Lower Lakes and Coorong 2018

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (14:46): My question is to the Minister for Environment and Water. Will the minister please update the house on what the government is doing to address the ecological health and future management of the Coorong?

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Minister for Environment and Water) (14:46): I thank the member for Hammond for his question on World Environment Day, and I note his very significant interest in the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and the Murray Mouth—a shared interest, no doubt, with the members for MacKillop and Finniss as well.

When I became the Minister for Environment and Water, one of the big challenges that certainly struck me upon taking the portfolio was the situation facing the Coorong. There is no doubt that South Australia has stewardship of an incredible natural asset when it comes to the Coorong and has a responsibility, under the Ramsar Convention that underpins that wetland, to do whatever we can to sustain that natural environment.

The Coorong provides an incredible environment for particularly birdlife and a range of aquatic, marine life and plant species as well, many of which are found in very few other parts of Australia, if not the world. Since the Millennium Drought some 10 years ago, the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and the river mouth have never recovered to what they could have. Some areas have recovered more significantly than others, but there are some areas of the Coorong, particularly the southern lagoon, that have continued to really struggle with hypersalinity and a loss of species in those areas and a whole range of knock-on challenges from that.

Upon becoming the minister, and speaking with people from my department, it became abundantly clear that there were multiple views around how to deal with the Coorong. There were various opinions from scientists, academics, bureaucrats and people working the land, particularly the Ngarrindjeri people, who play such an important role in the land that surrounds the Coorong area. In response to this, I tasked my department with taking a good look at the Coorong and making it a real priority for me as minister.

I said to the department that, with so much mixed opinion when it comes to the Coorong and the management of that significant environment, it would be worth bringing together a group of people—scientists, academics, stakeholders, Aboriginal elders—to discuss that site and what the management might look like going forward, what should the key areas be for me as the minister and for the environment department to be focusing on, focusing on when we manage that environment, focusing on when we with the community work in partnership to manage that environment and focusing on when it comes to engaging with the federal government, because we know that there are funding opportunities for projects from the federal government.

We need to be prepared to be able to go to the federal government and say we have some consensus around what we should be focusing on when it comes to the Coorong and be able to present a very robust case for funding going forward. Today, we brought together a summit. It is meeting at the moment. It is a scientific summit, which includes a series of scientific presentations this morning. It is then followed by a series of workshops this afternoon. When it comes to science, of course, it is a dynamic thing: there are multiple different opinions, something that those opposite—

The Hon. S.K. Knoll: Scientists don't always agree.

The SPEAKER Order!

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: Scientists don't often agree, and that's the key part of this workshop.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER Order!

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: The naivety of the opposition, which took the Coorong to nearly the brink of its life. We are coming together saying—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER Order!

Dr Close interjecting:

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: —there are multiple views here, but let's work out what the key areas of focus need to be and take a plan forward. It has been a pleasure to meet with those scientists today and I look forward to updating the house on our findings.

The SPEAKER: The minister's time has expired .The deputy leader is called to order. The member for Lee.