Tasmania has not been immune to its devastating effects. The Bureau of Meteorology data shows a record 12th year of low rainfall over most of northern and north-eastern Tasmania. The temperatures are generally higher now, by around one degree. The impact on water supplies is much greater than for any other previous long-term dry period. So far in 2008 it has been especially dry in eastern Tasmania. Three-year rainfalls are now at record low levels in numerous locations. In the seat of Franklin many areas have experienced drier than average conditions, and rain gauges at Hobart airport, Dover and Grove have registered below-average rainfall for what can only be described as a very long time. It is in fact the driest 12-year period on record.

You only have to compare annual rainfall figures to understand just how dire the situation is. In 1996, a small town in the south of Tasmania called Dover recorded an annual rainfall figure of 1,071.8 millimetres. In 2007, its annual rainfall fell to 761.4 millimetres, but this year to date Dover’s rainfall is yet to reach 500 millimetres. This is in what is normally a pristine, green area of Tasmania. The Huon Valley and southern Franklin are usually the most green and lush of Australia’s temperate agriculture districts, but even the Huon has not escaped the drought. For the first time in many years, most farm dams are not full and many have not had inflow over winter. Rainfall for the past 12 months has been at least 20 per cent below the average in most of north and north-eastern Tasmania. Unfortunately, the bureau predicts that there are no rain clouds on the horizon. Drought is set to continue across areas of Tasmania with the bureau predicting a 30 to 40 per cent drop below the average rainfall as we head towards the end of 2008.

This prolonged drought has had a devastating effect on the many farming communities around Tasmania who are facing difficult times. Even local residents are having to buy water to fill their tanks, having previously relied on rainwater to do this for them. Many eyebrows are raised in amazement when people are confronted by how dry Tasmania is. In fact, Hobart is the second driest Australian capital city and this year it is the driest. With the continuing drought and substantially hotter temperatures across the state, you can understand why people are so concerned. With drought come myriad issues—the social, the financial and the economic—and, sadly, in many instances, there is an impact on the physical and mental condition of those who endure such bleak times. This is why governments play such an important role in ensuring that communities are supported and why governments need to step up and become problem solvers on issues of water and climate change.

I know the Tasmanian state government is working hard to ensure that water continues to flow to areas that have been affected by the severe lack of rainfall. Direct cash assistance to farmers has been provided for feed and water to sustain essential breeding stock. So too an exceptional circumstances interest rates subsidy program has been implemented.

The Rudd government is also cognisant of the need to secure a long-term water supply for all Australians. A national plan has been developed to adapt our usage of water to ensure we use this precious asset in a smarter way. With climate change, the long-term drought already affecting many parts of Tasmania means that every drop of water counts. As rainfall decreases, it means we have to take a pragmatic approach and look at new ways of conserving our water. In my electorate of Franklin a new water scheme has been established. We announced it in the lead-up to the election campaign and stage 1 of the south-east Tasmania recycled water scheme will give the Coal River district access to additional water.

The $10.5 million contribution by the Rudd government is to allow many small to medium sized irrigators to take advantage of increased recycled water supplies, replacing the mains water with reclaimed, recycled water. If we are not collecting water from rainfall as we used to, then we need to look at new ways of conserving our water. This is one way governments can play an active role. It is a complex issue that needs action but we must also act on the catalyst of climate change. I take the opportunity to thank the member for Lyons for bringing this important motion to the forefront of our minds. We must, as a priority, continue to act responsibly in light of this most severe and brutal drought. I commend the motion to the House.