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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11416

Dr WASHER (4:04 PM) —I rise to speak on the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts called Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. This is an important report with significant national impact. The key message which emerged from this inquiry is that the issue is very significant and worrying, resulting in a need for national leadership to manage Australia’s coastal zone in the context of climate change. The committee has considered the issues in great detail and the 47 recommendations focus on the provision of national leadership in collaboration with state and local governments and on engaging local communities in this initiative.

A large percentage—in fact, some 80 per cent—of Australians live in the coastal areas, and this concentration of population with its attendant infrastructure makes us particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. There is a new urgency in improving the management of our coastal zones, and it is time to act now. There is strong scientific consensus that climate change is leading to rising sea levels and extreme climatic events. There is no question that rising sea levels will result in increases in flooding associated with high tides, storms and heavy rainfall. We need to alert coastal communities to the coming challenges and ensure that they are fully engaged in addressing them.

Some of the key recommendations of the report address the need for nationally-consistent planning guidelines; increased research on sea level rise and extreme sea level advance; improved emergency management, including the establishment of a coastal natural disaster mitigation program; and the integration of the surf-lifesaving network into early warning systems. There are many issues that will need consideration: building codes, insurance matters and a comprehensive national assessment of the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure. We need to take account of the large numbers of Australians who holiday in coastal areas, putting pressure on local services and infrastructure. The Australian Bureau of Statistics could provide accurate data on the numbers and impacts of tourists in order to enable better matching of resources with demand for infrastructure and services. The committee has also recommended that the Australian government develop a coastal sustainability charter as part of a new intergovernmental agreement on the coastal zone to be managed through COAG.

I thank all the committee members for their hard work and their bipartisan support on this important national issue. I especially thank the chair, the member for Throsby—who is a good friend of mine and did a great job—and all the members that served on the committee who were there from the beginning to the end. The staff, and especially the secretary, are to be commended on their excellent work in producing this important report. I particularly thank Dr Kate Sullivan for her work in leading the inquiry and also Julia.

There is great interest in this issue in the community at large. The number of written submissions and presentations by witnesses to address the terms of reference, together with the committee hearings around Australia, have resulted in a report which makes a significant contribution to the national debate. We need to work collaboratively to address the problems associated with climate change and their impact on our coastal communities. Although some of the committee members—and especially myself, because I have had a grizzle in the past—say that governments traditionally ignore committee reports, this one was not ignored, and that is terrific.