Adelaide Coastal Waters Study

26 Feb 2008 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation a question about the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Adelaide Coastal Waters Study, which was commissioned by the former Liberal government in 2001, has been released. The CSIRO date on the report is November 2007. Indeed, the foreword is from Dr Paul Vogel, the former CE of the EPA. This report was released late on Friday afternoon. My questions are: 1.Why did the government choose to release this report late on Friday afternoon when the Clipsal event was taking place? 2.What is the reason for the delay in releasing it?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:37): It never ceases to amaze me. The opposition has been calling for the release of this report and then, when we finally release it, it does not like that day. The government is incredibly influential, but it cannot influence the level of interest and the other competitive attractions that media outlets have.

It has a lot of influence and a lot of control, but it cannot control the media and its level of interest in other state events and other matters. Every day in South Australia is a busy day in politics and there are always competing interests. The opposition wants a bet each way.

It wanted us to release the report but not on that day—some other day, but not that day. Indeed, the government is very proud of this report. It contributed $3 million to this thorough and extensive scientific investigation. It took teams of scientists six years to undertake a comprehensive investigation program with the release of 20 separate scientific reports. The report took six years and the government is very proud of it.

It provides us with a fine framework to ensure improvement in the quality of water and better management of our coastal waters. This $3 million scientific investigation involved teams of our best scientists and the best minds behind some of this scientific work. The investigation took 12 months longer than we anticipated, due to the fact that some of these scientific investigations and the analysis around them can take longer than anticipated, as happened in this case.

I received a copy of the report in February of this year, and that went through the cabinet process, as a matter of course. The report was released publicly as soon as reasonably possible after that cabinet process. So, although I know it was frustrating that the report took six years, which is one year longer than anticipated, nevertheless, the 20 scientific reports that underpin the analysis were made available as they came to hand. We were not trying to hide the technical or scientific information that was unfolding.

Those reports were made available: they were put on the website and were there for the public to see. As I said, we were not trying to hide them or prevent the general public from having access to the science as it became available. All those reports were made available in a timely way after the scientific investigations were completed, and all 20 have been available on the website for some time. I can certainly assure members in this chamber that nothing about the timing of the reports delayed any program implementation.

The Hon. C.V. Schaefer: You're not doing anything.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I am very pleased to have that interjection about what we are doing, and I would be very pleased to outline how proactive we have been in respect of the findings of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study, because I am sure members are interested. The report was initiated in response to concerns about seagrass meadows and their deterioration and, as I said, 20 scientific papers were undertaken around particular elements. The report in question found, among a number of other things, that over 5,000 hectares of seagrass meadow had died as a result of a range of impingements reducing the water quality of the gulf, and they included: industrial, stormwater and treated waste water being discharged into the gulf.

It found, basically, that those three problem areas generally resulted in both an increase in particulate matter (sediment) in the gulf that affected marine life (fauna and flora) and also an increase in nitrogen levels that was having a detrimental effect. This study made 14 recommendations, all of which the government has endorsed in principle. The government is establishing a water quality improvement steering committee to address each recommendation and establish a clear action plan, with time frames associated with all 14 recommendations.

Unlike the former Liberal government, we have not been sitting on our hands. There are a number of things we have been doing already in response to those concerns about our seagrass meadows and the quality of water in the gulf. They include a wide range of initiatives, such as the commitment of over $150 million for improving the Christies Beach treatment plant.

That project is not just about improving the quality of discharge water from waste water treatment but reducing the quantity of water discharged from that plant into the gulf. There is the Bolivar waste water treatment plant where large amounts of resources are being committed to extending the pipeline to take up that water. Further, Penrice Soda has been identified as contributing to nitrogen levels in the gulf. The EPA has been working with it and it has committed to a multi-million dollar initiative to reduce its nitrogen emissions by around 70 per cent, so that is well under way. There are also initiatives like the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Natural Resource Management Board.

It has committed over $7 million to improve the management of water runoff in that catchment area, which also includes reducing the sediment discharge from the Adelaide/Mount Lofty catchment area into the gulf. There are a large number of other stormwater management initiatives and so on that I could speak about at length but will not, but they are some examples of the work that is already well under way and they illustrate our commitment in terms of addressing all 17 recommendations from the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study. This is a very fine piece of work and we welcome it. It is disturbing news but something we clearly need to address. We have undertaken a number of actions already and have a plan of action to continue to improve the water quality of the gulf.