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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 02 Hansard (Tuesday, 9 February 2021) . . Page.. 341 ..

wetlands play in improving both the quality and the quantity of freshwater on our planet.

Wetlands store, absorb and clean our water, as well as protecting from extreme weather events such as storms, flooding and drought by slowing the progress of water through the landscape and retaining it in the soil and in the coastal settings, providing a barrier between oceans and higher ground.

With our human-centric bias, we are used to thinking of water treatment as something that happens in highly technical and engineered environments like the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre. It has only been relatively recently that scientists have come to realise how much wetlands can do to replace or complement human-made grey or black water treatment plants.

Around the world there is good news and bad news about wetlands and waterways. China has recently adopted laws to better protect the Yangtze River. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest tropical peat lands, storing around 60 billion tonnes of carbon, and has recently formed a strategic coordination team for wetlands management. Meanwhile, however, the world’s wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests—and those are disappearing fast enough. Globally, 90 per cent of wetlands have been lost since the 1700s.

As the earth’s driest continent, with much of our land predicated on becoming even drier as a result of climate change, Australia has a strong imperative and much to gain by paying close attention to the health of our wetlands and to the latest research on the benefits of wetlands on our water cycle. Peat lands can store twice the amount of carbons as forests, for example.

Canberra’s wetlands perform several vital roles. They mitigate flooding by slowing the large volumes of water moving through our catchments during heavy rain. They allow us to capture stormwater for use on neighbourhood ovals and parks so that we are not pouring drinkable tap water from our precious reservoirs onto the grass. They clean and filter the run-off that goes into our drains so that it flows into Australia’s most important Murray-Darling river system with fewer pollutants. They help keep our suburbs cool and create a beating green heart of natural beauty and biodiversity in each of our city’s major catchments.

I was already a huge fan of wetlands, especially my beloved local Dickson wetland, and fully convinced of their benefits. But after visiting Jerrabomberra Wetlands last Wednesday I am an even bigger one. It is incredible to visit this rich and dynamic wetland, a hidden jewel nestled amongst Canberra’s suburbs.

As Minister for the Environment, I am so happy that the ACT is investing even more in the health of our wetlands and waterways. As in so many parts of the world, it is, sadly, no longer a matter of protecting surviving, intact wetlands but also a matter of restoring and reviving degraded wetlands, with their vital ecosystem services. This year I am delighted that we will invest a further $1.5 million to build on the Healthy Waterways project by continuing to restore the amenity, recreational, ecological and commercial values and benefits provided by Canberra’s waterways.

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