01 Aug 2019 newsparliamentBill


Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 3 April 2019.)

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Leader of the Opposition) (16:25): The opposition supports the bill and supports the proposal that it might go to a committee. The Coorong is a beautiful part of South Australia, home to important wildlife and both Australian and international migratory birds. It is largely within a national park and is a stunning tourism destination. The Coorong and Lower Lakes are at the heart of the wellbeing of the Ngarrindjeri nation, and for tens of thousands of years have been cared for and are still a critically important part of Ngarrindjeri people's lives.

The Coorong is also under threat, and it has been for decades due to overextraction from the Murray-Darling Basin. This proposal, which will no doubt be looked at and perhaps refined in a committee, will create a trust that will have two important benefits for the Coorong. The first is that the community and experts will be able to give independent advice to parliament as well as to the wider community about the state of the Coorong and what is required to improve its condition. Second, it will allow funds to be raised and spent by the trust, independent of any level of government. With those brief comments, I look forward to the passage of the second reading stage.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:26): I rise to speak briefly in support of the second reading of the Coorong Environmental Trust Bill 2019. The Coorong is not just famous for Storm Boy; it is so much more than that and, fittingly, deserves our respect and protection. The Coorong is a national treasure, recognised under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international significance. It is home to many local species, as well as migratory wading birds flying in from as far as Siberia and Alaska.

The Coorong's natural beauty, abundant wildlife and unspoiled coastline make it one of South Australia's most visited tourist destinations. It is located at the end of the River Murray, stretching around 200 kilometres from Encounter Bay to Lacepede Bay, uninterrupted when the mouth of the great Murray River opens to the sea.

I take a moment to commend my federal Centre Alliance colleague Senator Rex Patrick on passing a motion in the Senate last week for the establishment of a select committee into the multijurisdictional management and execution of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It is clear we need to get a solid understanding of the detriment that having multiple jurisdictions trying to manage the basin has on this mighty river system.

The Murray-Darling is a national river system important to not just South Australia but the nation. It is an integral part of the nation's food bowl, responsible for a $22 billion hub of economic activity and, as such, it must be governed properly. The Coorong Environmental Trust Bill 2019 establishes the Coorong environmental trust with the objective of driving the restoration of flows and ecological stability for the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

It is envisaged that the trust will consist of members representing organisations with a professional, financial, physical or legal commitment to the ecological wellbeing of the Coorong, who will assist the government to make well-informed decisions about the health of the Coorong. The trust will operate independently and outside the government to manage the Coorong Ramsar site. The trust will have a number of functions and powers already outlined by the Hon. Tammy Franks in her second reading explanation on the bill.

As part of the bill, the trust is also required to establish a fundraising committee and wetland science committee. The Hon. Tammy Franks foreshadowed that she will seek to refer the bill to a select committee for inquiry and support.

On behalf of SA-Best, I support this move, as it is our view that there should be more, not less, scrutiny of legislation before us. This represents an important opportunity for more transparency in the political process and allows all South Australians to contribute in a meaningful way by way of submissions to help inform us as politicians when making decisions on the legislation before us. I look forward to a detailed analysis of the measures proposed in the bill through the select committee. With those words, I commend the second reading of the bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services) (16:30): I rise to address this particular bill. It goes without saying that the Coorong holds a very special place in the hearts of South Australians not just for its spectacular scenery but also because of its very diverse environmental values. During the Millennium Drought, we were all very concerned about the health of that particular area, together with the Lower Lakes.

Clearly, there was a deprivation of environmental flows that have impacted that area negatively. During that period, we heard from Associate Professor David Paton in relation to the plant species and the water birds. We are pleased that there has been improvement in environmental flows to the area, but clearly it is an area that needs to be closely monitored.

The Coorong environmental trust concept advocates for an independent board responsible for managing this particular waterway. It is understood that the aim of the Coorong environmental trust would be to facilitate independent scientific and community-based management of the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar wetland, listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. I note that the mover of the bill stated in her second reading explanation:

It will be an independent trust that operates outside government to manage the Coorong Ramsar site. We want this trust to be independent from the state government whilst still affording the state government the opportunity to use the information and reports from the trust to inform decision-making

She also said:

The objective of the trust is to drive the restoration of flows and ecological stability within the lakes and Coorong, with a strong focus on the Ramsar principle of sustainable use.

Further in her speech, the honourable member explained that 'the trust that would take on or take over any work that is done by government or public sector employees in government departments'. There are some concepts to further explore, including how the trust will drive the restoration of flows and ecological stability and how this will interact with the existing government responsibilities in this regard. Some of the functions of the trust are similar to responsibilities of the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) under international agreements such as Ramsar, including reporting to the commonwealth and Ramsar Secretariat.

There are existing governance arrangements that support community and scientific advice into the management of the Coorong. This includes one which the government is establishing, the Coorong partnership, to guide community input into Project Coorong, which seeks to improve the long-term health and resilience of the Coorong wetland. Consultation is underway on the Project Coorong action plan. The Coorong partnership will comprise a community chairperson and local members with a broad range of interests and expertise, including but not limited to Aboriginal culture, conservation, recreation, science, agriculture, tourism and heritage.

There are some potential opportunities for aspects of the bill, particularly with respect to raising and holding funds, which may be beneficial to achieving long-term management outcomes for the Coorong. The government supports the bill being referred to a select committee to be established by the Legislative Council. I look forward to it reporting in due course.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:33): I rise to thank those members who have made a contribution: the minister, the Hon. Michelle Lensink; the shadow minister and Leader of the Opposition in this place, the Hon. Kyam Maher; and the Hon. Frank Pangallo from SA-Best. I note that this has been very much a cross-party and collaborative approach. The Coorong environmental trust is designed to take the politics out and put the community back at the heart of the management of our Coorong and Lower Lakes—our precious, precious place there.

This trust, I hope, will empower the local and scientific communities to take and manage the Lower Lakes and Coorong in the way that they know and can demonstrate is best, taking some of the politics out of the management of the waterway for the benefit of the local community and the environment. I know that it has had very strong support from groups such as the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group. I want to acknowledge the hard work in particular of Faith Coleman in getting us to this point and, indeed, the strong community support that is again reflected even in our gallery today, where Faith Coleman is joined by both Rosa Hillam and Tracy Hill.

At the launch of this event, which again was a cross-party affair, it was quite commendable just how broad a range of different stakeholders and groupings came together to first champion this. I thank the minister, David Speirs; the shadow minister, Susan Close; and in that case in particular, Centre Alliance senator, Rebekha Sharkie, for also sharing a platform with me but also listening and supporting the community that day.

This is a bill, by its very nature, that must go to a particular select committee. Again, I thank the government, the opposition and the crossbenchers for their willingness to take part in that process. I look forward to now finally seeing the community voices heard clearly and strongly, getting on with establishing a Coorong environmental trust through the processes that are now to come and having this bill returned to this place well before the end of the year to get the job done.

Bill read a second time.

Referred to Select Committee

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:36): I move:

1. That the bill be referred to a select committee of the Legislative Council for inquiry and report.

2. That the select committee consist of four members and that the quorum of members necessary to be present at all meetings of the committee be fixed at three members and that standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.

3. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

4. That standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses, unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.

Motion carried.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

That a committee be appointed consisting of the Hon. C. Bonaros, the Hon. I. Pnevmatikos, the Hon. T.J. Stephens and the mover.

Motion carried.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

That the committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records; to adjourn from place to place; and to report on 4 December 2019.

Motion carried.