Page 415 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 15 February 2005
The first thing we failed to do was put out the fires when they broke out on 8 January. There were people ready to go and put out the fires when they were small fires. There has never been a satisfactory explanation to the people of the ACT why, in the most crucial catchment in this territory, probably one of the best catchments in this country, supplying the best water in this country and probably the world without, as the Chief Minister says, the need for filtration, we not value our catchment sufficiently to put out the fires on 8 January 2003? That is the first sin of omission.
None of us here can be proud of our record in terms of forest fuel management. That applies especially to the Greens. The Greens are entirely without credibility on this matter. For years they have thrown their hands in the air and put their heads in the sand when it comes to the issue of hazard reduction in native forests and national parks and reserves. For years we did not make it a priority and we reaped the whirlwind in January 2003. There were years of bad management of forests and parks. The McLeod report revealed that fire trails had been covered and replanted so that people in recreational vehicles could not access them. Then, when there was a fire to put out, they were not accessible.
Managing water quality in catchments is vitally important to the territory and the government’s greatest sin of omission is this government’s failure to put together a comprehensive approach to catchment management. We do not have a catchment management authority. We do have a very important committee made up of eminent people, including, as the Chief Minister said, Professor Gary Jones from the Ewater Cooperative Research Centre, as well as experts from cooperative research centres for freshwater ecology and hydrology. That catchment management group is a very important body, but it is not the body that we need. It is a body without teeth. It does not have the authority to make sure that we manage our catchments properly for water. One of the great shibboleths of this place, the one uttered by this Chief Minister on a regular basis, is: “We have secured access to water security for the future through “Think water, act water”. The Chief Minister may think that, if he says it often enough, people will start to believe it. But they had better not. “Think water, act water” does not do any of the things that the Chief Minister says it does.
The Chief Minister represents “Think water, act water” as the great panacea, the holy grail of water management in the ACT and region, but it will never achieve its aims, simply because we do not have a catchment management authority able to ensure sufficient water quantity and quality, able to manage our catchments so that they do not burn down. We can sit here and say, “Oh, dear. We’re in drought and, you know, we might never turn the corner.” But I was really taken by a comment made on television about a week ago by Mr Michael Costello, the head of ACTEW. He was talking about water restrictions and he made a most revealing comment about the so-called minister for water over here that thinks that he knows everything about water. The minister should cringe at Mr Costello’s comment. Mr Costello said, “Well, we’ve got this problem with the Googong catchment. The water falls on the catchment but the water doesn’t get into the dam and we don’t know why.”
Now, I suspect that any sensible, average, man-in-the-street commuter to the Googong catchment, located in the former Yarrowlumla Shire—its new name escapes me at the moment—knows exactly why the water is not getting into the dams. It is because of the