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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11439

Ms HALL (5:44 PM) —I must start my contribution to this debate 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 firstly by acknowledging the fine work of the committee, particularly the chair, Jennie George. She has visited my electorate and knows how important the issues that are raised and the recommendations that are made in this report are to the people of Shortland, the people of Lake Macquarie and the people of Wyong shire. It is a very intense report, covering a wide range of issues, and it puts forward recommendations that I believe can work as a blueprint for governments at all levels into the future. Leadership and direction in this area have been needed for a very long time, and this report gives us that.

In my very first speech in this parliament I raised the issue of coastal development and the impact that it has on the electorate that I represent. Shortland electorate is a long, skinny electorate situated between a series of lakes and the ocean. It is one of those electorates that are exceptionally vulnerable when it comes to climate change and rises in the sea level. If we do not act then areas like Shortland will really bear the brunt of that inaction, of our failure to recognise what an important issue this is.

The committee met with some representatives from my area. I would first like to concentrate on issues that were raised by Lake Macquarie City Council. I ask Wyong Shire Council to forgive me for not going into the details of their submission but I have a history with Lake Macquarie council; I was actually the Deputy Mayor of Lake Macquarie council and I know intimately the details and the problems that development has created within that council area—issues that pertain to pressures that are being put upon Lake Macquarie council—as well as the fine work that has been done by staff at that council in planning and addressing this important issue.

I would like to refer to a document that has been issued by Lake Macquarie council: the Sea level rise policy fact sheet. This fact sheet outlines the impact that sea level rises will have in Lake Macquarie; it looks at the rise in the level of the lake if sea levels rise. Remember I stated that the lake is one side of Shortland electorate and the ocean is on the other side. It will have an enormous impact. In fact, it has been predicted that, if sea levels do rise to the level that is predicted, my office will be under water, as will the whole of Belmont and Swansea. This is based on modelling.

I do not think that that is acceptable and the people in my electorate do not think it is acceptable either. We all live in that area because it is such a beautiful area. We live there because it is a coastal area, we live there because of the lake and we live there because of its access to the ocean, but we also know that we have to respect and nurture our environment. The impact of sea level rises on Lake Macquarie will be coastal and foreshore erosion, a retreat of the foreshore, more storms and severer storms that cause enormous damage, and an increased rate of erosion of the beach alignment. We have seen this happen. It will lead to increased flooding, salination of water in creeks and groundwater, increased storm surges and long-term inundation.

The ecological impact will include threats to ecological communities unable to adapt to changes in salinity levels and to changes in wetlands and mangrove distributions, and there will be other flora and fauna impacts. There will be damage to public and private infrastructure, it will have an impact on morbidity and mortality rates, it will lead to increased insurance premiums and investment will be needed for a number of climate-change mitigation actions. It is pleasing to see that insurance was one issue that was referred to in recommendation No. 19, which picked up the fact that the projected impacts of climate change will affect insurance coverage on coastal properties. I know that during the severe storms we had in the Hunter in 2007 there was enormous property damage, particularly in the coastal areas. At that time a number of insurance issues arose and that is still the situation—we are still dealing with some of those issues. I am pleased to see recommendation 19 in this report because it deals with an issue that is going to become more and more prevalent as time goes by.

Another recommendation I would like to refer to is recommendation 15, which refers to the extensive surf lifesaving network that is in Australia. In Shortland electorate we have five surf lifesaving clubs and they are very mindful of the impact that rising sea levels will have in our area. There have been occasions when some of the surf clubs have been threatened by the impact of rising sea levels and severe events, so I am pleased to see that this report recommends including the Surf Life Saving association in the solution, because they know how important protecting our environment and looking after our coastal areas is in ensuring the ongoing viability of our communities.

I would like to turn to a couple of other groups from Shortland electorate which gave evidence to the committee. One was the Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association, which gave evidence about a development that was proposed and approved for that area. Catherine Hill Bay is a unique little coastal village that has been featured in national newspapers as one of the places that people should visit. It is pristine and it really encompasses and retains part of the mining history of the area—a little coal mining town. There was a proposal for extensive development of that area, which would have had impacts on the environment. The development would have led to more erosion, it would have led to problems with extinctions of species and it would have led to enormous pressure being placed on the infrastructure of that area and on other environmental factors. Recently, the Land and Environment Court in New South Wales rejected that application. While we are looking at this report I have to place on record my support for the action taken by the Land and Environment Court. There was a very similar situation with a proposal by the same company, I believe, for the Gwandalan-Summerland Point area. Gwandalan and Summerland Point are two towns of about 1,000 to 2,000 population each, on quite a fragile little peninsular. Development was planned for both those areas but, once again, because of the impact on threatened species and other issues, the Land and Environment Court revoked the planning approval that was given for that area.

It is really important to note that one of the recommendations in this report refers to that very issue of ensuring that the proper environmental assessments are conducted. I commend the committee for including that in their report. The Shortland electorate, because of its very nature and its beauty, is constantly under pressure from developers who want to develop the area. I am pleased to see the member for Macquarie sitting next to me. He was a minister for the environment in the New South Wales government. At that time, he was aware of a proposal for extensive development in what is a wetland area. That was not approved. Now there is a proposal for that to be a wetland park and that wetland park will have the Fernleigh track going through it. That has recently received funds from the federal government. It will have walking trails, wetland viewing areas and a plethora of environmentally-friendly activities taking place in that area, and these things will also help preserve the environment.

Those are the kinds of activities we need to be promoting. In my first speech, I raised the issue of the Belmont Wetlands and how they were under threat. To see a proposal to restore that area is really pleasing. That proposal will benefit the whole of the area. It will be very, very important for the environment. It is very important that we see that all of these proposals actually take place—the threatened species and the sand dunes—all those things that need to be preserved and enhanced.

That links in to this report, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now, because it is by promoting areas like the Belmont Wetlands that people can see that there are areas like this in amongst the coastal development and the beautiful houses—and people love to live in the area, because of its beauty, as I have already said. We need to have these green areas that can be the lungs of the cities in which we live. It is the type of project that fits in with the recommendations in this report. One of the recommendations is that there be more Ramsar listed wetlands. That is something that I welcome with open arms, because it is all an integral part of ensuring that our coastal zone is protected.

I could talk at length about a number of inappropriate developments that have been proposed for the Shortland electorate, but I would like to conclude by saying that this report is a blueprint that will see the development that takes place in coastal areas like mine take into account all the important issues that need to be considered when you are looking at planning the future and ensure that the Shortland electorate—(Time expired)