2009

GIPPSLAND LAKES A NATIONAL ICON

May 30, 2011

This week in Federal Parliament I highlighted the need for the Commonwealth Government to provide more funding and take an active role in the future of the Gippsland Lakes.

As an internationally-recognised wetland, there is a clear responsibility for the Federal Government to fund local agencies, including volunteer organisations, which are involved in practical environmental projects to protect and enhance the system.

In the past, I have described the Gippsland Lakes as ‘the Great Barrier Reef of the south’ but there is a stark contrast in terms of the level of funding and support these two natural icons receive.

While the Federal Government will provide $200 million over five years for its ‘Reef Rescue’ package, the Gippsland Lakes received $3 million over three years, and the funding expires this year.

By contrast, the recently elected Victorian Coalition Government has committed $10 million for the Gippsland Lakes, and is now working in consultation with the local community as to how this money should be spent for maximum benefit.

The Gippsland Lakes is a complex and dynamic environmental system which is heavily impacted by a range of natural and human activities throughout its vast catchment.

Protecting and enhancing the environment of the lakes is made more difficult by the competing needs and the different values we all place on this iconic system.

While some value the Gippsland Lakes for the opportunity to catch a fish – and may resent the impact of cormorants on bream stocks - others place a higher value on the diverse bird life and would certainly reject any idea that cormorants should be culled!

It’s the same in the river catchments where our farming community places a high value on a reliable supply of water to irrigate pastures and crops to feed our nation, while others are demanding a higher percentage of freshwater flows to protect fringing wetlands.

Adding to the complexity of managing this system is the diverse range of organisations which have a role to play including the Gippsland Coastal Board, Catchment Management Authorities, water boards, local councils, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Parks Victoria and Gippsland Ports.

The obvious challenge for all of these agencies is to find the right balance between the needs of the environment and the economic and social prosperity of our region. We have been successful in the past with projects that have provided seed funding for nutrient reduction in the Macalister Irrigation District, resulting in farmers using their own money to invest in better water management systems.

This partnership approach is the right way to go but it requires governments at all levels to honour their responsibilities to future generations and provide ongoing funding for research, monitoring and direct action.

The health of the Gippsland Lakes is critical to the future of our region. In addition to the tourism and small business sector, the lakes are the focal point for residential development and a major reason why many families choose to live and work in East Gippsland.

There are many individuals, community groups and landholder organisations that are passionate about our lakes and rivers, and are ready to do their share of the practical environment work that is required.

It’s a pity that the same level of passion hasn’t made its way to the Ministerial offices in Canberra.

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