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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3012

Senator COULTER —Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories aware that the South Australian government is hell-bent on building a bridge to Hindmarsh Island in the lower Murray in South Australia? Is the minister aware that such a bridge will substantially increase the impact on the very important wetland areas of the lower Murray, Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert and that these important areas are protected under the international agreements Ramsar, JAMBA and CAMBA? Is the minister also aware that the South Australian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Resources and Development, which contains three government members, recommended that the bridge not be built? Will the minister act, as she has already done in the case of the Creery Wetland in the Mandurah Estuary in Western Australia, to protect these South Australian wetlands of international significance and use her powers to put an immediate stop to the construction of the bridge to Hindmarsh Island?

Senator SCHACHT —I have been provided with information by the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, Mrs Kelly, on this matter.

Senator Kemp —Has it been checked out by the Auditor-General?

Senator SCHACHT —It would not have to be with Senator Kemp's brains, I suppose. The water surrounding Hindmarsh Island, which is located at the mouth of the Murray River, was listed by Australia as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention of 1985. The wetlands of the island are also regarded as important for a number of species listed under the bilateral migratory birds agreements that Australia has with Japan and China.

  Subsequent to the proponents' environmental impact statement in 1990, public concerns were raised about, amongst other things, the lack of infrastructure for managing increased visitation to the island's valuable wetlands. In October 1993, the environment, resource and development committee of the parliament of South Australia released its inquiry into the Hindmarsh Island bridge project. Amongst its recommendations were that the South Australian government should reassess the need for a bridge and that more emphasis should be placed on the environmental aspects of the proposal. Senator Coulter has already alluded to that report.

  Advice to the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency is that there are no aspects of the bridge proposal with a potential to trigger Commonwealth environmental assessment legislation. In Australia the Ramsar Convention and the migratory birds agreement are implemented by the state and territory governments in cooperation with the federal government.

  The Commonwealth, in effect, delegates responsibility to the states or territories with respect to the management of sites recognised under the Ramsar Convention. However, Mrs Kelly advises that the federal government will consult with the South Australian government to consider the implications for changed management of the island, particularly taking into account the potential for increased visitation to the island. Subject to any decision by the South Australian government, the federal and state governments will cooperate in this approach. I spoke to Mrs Kelly just before question time, because Senator Coulter had given notice of this question, and she again emphasised that she will be having consultations with the South Australian government about this matter.