Thursday 22 August 2013

Hansard of the Legislative Council




[11.05 a.m.]

Mr Finch (Rosevears) - Mr President, it is now official that our beautiful Tamar River becomes virtually an open sewer when there is exceptionally heavy rain. The general manager of TasWater North, Andrew Beswick, has said that stormwater carrying diluted sewage poured into the Tamar several times last weekend. Launceston's Margaret Street pumping station normally pumps sewage into a pipeline for treatment at Tea Tree Bend except when heavy rain causes stormwater to enter the system because of Launceston's combined sewerage and stormwater system. So when the volume reaches a certain level, the Margaret Street pumping station pumps stormwater and sewage directly into the Tamar.

Mr Beswick's admission came on the same day as a community forum at Riverside, in my electorate, called for a tertiary sewage treatment system for the whole of the Tamar Valley. Mr President, I will read the motion:

The Tamar Valley community through this forum call on all bordering councils, TasWater, the state and federal governments to immediately commence consultations necessary for the construction of a state-of-the-art tertiary treatment sewerage facility at an appropriate greenfield site to service the entire Tamar Valley.

One of the speakers at the meeting, and the organiser, Barry Blenkhorn, has long been concerned about overloaded sewerage systems, including septic tanks, discharging effluent into northern watercourses. He says, 'Launceston's combined sewerage and stormwater system is part of the problem, but not all of the problem'. Mr Blenkhorn's view was supported by Professor Jenny Davis, who is a professor in freshwater ecology at Monash University. Professor Davis said that 'we believe that a cleaner Tamar is possible. It's up to the community to also say it's possible.'

Monday night's forum saw a video presentation of a Melbourne tertiary treatment plant which processes sewage to a stage where it can safely be flushed into the sea. Launceston alderman Ted Sands said, 'A tertiary plant could be built near the present Tea Tree Bend complex'. He told the forum that the community needed to stand up and fight for a tertiary treatment plant as a priority for the next federal government. 'We need to say enough is enough', Alderman Sands told the forum.

Mr President, this new stress on the sewage problem in the Tamar versus the long-running silt problem has partly come about because of the relatively new tactic of raking the silt beds in the hope that the water flow and tidal action will take the silt downstream. Raking seems to have a better result than the earlier dredging but tidal movement still brings some of the silt back - silt that we now know is contaminated with sewage, and silt that continues to build up in the upper Tamar because it is continually replenished by silt brought down from the North Esk and South Esk river basins.

A few years ago, and you will remember this - in October 2009 - a Legislative Council select committee, instigated and chaired by me, and which contained the member for Windermere and the former member for Launceston, Don Wing, made recommendations on the management of the Tamar River and its catchments. That report was largely ignored by the state government, although it was extensive and well-researched, and our evidence - you might remember, member for Windermere - was very positive about a statutory management authority for the Tamar, its tributaries and the catchment areas.

That report and its recommendations will not go away. I will constantly refer to it and ask why its key recommendations were not acted upon. Evidence that the report by our select committee is still in the public domain, as it should be, was demonstrated by a letter in the Examiner newspaper at the weekend. It is from Steven Button of Underwood - I have never met him or had any correspondence with him. He put the argument rather well and I quote:

The levels of siltation in the upper reaches of the Tamar estuary system are of obvious concern to residents of Launceston and its surrounds.

But I would argue that silt is the symptom of poor catchment management, not the problem.

The catchment of the Tamar and its tributaries drain about one million hectares, or one-sixth of the state: an area governed by no less than eight local councils.

In addition to these, we have the EPA, Launceston Flood Authority, NRM North, Hydro Tasmania and new TasWater.

In October 2009, a Legislative Council select committee inquiry tabled its report into the management of the Tamar Estuary and Esk River, which highlighted the problems with the disjointed management approach to catchment management.

Specifically, the committee found 'the current system is fragmented and fails to impose accountability and responsibility', and recommended a single statutory body be established to manage the catchment as a whole.

The report recommends that such a body be based on the successful catchment management authorities that have been adopted by states such as Victoria and New South Wales.

The government has failed to act on these recommendations and still we see various groups vying for funding to combat the symptoms of fractured catchment management.

If we are to see an improvement in the health of the river, a holistic approach to catchment management is required.

That is the end of the letter. Mr President, I am in total agreement with the letter and I again call on the government to take our report out of the filing cabinet and do something about it before the Tamar River is destroyed.

Mr Dean - Hear, hear.