Tuesday 10 November 2009
MANAGEMENT OF TAMAR AND ESK RIVERS SELECT COMMITTEE
Debate on the Motion that the Report be consider and noted
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Motion) - Madam President, I move -
That the report of the Legislative Council Select Committee on the Management of Tamar and Esk Rivers be considered and noted.
I think that it has been obvious for many years that the Tamar Estuary has several problems, particularly in the upper reaches in Launceston. As we are well aware, it threatens Launceston with another 1929 flood and its seemingly intractable silt problem is extremely unsightly at low tide. In our living memory, and I speak of the members from Launceston who are here, including the member for Windermere, I think it is the worst.
Mr Dean - It is. People are saying that.
Mr FINCH - Both these problems will, I am confident, eventually be effectively managed, but it is apparent that you cannot manage an estuary without also managing its catchment area. Doubts about the effectiveness of the present fragmented management structure were raised at a workshop on the Tamar River two years ago. A large majority of participants expressed a view that a statutory authority should be established to coordinate management of not only the Tamar Estuary but also the catchments of its tributaries, the North and South Esk rivers.
That view, combined with a long history of community concern about the state of the Tamar and the Esk rivers and a widespread belief that the management of these waterways over many decades had failed to address adequately the problems they faced, provided the impetus for the establishment of this committee.
The evidence presented to the committee identified three significant and longstanding issues of concern. Firstly, the siltation problems of the upper Tamar were mentioned in almost every submission. The second key issue raised in much of the evidence related to the problem of flooding in the Tamar Estuary, especially within Launceston itself and to a lesser extent in the North and South Esk rivers.
The third key issue presented to the committee referred to the reason why the committee was established in the first place: the lack of effective river management as a result of the large number of organisations with some involvement in it but none with overall responsibility.
There was overwhelming support in submissions and from witnesses for the establishment of a statutory authority and that is our core recommendation.
There were some reservations over the role of an authority, particularly its potential to impose another level of regulation and legal sanctions in relation to river management. I have since heard from some people of concern about the future of some of the organisations presently involved in river management. But let me make it clear that the present management organisations are, on the whole, doing a good job with enthusiasm and community involvement and I would hope that they would continue to do so, but more effectively with the coordination via a statutory authority.
Just referring to the fears of another level of regulation and legal sanctions, particularly expressed by the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, it is obvious that any umbrella or management body must have teeth to be effective. Anybody doing the right thing in the catchment areas I am sure will have nothing to fear. Support for a single management authority was often expressed to the committee in general terms.
There was a variety of expectations expressed about such an authority and how it should operate. There were a number of common themes put forward again and again. Principally among these was the need for an authority to have the responsibility for managing the entire catchment - and I emphasise this, Madam President - for it to be based on consultation and cooperation, that it be properly funded and that it have approved regulatory powers. These three points also dominated discussion at the Tamar workshop two years ago. Adequate funding for any new authority was mentioned by almost every participant at that conference.
The committee was aware of a number of catchment management bodies operating in other States. It looked in depth at the catchment management models operating in Victoria and South East Queensland Healthy Waterways Partnership. The catchment management model that we studied in south-east Queensland had a number of impressive features. However, because of the size of the area involved it had a large number of consultative committees, working groups, forums and councils giving it an appearance of a somewhat unwieldy and complex organisation. The Queensland model also lacked any regulatory and enforcement powers. The Victorian model that the committee studied had a similar partnership approach to Queensland but it also had the regulatory powers.
It cannot be emphasised too much, Madam President, that both these mainland management models the committee looked at were based on consultation and consensus. The comprehensive and broad evidence gathered by the committee clearly shows that a statutory authority is needed to manage the Tamar and Esk catchments and that there is widespread support for such an authority. As I mentioned a short while ago, the evidence also shows there are successful working models that can be used by the Tasmanian Government to establish such an authority.
The information that was provided to the committee indicates that it would not be a difficult task for the Tasmanian Government. Many of the components are already in place, especially TEER - the Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers Program. Our committee's report lists 12 conclusions and I would like to mention some that I feel are particularly important. The current management structure is fragmented and fails to impose accountability and responsibility; the management structure is poorly funded and its fragmentation does not make the best use of existing funds; the imprecision and inadequacies of the current management structure have contributed to the parlous state of the Tamar Estuary and Esk River systems, especially the significant and environmentally damaging siltation problem and the effectiveness of flood mitigation infrastructure in Launceston. The steps designed to address management shortcomings through the TEER program, NRM North and the Launceston Flood Authority are indeed most commendable but they fail to overcome the fragmentation of the current responsibilities and management structure; any new authority must have consultative, regulatory and enforcement powers with the last mentioned being an option of last resort as used in Victoria or, indeed established but not used in Victoria; and, any new authority must have adequate recurrent funding to meet its obligations.
Madam President, the committee makes 18 recommendations and again I would just like to mention several key ones: that the authority operate on the fundamental principle of stakeholder and community involvement and consultation in line with the catchment management models in Victoria and south-east Queensland - again, and I cannot stress it too much, the importance of community involvement and consultation; that the authority have a board composed of specialists in areas such as environmental management, land use planning, engineering, business management, financial management, agricultural practice and forestry practice; that the funding of the authority be provided by the Tasmanian Government and other appropriate sources of funding including Federal and local governments; that the authority be required to prepare a catchment management plan within 12 months of being established; that the authority incorporate the existing roles and functions of NRM North and continue to carry out the roles and functions of that body; that the authority incorporate the existing roles and functions of the TEER program, managed and funded by the Tasmanian Government, and continue to carry out the roles and functions of that body. Those last two recommendations about the future roles of NRM North and TEER, if acted upon, should allay fears about their future for those who presently work for those two organisations. Their expertise is undeniable.
It is just over 12 months since this House resolved that the select committee be appointed and certainly we did not waste any time. We called for evidence in advertisements only 10 days later and our committee of three, purposely kept small to facilitate the meetings with the three members from the Launceston region, met on 18 days and held public hearings on 10 of those days. It also made four formal on-site inspections, three of them on the mainland. Forty-two witnesses gave verbal evidence in Tasmania and 16 written submissions were received. Nine witnesses gave evidence at Geelong and Bairnsdale in Victoria and in Brisbane.
The committee was impressed by the standard of the evidence presented and it was generally informed, instructive and interesting. Some contributions were notable. A key submission was from the Launceston City Council, which supported the creation of a statutory authority. Its written submission concluded:
'There is a void of clear intervention or action responsibilities with the estuary. These include the very basic issues associated with general housekeeping, but extend to strategic responsibilities and response capabilities.
Council supports the establishment of a Single Statutory Authority which has the capability to align functional responsibility with the financial capability to deliver its role, building on the work already being undertaken within the Tamar Estuary and the Esk River Catchment.'
That, Madam President, from the main local government body in the catchment.
The committee heard from numerous individuals who have had a long involvement with the Tamar, including Jim Collier of Launceston who is a frequent contributor to the Examiner's letter pages on the subject.
Mr Dean - One or two this week in the paper as well.
Mr FINCH - Two this week?
Mr Dean - One or two, yes.
Mr FINCH - Might get a third. He said that he thought that there should be one single authority with overall management of the upper reaches of the Tamar. If you had various little bodies, once again you would have the old problem of too many bureaucrats all fighting each other and it would achieve nothing. He said that they want one single authority, totally responsible for everything, flood management, siltation, pollution, water flow - everything.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Some could argue that would be the council.
Mr FINCH - No, I think you need to read the report and then you will see that 15 per cent of the area affected is outside of the Launceston municipality.
Mr Wing - Also, 92 per cent of the flood catchment area is outside the City of Launceston boundaries but it is dumped within the boundary.
Mr FINCH - Yes. So some compelling evidence that really suggested that Launceston has been punching above its weight in these areas for a long time.
The late Mr Laurie Crerar, who was the founder of the Friends of the Tamar organisation and the founding member of the Tamar Estuary Working Group, and who passed away a short time after he appeared before the committee gave this evidence. He said that there are too many different government departments and agencies, including local government, all involved with talkfests and reports stockpiling without much hands-on action.
Launceston businessman, Errol Stewart, told the committee:
'At the moment I do not think there is anybody who really has responsibility for looking after the river system. I do not know that you could physically pinpoint anybody and say, "That's your responsibility" ... Then you have this issue forever. We haven't been able to get rid of the old boats because we are not sure whose jurisdiction it is. If you ask the ports authority you are told their jurisdiction stops at the Batman Bridge. MAST says it is Parks and Wildlife's and they say it is not.'
There were many other local contributors and I thank them all. I note yet another demonstration of interest in the Tamar Estuary. I remember quite clearly going to a function that Mr Laurie Crerar had organised at Henty House and he had invited groups that were involved with the Tamar Estuary to come to a gathering for the release of a document he had prepared. There were 65 different organisations that turned up on that day. They were all different groups, committees, organisations that care for the Tamar Estuary. It was outstanding.
There is quite understandably public scepticism over the numerous studies and reports on the problems of the Tamar Estuary. However, I sincerely believe that this report takes the whole argument a lot further. I believe if the State Government adopts the committee's recommendations we will soon see real progress over the problems of the Tamar and its catchment areas. I believe that the public overwhelmingly supports the recommendations and is optimistic there will be a breakthrough in managing a long-running and frustrating situation. Let us get on with the task. There is a State election coming up and I do not think this report could have been better timed.
Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Madam President, our chairman has covered it quite well but there are one or two issues that I will refer to. I am not quite sure whether our chairman mentioned the very valuable and professional support that we received from our secretary, Mr Tom Wise. It was absolutely exceptional. He went out of his way to ensure that we were looked after in the best way possible throughout the entire inquiry and we owe a lot to him.
Mr Finch - I was going to mention it in closing but I am sure he will appreciate it being mentioned often and over and over again.
Mr DEAN - It was exceptional the way he went about it and assisted us in putting all of this together, the way he spoke with our witnesses and arranged everything. It was indeed a great occasion to work with Mr Wise.
The comment made by the member for Apsley, that it is probably a Launceston City Council -
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Through you, Madam President - when the member talked about one overarching body I said some would argue that would be the council. It was purely an observation.
Mr DEAN - I do not think there would be too many that would argue that that should be the case. I think people away from that area might argue that but I think all of those within that area who have a great knowledge of what the situation is, I doubt that they would see it that way. In fact, I would be very surprised if many saw it that way.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - I will direct them to this particular report.
Mr DEAN - Sure.
As the chairman has mentioned, this was a good committee. It was a small committee but because of our locations we were able to meet at short notice and were able to move this matter ahead very quickly. I realise there needs to be the right mix on committees and all areas probably need to be represented on a lot of the committees, but I think where a matter is probably more localised, to have a local committee is advantageous in all the circumstances and it is proven in this committee that we have just finished.
The management of the river, as the chairman has mentioned, has been ad hoc. It has been ad hoc management over a long period of time, ever since the settlement of Launceston you could argue, which is about 203 years now. There has never been one body that has a responsibility for the overall management of the Tamar River, its estuaries, the catchment and its flood plain areas. As the chairman mentioned again, you have many organisations and groups with some responsibility. That has been a concern -
Mr Parkinson - The Derwent doesn't have one.
Mr DEAN - I am not quite sure of the operations of the Derwent but I know that they have gone through -
Mr Parkinson - Mind you, it's very capable of looking after itself.
Mr DEAN - Its situation is a little bit different from that of the Tamar River. Certainly there were some siltation problems -
Mr Parkinson - It is the only river in the world you can walk across without divine intervention.
Mr DEAN - Right. But in Launceston the Tamar and its estuaries has a lot of other problems that the Derwent does not have, unfortunately.
Mr Finch - Through you, Madam President - there is a program now that covers the Derwent Estuary under the chairmanship of Scott Gadd.
Mr DEAN - Yes, that is TEER.
Mr Finch - Yes, TEER is modelled on the Derwent Estuary Program.
Mr DEAN - So there is some support for what is now happening there.
It has been fragmented for a time and with all of those bodies that are currently involved there has always been that situation of the blame game on problems related to the river - who is really responsible for them, who should have attended to them and who should have fixed them. That has gone on for a long, long time. If you want better information on that then all you need to do is sit in on a Launceston City Council meeting when this issue is being discussed - and it is discussed, unfortunately, on a fairly regular basis. There are some issues in relation to the flood plain, the levees and all the silt getting washed up and the question always arises of who is responsible. 'It is not my responsibility, that is the responsibility of somebody else' and it goes on and on to such an extent that good management of the river has not been moving forward. If we had had a single statutory authority in place a number of years ago, not only would we have seen vast improvements, but we would have also seen better management and better handling of the money that is currently made available to the council for cleaning up the silt from the river.
In fact many people argue, Madam President, that the siltation is currently occurring at a greater rate than we are taking silt out of the river. I think that the honourable member for Rosevears mentioned this at the opening of his address on this matter - that siltation in the river is now probably worse than it has ever been. If you ask Mr Errol Stewart, whose name has been mentioned a few times here today, he will say that is certainly the case. He lives and works on the Tamar River. He has a number of developments right on the Tamar River and he does a lot of his own dredging of the Tamar River to try to protect these developments and to provide some reasonable access to the marina and other parts of his developments. So he knows what is going on and that is what he and a number of others have told us. So we cannot afford to sit back and just let this go on into the future as it is now. We need to do something about it now.
Once again, as the chairman mentioned, the witnesses coming forward were very open and very strong in their views, in the main, that we need one authority that is properly funded to ensure the integrity of this area into the long-term future.
Mr Gaffney - Through you, Madam President - I thank the honourable member for mentioning the matter. Did the committee look at what funds have been made available, say over the last 15 years, and from what sources, so that we could see where this funding has gone to in the past? Did the committee look at the funding that had come into the area and whose responsibility it was and what has actually happened with that?
Mr DEAN - Throughout the hearings we certainly discussed funding sources, the funding that is provided to the Launceston City Council and the annual funding that they receive from the State Government in relation to the siltation problem, the funding of the other bodies, including NRM, of the TEER program and of all of the other organisations that are involved.
Mr Wing - Including UTRIA?
Mr DEAN - Yes, UTRIA, which is the Upper Tamar group that was set up to address the siltation and the management of the river. That is a council group but it also includes independent persons from outside of the council. I do not know whether we specifically -
Mr Finch - It's not detailed in the report.
Mr DEAN - No - put an amount on the funding that is coming in all over.
Mr Gaffney - So that means that all the money that was going to the council or to the NRM will now come into this one body.
Mr DEAN - That is what we are saying - that the funding that is currently being made to all of the different groups would go to this single statutory authority that would be responsible. The NRM funding should be subsumed into this new organisation, the NRM should become part of it and all of the other organisations that have some part to play should be subsumed into this body.
Mr Gaffney - My last question is, would therefore any funding that has been allocated for that purpose go to that new organisation after it has been set up and be looked after by that body?
Mr DEAN - That is our position and I think that we have made some comment on that in the recommendations about the funding. We have also identified there that there are other funding sources that this committee could tap into or at least consider. There is some Federal Government funding that they would probably have opportunity to move into as well. I might add - and it is an interesting point, I am pleased that you have raised it and the Chairman and the member for Launceston might want to discuss this further - we struggled with this one for a long time over how this body should be funded. For it to be attractive to the Government, we realised that we as a committee needed to look at options other than total State Government funding year in, year out. There should be other avenues and other opportunities of funding for the operation of this body.
Lots of ideas have been raised on how to provide funding for this body, for instance, the council putting a certain percentage on rates. I think that this idea would be fraught with danger and that that would not get off the ground. There would be a lot of people opposed to that. Lots of other statements have been made in relation to how it should be funded. In fact it was suggested that anybody with some attachment to, or benefit from, this area should probably make a contribution as well. Other members might go into that further, and correct me if I am slightly off track, but it really was a difficult issue for us to come to terms with and to come up with what we thought was a good and reasonable funding model in the circumstances.
We realise that the funding has to be both ongoing and of a reasonable amount. The current amounts that are being provided for simply getting rid of the silt have proven to be inadequate and not entirely effective. But I would suspect that if the Government can get right behind this committee - and I would hope that they do - the committee would be looking at another area that has never really been considered ever since I have been in the Council and probably never, and that is the real cause of the siltation and trying to stop the silt getting into the river in the first place.
Currently they are dredging the silt out but it is building up quicker than they can take it out. Very clearly, there is evidence that silt is coming in upstream in both the North and South Esk rivers. There is some silt coming into the river from those sources, apart from the silt that is flowing backwards and forwards in the river. That has apparently been happening over decades, as I understand, from information that we have.
A new authority would really look at their money and how they need to spend it. I think they would do what the CMA in Bairnsdale has done with the Snowy River, where they have also had siltation problems. It is a large river and the first point that that authority made was that they need to look at where the silt was coming from into that river in the first place before they looked at what else they should do. They identified that rabbits and other animals as well as some forestry operations were causing a lot of soil erosion upstream of the Snowy River. There were many other things occurring in the catchment of the Snowy River that they had to address in the first instance.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Through you, Madam President - what about farming practices?
Mr DEAN - There were some problems with farming practices in the Snowy River catchment as well, and that is where they work closely with the farmers to ensure that they are on-side and strong partners in whatever they do in that area. With the exception of one farmer - and I think I am right in saying this - they have had a good response.
Mr DEAN (Windermere) - At the suspension, Madam President, I had just touched on the CMA and what it was doing in the Bairnsdale area with regard to the Snowy River. I started to touch on the partnerships that they have with the other groups they are involved with. That is a big part of this whole thing, moving forward, if the Government gives support to our recommendations here, with a single statutory authority. A focal point or an important part of that whole process is working in close partnership with all of the other bodies, local government, the farmers and forestry operations, moving forward. In that regard, the CMA gave us information that the farmers were very much on side with them in this partnership. Of all the people that they had worked with and were involved with, I think they indicated to us that they had a problem or some difficulty with one farmer only in the time that they had been operating and that they were working through those problems to get that sorted out. They said that they felt there was some light at the end of the tunnel in fixing that problem as well.
The other thing I wanted to say is that NRM, in particular, would be a vital part of this moving forward. They would come into the new statutory authority and would form a very focal part of it, probably the nucleus of the new authority and the new body. So they would be vital to this program or project, and I do not want to underestimate that in any way whatsoever.
A couple of other issues I want to refer to. There has been report, after report, after report done on what should happen with the Tamar River and the estuaries. In fact, it is probably fairly difficult to estimate the number of reports that have been done and at huge cost, I might add. People really are getting sick and tired of that happening.
When this select committee was first set up, the comment being made to me, 'Not another report, not another inquiry', was clearly the attitude of a lot of people. It took convincing of some of those people that this was a report on the authority as to how it should be managed, how it should be controlled in moving forward - not on siltation, not on how that should be removed - but an authority moving forward and getting it under one umbrella, as it were. So people are sick and tired of reports. There is time now to move forward, there is a time to get things in place and get things operating effectively and efficiently, and this is one way of doing it with this new body.
Interestingly, our chairman, the member for Rosevears, referred to the Launceston City Council and their position on this - the general manager and the mayor of the time and our new re-elected mayor at Launceston - that they are very much on side of a single statutory authority moving forward. They understand the system, they know the system very well, they know what is happening and yet they were saying to us, 'Yes, get it going. We want this. This is the way we see as probably getting control of this whole situation regarding the river and everything else about it'. So that was the view of the Launceston City Council and I think that the Government would be looking at that and giving that some noting in all of the circumstances.
Mr Finch - Through you, Madam President - I think they are both members of the flood authority, aren't they?
Mr DEAN - Yes, that is now the Launceston Flood Authority where both the mayor and the general manager sit on that authority. The chair of the authority is a civilian, not connected with local government, and there are a number of other civilian members on that authority as well. So they are a part of that and they would like to see this become one entity under the control of one statutory authority.
The member for Rosevears has referred to the recommendations and I am not going to go into them in any detail other than to say that there is one interesting recommendation, recommendation 12. The member for Mersey may well have picked it up, where this authority, should it be supported, should have the final say or at least be required to give approval to any development of any nature that occurs within the Tamar Estuary, within the flood plain area, or within the catchment area. So any development in those areas, this statutory authority should have the final say with approval. That is, over and above that, there would be the appeal mechanism to currently apply in any development moving forward.
Mr Hall - Any development at all?
Mr DEAN - Any development that has to go through a council that needs council approval, we are saying that this authority should have a say, and that is exactly the situation with the CMA in Victoria. The CMA there have a final say but, once again, they work in partnership with the council. It is not as though they wield the heavy hammers, as it were, they simply work in close partnership with the local government moving forward with developments et cetera, but they have a say. And they should do too, because if they have a responsibility for the management of a flood plain area, if they have responsibility of a catchment area, then surely it follows that they must have some say in what is happening in that area as well.
Mr Hall - Through you, Madam President - anywhere is a catchment - any piece of ground is a catchment - so are you talking about the whole of northern Tasmania?
Mr DEAN - We are talking about those areas that feed into the rivers, that fall into the catchment areas.
Mr Hall - But they all do that.
Mr DEAN - Not all, but there are a number of them. The catchment areas are pretty well defined and the flood plain area is also well defined. These areas are mapped - there are maps identifying those areas - so it is fairly clearly articulated in documentation.
Mr Hall - So if you had a development application for a house, for example, a residence in Deloraine should have to go through this authority before -
Mr DEAN - If it impacts or affects in some way the flood plain and/or the catchment area, that is what our recommendation says.
As I said, it is the CMA's position but I should imagine there is a little bit of flexibility in there. It may well be that in this situation where a development is seen, where it will have a real impact or could have a real impact on the catchment or the flood plain, that is the one that would come into this authority. Perhaps there are other smaller developments that it would never need to occur for. The CMA were fairly strong. It works well in Victoria, they have no problems with it and it is supported and accepted by local government.
The other issue that came up, Madam President, is the position with the TFGA, and the member for Rosevears briefly touched on that as well. I think it is fair to say that during the initial discussions on this authority and whether there ought to be a single statutory authority, their president at the time was a little bit hesitant, I think, and indicated to us that the TFGA would not give support to any new authority that was being set up that was likely to create more legislation, more rules and more control over their operations and so on. They found that that would be difficult to work with. They say they are over-regulated now and that a lot of those regulations and other things that are happening and changing for them impact on their profitability and create real problems for them albeit, as they said, they want to work with the authorities, they want to work on ensuring the environment is clean and maintained and all of those things so it was not as though they were saying that they did not care, they very much care.
They were not satisfied at that stage that they could accept this moving forward because of the new regulations. When it was identified to them that it did not necessarily follow that there would be any more regulations at all, that the authority would work with the regulations and rules and controls that are currently there, and that is probably the way they would operate, then they saw it differently. In fact a comment I think was made, and it would be in the documentation, that they could work with that. It changed from a position of struggling with problems to accepting when they were told that it did not necessarily mean more regulations and controls. I think that was a good position at the end in relation to them because they are a big part of this whole thing - they and forestry and agriculture -
Mr Gaffney - Through you, Madam President - I am just wondering about the response from the local councils - the West Tamar Council, the George Town Council and the Launceston Council - to the setting up of this authority with all these powers. How has that been or have they not seen the complete report? I am interested to see how that would work, having this other authority coming in, and how that fits together. I am just wondering what responses you had from those council areas.
Mr DEAN - We have not had any response at all, to my knowledge, unless the member for Rosevears or the member for Launceston has. Because this was only brought into this Chamber about two weeks ago there has not been a council meeting in Launceston since and there have been the elections as well. I would think that that has probably put them under some pressure. I would suspect that probably not any of those councils at this stage have had an opportunity to sit down and go through this report, so that is not a good position for us to have here today of course. It would have been good to have had their view and their position on it. To my knowledge, that has not happened.
With the Launceston City Council it will be raised I think at Monday's council meeting but what sort of discussion would occur I am not too sure. That is the position there, Madam President, and I think that I can probably leave it there. As I said, it is about partnerships, which is a very strong part of this whole thing moving forward.
There are two points I would finish on, Madam President. I do not know whether the committee is concerned about this but I am. With the State elections occurring next year and perhaps the proroguing of Parliament probably later this year -
Ms Thorp - Are they on, are they? You can never tell.
Mr DEAN - I do not know - this report could be lost somewhat and that is my concern. It would be a shame because I believe it is a good report and it identifies some real issues and problems. If we can start this off and get it up and running, if the State Government takes it on I think there is a lot of kudos in it for them. The public out there are really waiting for something to happen and I would not like to see it simply left on somebody's table with nothing occurring between now and probably March, April, May, June, or whatever next year.
I urge the Government to take a serious look at this and to really start to put something in place in relation to it. I think there is a huge amount of mileage in this for the State Government moving forward. Once again, I just want to thank our Chairman, Madam President, who was very strong in getting this report to the stage it now is at and the other member for Launceston and also, again, Mr Tom Wise who was exceptional in what he did for us as a committee.
Mr HALL (Western Tiers) - Madam President, I have read and noted the report and looked at the conclusions. I apologise for not being here earlier. I heard that the honourable member for Rosevears gave a sterling performance earlier on when he talked about the motion and I have just heard the honourable member for Windermere. Right at the outset, Madam President, the honourable member for Rosevears indicated to me that it needed to be a short, sharp inquiry and I talked about this before, therefore it was necessary to have just a small committee of three members and I called them the Launceston cabal at the time.
Mr Finch - Amongst other things.
Mr HALL - That is right, and so you get an earlier reporting time. That has some merit although I notice it has taken some 14 months, but still for a committee that is 12. It was established on 1 October.
Mr Finch - Yes, 14 months.
Mr Finch - We'll settle for 13.
Mr HALL - The other matter that then raised itself as an issue, Madam President, has been the constant complaint I suppose that most of the woes of Launceston in regard to silting and flooding et cetera virtually all come from outside the metropolitan area. In fact the honourable member for Launceston at the time of the establishment of the committee said that in his view only a statutory authority appointed by the Government will have the necessary jurisdiction to make decisions that have effect outside the boundaries of the Launceston City Council.
That is so, but as we know, most or all of those catchments in fact lie outside the Launceston City Council boundary and lie in the electorates of Apsley and Western Tiers. I politely suggested it might have been handy to have had a member from one of those electorates there on the committee. We always have to remember that the fine city of Launceston actually owes its very existence to the large and diverse hinterland that surrounds it. No hinterland, no Launceston. This is not a personal reflection on the members of the committee; they are all experienced members of this House and their integrity or sense of purpose in this matter is not to be questioned. It is an issue that covers the whole of central, northern, the north-eastern part of Tasmania and indeed parts of the Central Highlands because a lot of the water brought from some of those Hydro schemes now comes down through the Poatina tailrace and into the South Esk and therefore into the Tamar.
Madam President, I have read the report and it is comprehensive and has a lot of interesting reading. The first 20 pages or so of the report basically focus on people who have given evidence and a lot of that refers to silting concerns. Flooding concerns are also high on the agenda and rightly so. As we know there is progression on the flood levees although there is still, as I understand it, that outstanding matter of a few million dollars needed to finish them off. I cannot quite recall how many million dollars -
Mr Dean - About $20 million.
Mr HALL - Yes, but back to the siltation issues. As I mentioned at the establishment of the committee - and these were just a couple of notes that I had there - there is now no living memory of the Tamar River in its natural state. No doubt this is why many believe that it is deteriorating and someone is to blame. Many still remember an active and vital port that was frequently dredged and relatively silt free. The long history of the siltation of the Tamar is clearly evidenced in the Tamar and North Esk River confluence diagrams of 1833. History shows us by public record that rivers around Launceston were brackish and not fit for domestic consumption. They were used for six months of the year. This was said in 1824.
Mr Wilkinson - In what, 1824?
Mr HALL - 1824, yes. When we think about siltation it is a difficult issue. If I can talk about a micro example in the Rubicon River, in the headwaters of where I am. Upstream from our property and on the property all the tributaries have been fenced off and they have been fenced off for some years. There is no interference with stock, there are no forestry operations up there. It is all pasture and yet when we had our berry operation and we had an impoundment on the river itself, we had to get an excavator in every year to clean out the silt. What happens is that every time there is a lot of run-off the soil type is colloidal-type clay and they just collect silt. No matter how much regulation you have with that sort of thing, and all those landowners have done all that, you are often still going to get siltation. That is a fact of life.
The second part of the report deals with the case for the need for the statutory authority and a lot of the quotes early on in the report talked about the proposition that there were too many stakeholder groups involved at the moment which makes it confusing and with a potential for duplication
Therefore a single statutory authority is the answer. The honourable member for Windermere referred to the TFGA, and I am only going on the report and I am only quoting a couple of parts as they commented out of it. On the other hand, groups like the TFGA concluded:
'In summary the TFGA believes that there are no benefits to establishing a Statutory Body to manage the Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers as it would duplicate the role of the TEER program, erode the trust of partners and individual landholders, and waste resources in establishing an unnecessary State organisation ...
Generally, the farming community is the last bastion of private enterprise and a suggestion of a regulatory authority points to regulation. The TFGA does not support the introduction of further regulation on the farming community'.
They are saying they would prefer a collaborative approach for landowners.
Mr Dean - They did go on to say in their letter that they would accept certain regulations.
Mr HALL - Was that in the report?
Mr Dean - That would be referred to in the report somewhere. It might be in the attachments. It would be there certainly.
Mr HALL - Also a sentiment echoed by Minister O'Byrne on page 47 of the report when she said -
'I note the authority around the Derwent is a very collaborative one; there is no great stick used to get those people to the table and I think that has worked very well. At this stage I have not yet been convinced that a statutory authority is needed, however I am still open to be convinced on that if that case can be made.'
So you have a couple of divergent views there, one from the TFGA, and the honourable member for Windermere is scurrying through the bill to find a little bit more.
Mr Wing - Page 37 is where Mr Oldfield was -
Mr HALL - That was missing from my report, page 37.
Mr Finch - Nothing would be hidden from you.
Mr HALL - No, I did see it. Then Mr James McKee, who represented TEER at the hearing with the minister, talked about the different models in Victoria and New South Wales and the CMA process. I will not go down that track there now the honourable member for Windermere did cover that to some degree. He talked about the Queensland healthy waterways partnership and so on.
I do not want to go on too much longer. I acknowledge the important work that the committee has done and their recommendations. On reflection, though, whilst many of the witnesses thought a statutory authority was the way to go, and it is indeed the committee's first and key recommendation, I just have a concern that we could be creating a bureaucratic expensive monster that in the end might not deliver tangible outcomes but has a lot of potential to alienate parts of the rural community and, I think, local government. I was a bit concerned about a couple of comments made by the honourable member for Windermere when he was referring to any development - and that is why I was questioning him about that - would need approval from this overarching authority over and above local government. That would raise the alarm bells of quite a few people.
I commend the committee for the report, but my personal view is that I would still rather see a collaborative-type approach rather than rushing down the course of a statutory authority.
Mr Dean - Through you, Madam President - before you sit down, I think that was obviously before you came in. That was the approach all the way through; it has to be a partnership thing whatever happens, working closely with all the authorities, departments and people et cetera. It has come out clearly through this whole report that it would work that way.
Mr HALL - I acknowledge that.
Mr PARKINSON (Hobart - Leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council) - I would like to thank members of the select committee for producing the report, as well as those who made time to provide evidence to the inquiry. The Government will need to fully consider the findings and recommendations of the committee into the Tamar Estuary and Esk River systems. However, the initial reaction of the Government is that the creation of what is in essence another layer of planning and bureaucracy for the catchment is not warranted. The Government would not look to establish another planning body without very careful consideration of the practical and financial implications of that proposal. Our initial assessment is that the report does not make sufficiently clear the extent of the financial commitment required to implement such a proposal. Most importantly, it does not attempt to address the interactions with other key policy frameworks and initiatives already in place, such as the statutory land use planning reforms, regional planning initiatives and Tasmania's natural resource management, NRM, framework.
Complexities around overriding or overlaying existing regulatory regimes should not be underestimated. Moving to a statutory authority with legislative responsibility for catchment management would in effect create two distinct regulatory systems in Tasmania, one for the Tamar and Esk catchment and one for the balance of the State. This would create the equivalent of another layer of bureaucracy in the catchment that is not replicated elsewhere. At this stage I would have to say that we still favour voluntary and collaborative frameworks as a way of addressing issues in the catchment. For example, the Derwent Estuary Program has demonstrated over 10 years how a collaborative non-statutory organisation can be extremely successful in addressing management issues with multiple stakeholders across several local government areas. The Derwent Estuary Program and the State's NRM framework have both been demonstrably successful in forming voluntary collaborative partnerships with diverse stakeholders that have resulted in positive outcomes for the State and the regions. The review of Tasmanian NRM in 2008 demonstrated that there is broad community and industry support for this type of cooperative, non-regulatory framework. The select committee report does not acknowledge the significant role played by the Tasmanian NRM framework, or inquire into the lessons that might be drawn from the framework model where a conscious choice was made not to override existing regulatory institutions.
We believe that the Tamar Estuary and Esk River Program, TEER, has great potential to offer solutions on a range of issues of concern in this report. The TEER program, an initiative of State and local government in partnership with NRM North, was established in 2007 and aims to achieve a coordinated management approach for the whole catchment through regional partnerships. We believe that TEER ought to be given sufficient time to fully demonstrate its capacity to meet community expectations and concerns regarding the problems in the Tamar Estuary and Esk River catchments. The Government is also working in a range of other areas to address problems in the catchment. This includes the development of the Launceston Flood Authority and making a financial contribution to dredging and standardising planning schemes through the north and north-east regional planning project. Through these projects the Government is confident that the majority of relevant stakeholders are collaborating to address the problems in the catchment.
Over the years there has been a plethora of opinions and views over the best way to solve the issues facing the Tamar and Esk rivers. But now the majority of stakeholders are working within our established and successful NRM framework and are represented on the TEER Steering Committee and all are positively engaged with solving issues. The Government will now consider the detail of the select committee report and make a formal response in due course.
Mr WING (Launceston) - Madam President, there were major floods in the Launceston area in 1852, 1863 and 1929. In that period of three floods, if we compare it with a period of approximately the same length of time, but slightly more since then, there has been no flood of the proportions of those three major floods in the Launceston area. Launceston is living on borrowed time and a major flood of those proportions could occur at any time, particularly in view of the changing and unpredictable climatic conditions that exist these days throughout the world.
Also, there is a substantial build-up of silt. The honourable member for Rosevears referred to this as being the worst that any of us have ever witnessed. That is due partly to the fact that there has not been sufficient funding available to adequately dredge the area. The dredging that has taken place has been minimal. In past years, when the Port of Launceston Authority operated from Launceston, the port authority did most of the dredging. It was in the interests of that authority. It was commercial action taken and that kept the silt under control. Since the authority moved its operations further down the river to Bell Bay it has not undertaken any dredging and there has been a steady build-up of silt.
On average, 30 000 cubic metres of silt per annum comes into the Home Reach section of the Tamar River. In drought years, however, there is a build-up of about 100 000 cubic metres per annum.
Each year, for the last few years, only 30 000 cubic metres of silt has been removed. So in the dry years, which have been most of the years for the last decade, except this year, there has been an increase in the build-up of silt in the order of about 70 000 cubic metres per annum.
These are some of the reasons the select committee was formed, to consider the most effective way of dealing with the risk of flooding and the build-up of silt. I think back to the time that the committee was formed, 13 months ago. There was some feeling among a small number of members of this House that it was not necessary to have a committee, that the matter could be handled adequately by a debate in this House. I think anybody reading the report would realise that was an unrealistic expectation. A debate in this House would have achieved nothing. I think the report is a report of substance. It attracted the interest and participation of many people with considerable expertise in this area.
My colleagues, the honourable member for Rosevears, as chair of the committee, and the honourable member for Windermere, have mentioned some of the people who gave evidence and made submissions to the committee. In addition to those who have already been mentioned I want to make particular reference to the very special role that Mr Jack Edwards OA played in giving very valuable information to the committee based on his experience as a former Port of Launceston Authority engineer and, later, for many years as manager.
Mr Edwards has a very detailed knowledge of the Tamar River and its environs and has had extensive experience on government boards including the Hydro-Electric Commission and the Launceston Flood Protection Authority, which was formed in 1960, and many others.
Dr Owen Ingles, a former university professor in the engineering discipline gave evidence to the committee. Former alderman Graeme Beams, who was Chairman of the Upper Tamar River Improvement Authority for many years, was most helpful in his evidence and it has been mentioned that the Mayor of Launceston and the Launceston City Manager also gave evidence as well as a number of members including the current Commodore and two past commodores of the Tamar Yacht Club. All these people have a very close interest in the Tamar Estuary and Esk River area and a very keen concern about the problems that are being experienced at the moment and their evidence was invaluable, as was the evidence of so many other people who gave evidence.
The honourable member for Western Tiers referred to the attitude of the TFGA. I did have a passage that provided the information that he wanted. After the TFGA representatives had given evidence, the honourable member for Windermere asked this question:
'Let me put the hypothetical position that if an authority were set up and if there were no stronger regulations on farming, would your position change?'
The TFGA had expressed concern and lack of support for the establishment of the authority and Mr Oldfield, the CEO of the TFGA, answered the honourable member for Windermere as follows:
'I think that is a fair point to the extent that farming bodies such as ours will always see regulation as the last step. We would much rather see collaborative, cooperative approaches but at times there needs to be regulation. We support regulation in these cases but it really is the last resort. So in answer to your question, if there were no regulatory powers against farmers or farming communities then that would help alleviate some of our concerns.'
Madam President, when the members of the committee visited Bairnsdale we received full details of the authority that operated in that area, the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. It had regulatory powers but it had barely needed them but it was important for them to have them in case they were needed. They had made great progress in cleaning up the river there and dealing with the flood management problems solely as a result of cooperation with property owners. I am confident that if the statutory authority recommended by this committee were to be appointed it would establish the same relationship with the people with rural/commercial interests, as the authority in Bairnsdale has done. There have been no problems there but a great deal of success.
On the question of expense that was raised by the honourable member for Western Tiers and also the honourable Leader, the existing authorities and the existing bodies dealing with the Tamar Estuary and Esk River problems would be absorbed into the new authority. The TEER program, the NRM North and the Launceston Flood Levee Board would all be absorbed, together with the finances that they have.
To establish a board of, say, five members, carefully selected with the requisite amount of expertise and experience would not involve much expense at all. I would expect that there would be little more expense than that incurred by those who are responsible for the management and administration of the NRM North, Launceston Flood Levee Board and the TEER program. But at least there would be one body. They would be assimilated into one organisation and there would be one body responsible for the whole area with the power to act on matters and also with adequate funding.
To do the work necessary to remove the silt to build the flood levees requires funding from outside the area. I think it is fair to say that it is only natural that there would be an expectation that the State Government provide the bulk of the funding.
When the flood levees in Launceston were built in 1960, on my calculations the State Government of the time showed leadership in this area - they did not have to be pushed. The Cosgrove Government initiated the action necessary and funded about 77 per cent of the cost of that. I believe that the State Government should be funding the remedial work necessary in the area to a much greater extent than an equal amount with the Launceston City Council and the Federal Government because the ratepayers of Launceston have borne the brunt of the responsibility except for the establishment of the flood levees in coping with the silt and the flooding problem with some assistance from the State Government. But until the $33 million was recently made available to replace the flood levees, it has been a fairly small amount each year as a contribution towards maintenance of the levees and also for dredging. It would be less than half a million dollars a year, I would estimate, when the costs needed far exceed that.
Whatever body is appointed or bodies may be appointed to deal with all these problems, there is going to be a need for the injection of substantial funding and I think, and believe, that if the authority were to be established, absorbing the existing bodies, that would actually save money rather than having the fragmented arrangements now with quite a number of different bodies having different responsibilities but none with the overall responsibility. I do not believe it would involve any significant extra cost but it is the action that almost every witness who gave evidence advocated very strongly.
It is now a question of what happens. The honourable Leader says the Government is favouring a body similar to that operating in the Derwent River area where there is a cooperative approach rather than a body having any statutory or regulatory authority. Well, the Derwent River has had its problem mainly with pollution, not with flooding, as far as I know. Not with silt but with effluent being discharged into the river over a period of many years. A very different problem exists here. There are a multiplicity of problems in the Tamar Estuary and Esk River areas and they need to be dealt with in a different way. The only effective way in my view, in the view of the committee and almost all of the witnesses who gave evidence, is for there to be a statutory authority appointed.
I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this. I hope that it will not get locked into the view expressed by the honourable Leader, which is a similar one to the one that I have heard the honourable minister express on a couple of occasions. This needs some very firm action, not soft, ineffective action. I commend the recommendations in the report not only to the Government but also to the Liberal Party and to the Greens because we need a concerted effort. We need to remove political point scoring and we need to know what the policy would be if there were to be a change of government next year, because the next election will be on us before we know where we are and we cannot afford to delay effective action in relation to this any longer. Launceston is destined to have a major flood any year now. It has been due for about the last 10 years on the basis of history. It could happen at any time and, Madam President, if it happens before the flood levees have been reconstructed it is going to cost the State Government many millions of dollars. It is going to cost the Federal Government many millions of dollars. There has been some feeling in the past that the Launceston City Council is mainly responsible for these matters.
That was not the feeling under the Cosgrove Government in 1960. It showed the lead. What we need is for the Government to show spine, real interest, real appreciation of the problem and some action. I wrote to the head of the Premier's office soon after he became Premier asking if I could have a meeting with the Premier to discuss the problems associated with the Tamar Estuary and Esk rivers. I did not receive any action and I happened to see the head of the Premier's office, I think in the kiosk downstairs, about three months later and I mentioned that I had not had any response and I still haven't and I still haven't had that meeting. But I must say I do appreciate information I have received recently from the Launceston City Council that the Premier is showing a real interest in this matter and a real preparedness to help. That is welcome news and I commend him for that. The honourable Treasurer is not here at the moment but in about April last year I asked if he would be prepared to come to Launceston and talk to selected people about this and he said who did you have in mind, who would they be. I said we can discuss that and at the time he agreed to do that but, to date, some 17 or 18 months later that has not been possible either. We do need the interest that the honourable Premier is showing in this area. I find that reassuring and encouraging and I hope he will get the right amount of support from his colleagues and I look forward to some welcome, appropriate, positive announcement in the near future.
It has been a great pleasure being on this committee chaired by the honourable member for Rosevears, with the honourable member for Windermere. We have been able to work very effectively and being a small committee, I think that has helped. We have been able to convene meetings very quickly. I congratulate my colleagues on their contributions throughout the workings of the committee and in their presentations this evening. I join with them in congratulating and thanking Mr Tom Wise for his very considerable expertise and great enthusiasm for every aspect of this project. I support the motion.
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - In spite of the caution and reservations I had a sense of in the Leader's response, I am optimistic that there will be action on this report on managing the Tamar River and its catchment, not just because there is a State election coming up but because there is evidence that the idea of a single management body for the catchment has been heard favourably. That was the evidence that came to us. We were quite open-minded when we embarked on this journey of investigating what the community had to say. The overwhelming evidence was that a single statutory authority was what the community leaders on this issue felt was needed. The Leader made reference to the TEER program and it was at a community gathering of people involved in the TEER program and their partners - and I think there were more than 50 people - and the number one issue out of a number of issues that came through from the evaluation -
Mr Wing - And the number one solution.
Mr FINCH - and the number one solution was that we should have a single statutory authority to manage the problems of the region.
When there is such an overwhelming agreement on how the catchment should be managed, I think that any sensible government would listen to what people are saying. It behoves them to listen to what the community and the community leaders are saying. I am not saying that a single statutory authority with legislative teeth is the panacea for the Tamar's problem. But it will certainly bring together a lot of effort under that one coordinated management body and that is simply what we lack at the moment. In my optimistic moments I believe that it is the key to the future of the Tamar River and its tributaries.
Listening to some of the comments here, this report and its contents are not about the blame game. Our investigation was not about finding scapegoats or somebody to blame in respect of the problems we have; it was about the solution game and finding out how we can solve these problems and show the community that there is that coordinated effort to get on top of these problems, which we and the community see are worsening and that they are fearful of. As the member for Launceston speaks today and often eloquently about the dangers we have in the flooding, the clock is ticking in respect of when we will have a repeat of that very severe flood in the Tamar Valley.
I would like to repeat how impressed I and other members of the committee were by the quality and thoughtfulness of the evidence we heard, and particularly the support we received when we carried out investigations in Queensland and Victoria. I might just make a mention here of Graeme Dear in Bairnsdale.
Ms Thorp - Didn't you get to the Netherlands?
Mr FINCH - No, we pushed for that but the budget would not quite stretch far enough.
Ms Thorp - Not even for a peripatetic committee like yourselves?
Mr FINCH - We did not have to because we got all the evidence and it was laid out for us by Graeme Dear. He is the chap I wanted to mention who looks after the CMA for the district around Bairnsdale and, in fact, very comprehensively. I think, if the Government wanted to take a short cut to finding out how to get the proper advice and to see how a CMA is run properly, they should just go straight to GraemeDear. He is the guru and we were very impressed with the evidence that he gave to us.
But there are so many people who have the future health of the Tamar Valley at heart. I have mentioned, in my previous presentation, the number of groups and the people who are involved in and love the Tamar Valley. All that needs to be done now is to bring those groups, those people and those leaders together under the single statutory authority.
Also, I will echo those sentiments about the secretariat: Tom Wise, but I will also mention Sue McLeod and Nathan Fewkes who were of great help to Tom Wise. But certainly I do mention Mrs McLeod and Nathan Fewkes, but the main blame, if anything is faulty in the report, will be shot back home to Mr Wise. Of course, too, it was wonderful to work with the member for Launceston and the member for Windermere and I think we worked very well as a team.
I would encourage those with an interest in these issues and in the Tamar Valley and the future of the Tamar and the Esk River system to read the report and take the signals from those who came to give evidence.