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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 26 March 2009) . . Page.. 1429 ..

Mr Speaker, today have I tabled the Report on ACT lowland native grassland investigation. The report was prepared by the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, Dr Maxine Cooper, and presented to the government last week. It is a very substantial report, as members can see, that makes a range of major recommendations concerning the future management of one of our most precious remaining ecological systems and, as such, it is a report that warrants consideration by all members of the Assembly.

The Chief Minister and then minister for the environment commissioned this report in November 2007 in response to the government’s concern at the deterioration of native grasslands. The terms of reference identify the grasslands at Majura, Belconnen, Jerrabomberra and Gungahlin as those of most concern at the time of commissioning the report.

In commissioning the report, the government was conscious of its responsibilities in relation to protecting lowland native grasslands. As the report states, only five per cent of the natural temperate grassland that existed in the ACT before European settlement remains. Nationally, this figure is less, at around one per cent. The lowland grassland remnants that are left in the ACT are small, with only 11 sites over 100 hectares in area. Most are either in or near Canberra’s urban area and are fragmented, with connectivity being limited and urban activities frequently affecting them and their associated species, including the grassland earless dragon, the golden sun moth, the striped legless lizard and the Ginninderra peppercress.

In commissioning the investigation, the government requested that the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment identify the causes of the deterioration of lowland native grasslands, including the impact of eastern grey kangaroos. The terms of reference also required Dr Cooper to review management practices and communication channels between stakeholders and to determine whether policy or legislative changes were required.

The investigation was very thorough. The report confirms the government’s concerns regarding the deterioration of the lowland native grasslands and identifies in great detail the causes of that deterioration. Dr Cooper and her expert advisers found that, of the 49 lowland native grassland sites in the territory, 20 are in good condition, 20 are approaching critical condition and 10 are in critical condition. One critical site was considered as two separate sites. The ownership of these sites is split across the ACT and commonwealth governments. Dr Cooper has advised that the key causes of deterioration are weed infestation, inappropriate mowing, and overgrazing by kangaroos, rabbits and stock. The prolonged drought has exacerbated the effect of these processes.

The report makes 32 recommendations across a range of areas covering ACT and commonwealth legislation, agreements between the commonwealth and ACT government agencies, operational plans, rural and agistment lease processes, clarifying land use and resolving heritage status. Dr Cooper also advised that management arrangements need to be reviewed and updated. The report recommends that management needs to be adaptive to ecological changes and requirements, while a strong culture of compliance, monitoring and enforcement also needs to be fostered.

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