Page 4853 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 11 November 2009

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(i) strong safeguards are in place and requirements are formalised when employing tree contractors, to ensure they follow best practice and strictly adhere to the Government’s tree policies;

(j) tree management in parks emphasises keeping communities of trees intact and retaining trees for habitat; and

(k) sufficient resources are allocated for the management of urban trees as described in this motion.

This is a perfect time for the Assembly to discuss my motion on urban trees and to commit to a thoughtful, consultative and environmentally sound way to move forward on urban tree management. This week the government announced the temporary suspension of its spring tree replacement program because the program had caused a lot of angst in the community. It is a sign of how important trees are to the community and how critical it is that the government run the programs effectively.

Recently, the government has also declared its intention to begin a new program of tree replacement, the urban forest renewal program, and this will greatly affect the number of trees it removes from Canberra’s suburbs and replaces with others. This significant program will require a significant effort from the government on implementation and consultation. We cannot afford anything but the very best management of our valuable trees.

If there is to be support from the Greens, or the community in general, for ongoing tree management programs, we need to have a good program from the government which is going to require commitment, such as I have outlined in my motion, to properly consult and involve the community; prioritise the environmental benefits of trees over economics, convenience and aesthetics; take a sensible approach to managing risk to the public, without either overreacting or cutting corners in tree management; and not misrepresent the urban tree replacement program as a climate change initiative.

Canberra is obviously a very special city when it comes to street trees. People visiting from other Australian cities—in fact other cities from all over the world—are always struck by the prominence of trees in our landscape. We deserve our title of the “bush capital”. We have become used to trees being present in all our streets. But it is an unfortunate reality that trees are not permanent. As in a natural forest, urban trees grow old, drop limbs and eventually die. If the ageing trees were out in the country or the forest, they could mature gracefully; but urban trees are in an unnatural environment and their life and their health have also been significantly shortened, in most cases by the ongoing drought, so there is a possibility of harm to property or people from trees dropping limbs.

Most of Canberra’s one million trees were planted in two main waves. A large number of these will become mature in the next 20 years. This advice has come from an ANU report on Canberra’s trees, as well as from a number of Canberra tree experts and ecologists. Proactive management of this issue will lead to a greater good for Canberrans now and in the future, but we need good management and we need commitment from government to the principles of best practice.

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