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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 970

Senator REYNOLDS —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. Australia has 42 listed wetlands which are considered to be of international significance. Since European settlement, over 50 per cent of Australia's wetlands have been lost to development. What is the Australian government doing to protect these important wetlands?

Senator FAULKNER —It is true, as Senator Reynolds said, that since European settlement about 50 per cent of Australia's wetlands have been lost and converted to other uses. Clearly, our wetlands are very important in the Australian context and what remains is clearly under threat of being degraded. Of course, our wetlands do play some very important functions: they certainly help to purify our water; they absorb flood waters; they provide places for recreation; and they are important drought refuges and breeding grounds for many animals, especially fish and water birds. They are also economically important: for example, ibis from the Ramsar-listed Barmah forest and the adjoining Gunbower forest in Victoria control insects on some 100,000 hectares of adjacent crop land, and that has an estimated value of $675,000 annually.

  The government acknowledges the values of wetlands. Over the weekend, I was able to announce a funding package of half a million dollars to establish management plans for 17 of Australia's 42 wetlands of international importance. We are placing importance on the involvement of local communities in the development of these wetland management plans. We are concerned that many of our Ramsar wetlands have been coming under increasing pressure from development proposals and some other unwise land use activities.

  In 1994-95 we will provide funds in five states: in Western Australia for management planning of the Esperance lakes and for ongoing rehabilitation of Lake Toolibin in the wheat belt region; we will help prepare management plans for all 10 Ramsar sites in Tasmania; a management plan will be prepared for the Coongie lakes and the Riverland wetlands in South Australia; in Queensland the Bowling Green Bay Ramsar site, which is near Townsville, will receive funding for a management plan; and in New South Wales funds will go to support a management plan preparation for Coorigang Island, which is near Newcastle, and also we will make funds available for a review of the water management plan for the Macquarie marshes in the central west of the state.

  The federal government is pleased that state agencies will provide resources in funds and in kind to contribute to the development of what I think is a very important initiative. The government intends for Australia to be very well placed to host the next conference of the contracting parties to the convention of wetlands of international importance—the Ramsar convention—which will be held in March of next year in Senator Reynolds' home state in Brisbane.