SPEECH: PARLIAMENT HOUSE - ADJOURNMENT - Environmental Conservation
Mr Burke (Watson—Manager of Opposition Business) (19/09/2018 19:29): When people talk about environmental protection, too often we only think about the more distant and remote parts of our country. Those more remote areas often are very well deserving of protection and, from time to time, I have been involved in campaigns for exactly that protection. But we have often missed the importance of conservation projects in areas where many people live. If I go through the Nepean, the Parramatta, the Cooks, the Maribyrnong, the Yarra, Darebin Creek, Merri Creek, the Brisbane, Scrubby Creek, Karrawirra Parri, the Tamar and the Swan, I'm talking about waterways in our urban areas. These are waterways which, to varying extents, have historically been treated with almost environmental disdain. When heavy industry first arrived in Australia, it found its way lining the creeks for the very simple reason that all the waste products could be deposited immediately there. Heavy metals still lie at the bottom of a number of these waterways. Since that time, we have managed to match what is at the bottom with plastics at the top, and our waterways in our urban areas have become one of the great environmental challenges about which we are yet in a comprehensive way to say, 'We need to fix that.'
The need to fix it is incredibly important. Think about the nutrients, chemicals and heavy metals that are at the bottom of the waterways and you think about the plastics that are at the top. It's a direct pathway from when those plastics are first littered from the gutter to the drain to the river and then to the ocean and each piece of marine life and seabird on the way through. The environmental protection of remote areas is contingent on us looking after the areas where a whole lot of people live, but that's not the only reason it's important. The most degraded of the urban rivers are always in the poorest and most working class areas, and they should not be. Whether a river looks like a river or like a stormwater drain should not be connected to the average income of a postcode, but in many cities in our country it is exactly like that.
This is something that can be fixed. Years ago, the idea was you could fix every river that was already a problem and the way to fix them was to line them with concrete. Increasingly, as those concrete banks require replacing, the opportunity is there to make sure that the banks are properly remediated. There are also increasingly opportunities to treat not just the river but the entire catchment, to intercept the waste products before they reach our rivers, whether that interception is through gross pollutant traps that just make sure the material never gets there or by diverting the water through natural processes by adding new wetlands. When new wetlands are added it is the ultimate example of 'build it and they will come' because what comes isn't just the plants and water that are put there; in so doing, habitats are created there.
We have in the Cooks River an area that was completely degraded, but now the native birds have shown up again. I'm not sure where they came from. The pelicans are along the river again now. It is still too degraded, but we need to see that this can be fixed and we need to understand that the parts of our environment where we have tended to place our cities have historically been sites where large numbers of people have been living since the first sunrise on this continent. There are stories that live on these rivers that if we allow them to continue to be degraded will have nowhere to go. We have an Indigenous rangers program that has focused on the remote areas and played a magnificent role, but I think it will also have a role to play in preserving and restoring the stories and ecology of our urban rivers. It should not be the case that simply because a whole lot of people live somewhere and they're not as wealthy as others they are somehow less entitled to go for a walk where they can hear Australian native birds or walk past habitats with trees and shrubs that have always lived there or look at a river that looks like a river and not a stormwater drain