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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11420

Mr OAKESHOTT (4:20 PM) —Thank you to all in this place for demonstrating family-friendly conditions. I, like the previous speaker, live on the coast. In raising a question in question time this afternoon I had to put up with some ribbing from colleagues because I did not declare an interest—so I will now. I do live on the beach. It is the classic Storm Boy house. I will be directly affected if the three tiers of government do not address this issue and address it soon. I believe this report, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate, is a seminal report for coastline management in Australia today. I congratulate the members for Throsby and Moore and all the members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts. I think this is an outstanding start to the hard work that has to be done by the three tiers of government.

On the mid-North Coast of New South Wales there are two standout locations that are currently under threat: the Lake Cattai community in the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council area and the Old Bar community in the Greater Taree City Council area. I was very pleased that the committee agreed to meet with residents from the Old Bar community and to see in the final report the evidence of one particular resident, Mr Ross Keys, being used as an example of the issues at stake. I am very thankful to the member for Throsby, in particular, for doing that. That example is a demonstration of how real this issue is and how time sensitive it is. I have heard comments over the last 48 hours that imply that coastal erosion and sea level rises are issues for 100 years away. They are not. They are here, they are now and they need to be addressed through a coordinated approach from the three tiers of government, led by the Commonwealth, which is indicated in the recommendations of this report. That is what makes it so seminal. Now it needs to be taken up by the executive and given a full and adequate response.

The example of Mr Keys, for those who are not aware and have not read the report, is one that should ring alarm bells for all of us. He has been given demolition orders on two properties. He could rebuild at the furthest end of his property, away from the beach, but he has basically lost two houses to the ocean. He was blind-sided by another issue—the global financial crisis—which meant he had a great deal of trouble refinancing to do the rebuild. Here is a bloke living on the coast in Old Bar who has been hit by two significant global issues in the last 18 months. That is a real, timely example of the importance of government tackling this issue and starting to address it.

I am very pleased with this report. I now ask all members in this place to move into the next stage, which is to get government to respond to these recommendations and respond in full. That was the exact reason I raised the question in question time this afternoon about how many of these 47 recommendations government is going to take up. I urge all members in this debate not only to talk about the wonderful work that has been done on this document but to now start to put the blowtorch on the executive to turn those 47 recommendations into reality in a full response from government.

It would be a travesty if these recommendations sit on a shelf as we see, sadly too often, in the good committee work that is being done in this parliament. So I urge the Prime Minister, the relevant ministers and the executive generally to take up these 47 recommendations—the heavy lifting has in many ways been done—and use the report as an actionable document to start to coordinate the three tiers of government and answer some of the difficult questions around private title and public lands along the coast. The issue that the report identifies as being raised most frequently and most outstanding is legal liability along the coast. It is a difficult question to answer on the ‘buyer beware’ principle regarding private title and whether taxpayers’ money should be used to assist and compensate those who arguably should have been fully aware of what they were purchasing and the implications of the purchase. I am luke warm on that, and therefore the ALRC recommendation is important.

What gets me across the line, however—and this should hopefully get the taxpayers of Australia across the line—is the loss of public lands. There are some beautiful public lands along our coastline that have been protected through many hard fights in many locations and in many communities. It would be incredibly sad to see those public lands lost through no action from government or through the inability of local councils to adequately resource and protect those lands.

The fact that the Commonwealth has come in hard through this committee process is outstanding. The challenge now is for the executive to respond. I would strongly urge that, not only in the interests of the members for Throsby and Moore and all involved in this work but, more importantly, in the interests of the communities along the coastlines of Australia that are affected—in my electorate they are the communities of Old Bar and Lake Cattai, who are directly affected now—the executive responds as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I would hope we are going to have a response with the full take-up of the 47 recommendations and with the government actioning that uptake as quickly as possible—preferably, in my view, before the end of the year. That is the challenge for all of us: push government across the line to do that. I hope everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel to do that, because I think we have a pretty good starting point with the work that has been done already by the committee.