Coorong Environmental Trust Bill

Wednesday October 27, 2021

Second Reading


Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (11:31): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to introduce the Coorong Environmental Trust Bill 2019, which establishes the Coorong Environmental Trust. This important piece of legislation aims to find a solution to common problems in the Coorong and Lower Lakes. It will drive the restoration of flows and ecological stability as well as encourage sustainability.

The Coorong Environmental Trust Bill 2019 was introduced by the Hon. Tammy Franks MLC on 3 April 2019. It was announced jointly by the Greens, the Minister for Environment and Water, the shadow minister and SA-Best at the Goolwa wharf on 30 March 2019. All parties present indicated their support for the model and for the trust.

This bill has gone through a select committee process. The final report of the committee found that the bill 'is an appropriate measure and recommends that it be passed'. The bill passed the Legislative Council with unanimous support and only one amendment to increase the number of directors required for a quorum.

The bill advocates for an independent board consisting of members who represent organisations with a professional, financial, physical or legal commitment to the ecological wellbeing of the Coorong. The trust will be independent from state government to encourage and empower the local and scientific communities to manage the Lower Lakes and Coorong the best way they know. State government will still be provided with reports and information from the trust to inform ongoing decision-making. The role of the trust will include:

creating and maintaining a repository for all environmental data and research outcomes;

preparing an annual State of our Estuary report;

preparing, adopting and maintaining a set of rules relating to the membership, management and operation of the trust;

providing independent, impartial scientific advice on the state of the Coorong to stakeholders;

providing guidance for future environmental research;

monitoring and documenting environmental flow outcomes;

coordinating and implementing a comprehensive water quality monitoring program;

independently assessing proposed solutions to ecological challenges;

establishing a fundraising committee and a wetland science committee to enable the trust to carry out its functions with financial independence; and

performing and carrying out functions assigned by regulators.

The Coorong Environmental Trust Bill is based on the Renmark Irrigation Trust. Using a trust model such as this to look after a river, wetland or estuary, is not unprecedented and has proven effective in the past; Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, the Derwent Estuary Program, the Environmental Water Trust, Estuary Care Foundation SA and the Avon-Heathcote Estuary Ihutai Trust are just a few examples. All these trust collectives have enabled greater outcomes for their estuary for equal or less overall resource input from each of these stakeholders.

The Coorong is a national treasure located at the end of the River Murray and stretching 200 kilometres from Encounter Bay to Lacepede Bay. Establishing this trust will put science back at the heart of decision-making and ensure quality, long-term monitoring, data collection and research. The proposed membership of the trust ensures all community voices are heard and will provide reliable and unbiased information to all stakeholders. More importantly, the trust will be able to attract private funding for the preservation and restoration of the wetlands.

I would also like to acknowledge the minister's department, which has worked alongside me over the last couple of weeks to come to a good landing point with this Coorong Environmental Trust Bill. I flag there will be two amendments, which have been agreed to. I look forward to the speedy passage of this bill through the parliament.

Dr CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:36): I rise to indicate that this side of parliament supports the bill and has done for a long time. Indeed, it is a bill with the year 2019 on its front cover. I remember going down to Goolwa in about March 2019. The minister was there, I was there and a number of people who care deeply about the fate of the Coorong were also there. I certainly indicated our support at that time, and I thought I also heard the minister supporting it at the time, although that appears not to be necessarily as certain now.

The bill has gone through quite a rigorous process, having gone through a parliamentary committee and having been through the other house, where there were no dissenting voices. We can see this is a bill that has taken a long time to get here, that has had careful consideration, and is therefore worthy of our support. I commend the member for Mount Gambier for his decision to take it up.

The bill tries to address the very complex environmental issues that exist within the Coorong—not only the complexity of the way the water does and does not work and how the environment is being affected by that but also the numerous interests that care deeply about the Coorong and want to see both the science properly invested in and remedial or supportive works undertaken to help protect the environment. The trust attempts to create a mechanism within legislation to have a vehicle for that level of concern, and a willingness to invest to be captured and directed appropriately.

I will not speak any further, as I am aware that we are moving into time that would otherwise be considering private members' motions. I think this bill has had an enormous amount of consideration in the other place and in a committee and therefore simply indicate that we will be voting in favour of the bill.


The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Minister for Environment and Water) (11:39): I rise to make a contribution on the bill before us today, the Coorong Environmental Trust Bill, introduced in the upper house by the Hon. Tammy Franks and passed in that chamber recently.

I believe that this legislation is poor legislation. I believe it is not legislation which is either required or necessary. There is a huge amount of work happening around the Coorong, historic amounts of work, in terms of scientific research, investigation, and potentially infrastructure solutions and conservation solutions to the challenges that the Coorong inevitably faces as a result of flows being reduced very significantly over generations of irrigation and extraction from the Murray-Darling Basin reducing the natural capacity of that incredibly important, Ramsar-listed wetland to sustain natural life.

We know that during the Millennium Drought the Coorong and the Lower Lakes were under very significant environmental stress. One of the reasons that I have fought so hard to take the politics out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and keep all states at the table is that that plan is working. That plan is delivering for the Coorong, it is delivering for the Lower Lakes, it is delivering for the rivers environment, it is delivering for the economic interests that found their way around the river and are sustained by the water from the river. It also, of course, is delivering for the people of Adelaide who rely on the health of the Murray-Darling Basin for critical human needs as well.

I was delighted in the months after becoming minister to be able to secure a $70 million contribution towards an initiative that we have titled Project Coorong, which is advised by a body of people who come together on a regular basis to work out how we are going to sustain the Coorong into the future. That body of people that advises or drives and sets the vision for Project Coorong is called the Coorong Partnership. It is chaired by the Hon. Dean Brown, former Premier of South Australia, and has people from the fishing community, the conservation community—the traditional owners are represented in that body—people who are undertaking tourism initiatives in and around the region and representatives from the local councils in that district as well.

The Coorong Partnership has been an incredibly valuable group of people. They have been able to work through the various scientific proposals and then put those forward to the federal government to get approval for funding from that $70 million that I was able to secure through the ministerial council project. They have been able to shortlist potential major infrastructure projects which could be used to manufacture better environmental outcomes for the Coorong.

They have been able to work up projects around refuge wetlands which would give birdlife, particularly those shorebirds and waders that use the Coorong as part of that incredibly important international flyway. They go down to the Coorong, also the International Bird Sanctuary and other parts of South Australia, they feed up and they become healthy before they head off on their migration up to the Northern Hemisphere, particularly areas around Russia, before making that incredible journey back. It is one of the great wonders of the natural world.

We are getting those refuge wetlands in place in places like Tolderol, areas like Waltowa, and looking at work around potentially Lake Hawdon, potentially Lake George further to the south—an area I visited with the member for MacKillop fairly recently in which we have been able to put some further money from the Limestone Coast Landscape Board into investigating ways to strengthen the natural resilience of that important wetland and recreational asset as well.

So there is a huge amount of work happening in the Coorong—historic levels. It had its struggles during the drought. Its relative health is that it is doing alright at the moment, but we want to strengthen its resilience. We want it to benefit from the environmental water that is delivered through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. While progress with that plan is all too slow, day by day it is moving towards its goals and it is delivering water for the environment, for the Coorong and for the Lower Lakes.

The existence of the Coorong Partnership fulfils many of the goals I believe the Coorong Environmental Trust Bill is seeking to do, so it is my view, a view that I have reached as a consequence of discussions with the Coorong Partnership and its members, as a consequence of discussions with people in the local community and as a consequence of discussions with officials in my department, that this is superfluous legislation. That is just the long and the short of it.

Ideologically, I believe we should not be creating superfluous legislation that puts more levels of bureaucracy in the way of outcomes on the ground. I know there are schools of thought and ideological movements that seek to put more bureaucracy in the way of action on the ground. I want less. With the Coorong Partnership, chaired by Dean Brown, and with such a dynamic group of people around the table, driving forward outcomes for the Coorong, helping us spend that $70 million on science, research and practical activities on the ground, I believe that we have got our house in order with regard to this. That is the position I have reached.

Notwithstanding that, I know there are a couple of amendments that are being discussed, which will hopefully create a more workable model should this Coorong Environmental Trust Bill pass this house. I hope that if they do pass they will be considered favourably in the Legislative Council, if and when this bill returns to that place.

The Coorong means an incredible amount to many people in this state. It is a vitally important wetland. That is why it has Ramsar listing. It means a lot to the local members who represent it: the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, the member for Hammond, the member for MacKillop. I hope they will be able to make a contribution on this, given the importance of this place and the corresponding importance, potentially, of this bill, if it gets up, hopefully in an amended version. I mention the member for Chaffey as well, with his particular interests in the river and the health of the Coorong.

The debate on this bill should not be truncated. It should not be rushed. There needs to be an opportunity for members who have that stake in that landscape to make a contribution, to consider these amendments and, if it is the will of this house to pass this bill, to pass it in a way that makes it slightly more workable that will not get in the way of the vital scientific work, which is already underway, and that will not become a bureaucratic blockage to the practical action on the ground.

That is my real worry: that this bill in its current form will threaten the great work that has been advanced by the Coorong Partnership, an independent advisory body, and that it will threaten the practical outcomes for our natural world that are being advanced as we speak in that Ramsar-listed wetland. So I would urge members here to consider the amendments that are being worked up between myself and the member for Mount Gambier to get this bill in a place where it can actually improve and enhance the health of the Coorong, rather than become a barrier to its health.


Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (11:48): I rise to speak to this Coorong Environmental Trust Bill and concur with the words of the minister in regard to this: we do not want superfluous legislation. I commend Minister Speirs and his department for the work they have been doing, working in partnership with the Coorong Partnership group, with former Premier Dean Brown as chair, and looking at the different options in regard to making sure that, especially with the southern lagoon of the Coorong, that highly salinated section of the Coorong can be freshened up.

I know from talking to locals and what has happened over time that sediments from as far away as Queensland have flowed down through the river system and slowly added sediments to the lakes, to the Coorong area, especially to the narrow points like Parnka Point, where the northern lagoon and the southern lagoon connect, and this has really restricted the flow into the southern lagoon.

I know that certainly the Coorong Partnership group are doing a lot of investigatory work on how to freshen up the southern lagoon because it is necessary to look at these things. I know they are looking at dredging. They were looking at redirecting more of the South-East flows towards the Coorong. Several years ago, there was also the interconnector that was budgeted at about $20 million, I believe, from Lake Albert to the northern lagoon to allow a freshwater flow to run from Lake Albert into that northern lagoon.

I am not a scientist, but in my mind that would be something that should be moved forward. In fact, I think it should be done, as long as the environmental impact studies stack up under the rules of a Ramsar site and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) of the federal government. I think that would be beneficial in a range of ways, including keeping Lake Albert fresh.

The issue we saw during the Millennium Drought was that the lakes dried up and there was a catastrophe in the lower end of the river. We saw the river drop two metres and Goolwa become a dust bowl. It was very, very tragic. While I am talking about the Millennium Drought, one thing I will give the Greens—and I do not agree with the Greens very often at all—is that they are consistent, and you cannot give the same credit to the Labor Party. The Labor Party seem to have an epiphany that all of a sudden they are interested in the health of the River Murray and the Coorong.

Members interjecting:

Mr PEDERICK: No. I was here as the local member for the lower reaches of the river below Blanchetown during the Millennium Drought. In fact, I was the shadow parliamentary secretary and then the shadow minister for the River Murray, working alongside my good friend the former member for MacKillop, the shadow minister for water at the time, and the party in advocating for a freshwater recovery for the lakes and Coorong. We worked hard and we managed to push that along and thankfully that is where we got to in the end.

However, this was after the environmental vandalism of the Labor Party of this state in seeking to build a weir at Wellington, which would have just destroyed the lower end of the river. About half my electorate below Wellington would have been destroyed and turned into a salty marshland and not be the freshwater situation that has been there for well and truly a millennium, since the lakes and Coorong have been in existence.

It goes beyond belief that the Labor Party have had an epiphany and all of a sudden think, 'Yes, this is a great thing. We will look after the Coorong.' Where were they 15 years ago? Where were they 14 years ago? Where were they 13 years ago? Where were they 12 years ago? They were in here and everywhere advocating for the demise of the Coorong and the Lower Lakes.

Ms Bedford interjecting:

Mr PEDERICK: Absolutely. It was a totally destructive situation, where they would have built a $200 million weir at Wellington, which would have sunk a metre a year by the way, and it would have cleaned out all the rocks in the Upper South-East and probably the Lower South-East over time. It got that tetchy, if that is the word, with negotiations with the owners of the properties on either side of where the river flows into Lake Alexandrina just south of Wellington between Wellington Lodge and Nalpa Station that the minister at the time, the former member for Chaffey, Karlene Maywald, almost went to compulsory acquisition.

I attended the Public Works Committee when the roadworks were authorised to be made—which were made and the approach works for those roads were all built so that that Wellington weir could be built.

Mr Whetstone: Through Wellington Lodge.

Mr PEDERICK: Yes, through Wellington Lodge and through Nalpa Station, much to the disgust of those owners. Not only that, we saw several bunds put in down at the bottom end, at Currency Creek at Clayton, and thousands and thousands of tonnes of dirt put into the system.

So we have the Labor opposition, who when they were in government just wanted to destroy the bottom of the river. As I said, at least the Greens are consistent, I will give them that. I had this conversation with the former MLC the Hon. Mark Parnell, that if construction had started on the Wellington weir we probably would have been chained to the same bulldozer, and that would have been something to see, I can tell you.

We have been consistent on this side, and the local members have been consistent, in advocating for the health of the River Murray. Whether it is the member for Chaffey, me, the member for MacKillop, the member for Finniss, everyone wants to see the right outcome, but we do not need duplication. We need to make sure that we can maximise the Murray-Darling Basin Plan where thousands of gigalitres of water are being delivered back to the system.

From my tours of the southern Murray-Darling Basin and the northern Murray-Darling Basin, I certainly believe that so much work can be done in modernising and efficiencies. In fact, I am confident that the uplift of the 450 gigalitres could be found in modernising irrigation systems across the basin. We have been champions at modernising irrigation in this state since the 1960s, and we have been consistent in doing more work in modernising irrigation efficiences—not just by managing the small number of channels we have but by putting in line channels—and in the way in which irrigation is delivered to vines and trees, all for the sake of maximising water use efficiency.

I fully applaud the actions being taken by the department, the minister and the Coorong Partnership. Their work should go on unimpeded in making sure that we get the right outcome for not just the Coorong but the Lower Lakes. I certainly believe that the interconnector between Lake Albert and the northern lagoon should be built pending scientific investigation because it would save some of the flushing action, where people try to dilute the salt in Lake Albert with hundreds of gigalitres of water, trying to get it in and out of the neck at Narrung. So let's make sure we get the right outcome.


Mr McBRIDE (MacKillop) (11:59): Can I first thank the member for Mount Gambier for getting us here today and supporting my seat of MacKillop, and certainly a national treasure in the Coorong National Park and the lakes, in what I hope will be a very good outcome from hereon in that works not only as an independent voice—that is, the Coorong trust—but also with government and the departments for better outcomes than where we have landed today.

It is clearly highlighted by my local constituents that the Coorong has had nearly $400 million spent on it since about 2005 and very little has changed. The outcomes have not changed and the problems certainly have not gone away. Yes, we are addressing them and, yes, there have been some changes, but I believe there should be a whole lot more for the $400 million.

The gist of what I understand about this Coorong trust and its opportunities is that it is a private trust. It is a trust that will collect community sentiment right across Australia, perhaps even the world, if willing, which they will be able to support—in a financial means, maybe even a scientific means, maybe in physical means—the outcomes of what the Coorong represents today, perhaps what the Coorong should represent in the next 50 to 100 years.

No doubt, without stepping away from the concerns we have as a state, being on the bottom end of Australia's largest river, what we receive are the leftovers. I can see by the science, the way the last 20 years have panned out and the fact that, in terms of the 450 gigalitres talked about—perhaps promised in some shape or fashion but not yet delivered—we are dealing with the leftovers and a smaller amount of water rather than a greater quantity of water. I think the Coorong trust will play a very valuable part in finding solutions to what will be a diminishing supply of water, perhaps even just by the mere fact that we are going through climate change, as it is suggested, and drier periods, greater evaporation and a greater use and will for the water.

We also hear on the grapevine that Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have very little regard for our river mouth and our lakes. They consider it perhaps even a wastage for the amount of freshwater that goes down through and beyond Tailem Bend into the lakes to keep the mouth open and those lakes fresh, that that water could be better utilised everywhere else. One of the things that I think gets lost in that transcript and verbal description is the fact that the Murray does require environmental flows not only so that it has an environmental aspect to it but also because it needs to be flushed of the hundreds of tonnes of salt that finds its way into the river system and needs to find an outlet somewhere. Natural reflows create a solution to that problem.

We know there are some very important communities, and tourism developments are proposed for the Coorong. There are five major structures and ideas that have been bandied around, not all of which will come to fruition, but I just want to list a couple of them. We already know that one has been put in place. It is working very well at this stage and has had its greatest flows through the outlet at Salt Creek on the southern REFLOWS drain, putting freshwater into the southern lagoon.

We also know that there is talk about a Lake Albert interconnector into the northern lagoon, taking freshwater out of Lake Albert, which assists in the lake in its freshness and, not only that, but also puts as much freshwater into the most southern part of the Coorong, as we can into the northern lagoon, trying to get more freshwater into those northern lagoons to reduce salinity.

There is also talk about making the barrages electronic, trying to maximise tides and wind direction, trying to take as much freshwater as possible into the Coorong. There are a couple of others, including widening the narrows between the southern and northern lagoons and also perhaps a consideration of opening into the sea, where they are bringing in sea water or taking the Coorong water out. Either way, there are many investigations going on.

One of the things that was highlighted by the supporters of this trust bill is that there is a lot of talk, there is a lot of science, but very little action. If we have a private Coorong bill like this, with private players and major investment, through philanthropy, into the Coorong trust bill, working together with government, working together with the department and environmentalists, it would almost be like a three-tiered pronged approach, and maybe we will see some better outcomes than what we have today. That is why I am very supportive of this bill.

I share the concerns of the minister. This is new territory. This perhaps shines a light on not being able to move things in a way that the department might fight comfortable. I appreciate that, but if outcomes are what this government, the community of South Australia and the stakeholders in the Coorong area want, who want to belong to this Coorong trust, then I think this is a good reason to move forward.

A very big thankyou to Gary Hera Singh, a professional fisher-cum-baker at Meningie. He is a very big supporter of the Coorong trust. Thank you to Glen and Tracey Hill, also fishers on the Coorong and the lakes and supporters of the Coorong trust. The River Lakes and Coorong Action Group are behind this proposal and want to support this Coorong trust. A big thankyou to two people I have dealt with very closely: Faith Coleman and Mark-Ken Sawers. They have been strong advocates for this. They have pushed very hard. They are looking for some good outcomes. They want to see the Coorong flourish. I am hoping that with this Coorong trust bill, working together with the government and the department, we can see some great outcomes. I support the motion.


Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (12:04): I, too, would like to rise and make a contribution to the Coorong Environmental Trust Bill. I stand here today somewhat frustrated that we again see another advocacy group wanting to be formed to deal with what has been the elephant in the room within the Murray-Darling Basin for a very long time.

My involvement has been with the agri-politics, the water politics with the River Murray and particularly with the issue we are talking about today within what is commonly known as the delta of the Murray-Darling Basin. The delta is the shallow, large water expanses we encounter here in South Australia as basically the recipient of flows that come into our state and how we maximise those flows, how we continue to support a healthy environment, but also how we, again, support economy that comes away from a healthy, working river.

We all know that a healthy, working river is the best outcome we can have as a community, as a state and as the beneficiaries of what is one of the great water bodies in the world. It is a culmination of storages and unregulated streams that come into what we see here in South Australia, which is the River Murray, and the flows that are brought together by a number of tributaries. As we well know here in South Australia, we rely on flows out of the Darling and we rely on flows into the River Murray, which is the main channel that comes into our state.

Along the way, we have seen a significant amount of political interference with the running of the Murray-Darling Basin, which once was the Murray-Darling Basin commission. That body was set up to manage and also help regulate the Murray-Darling system and was then changed over to an authority. We have had many experts along the way who have made contributions to the way that those two governing bodies have been administered and run.

I want to touch on the frustration I have that we again are now seeing another body wanting to be set up. It really does come down to duplication with what we currently already have with the Friends of the Coorong. There is a group chaired by the Hon. Dean Brown AO, who is doing an outstanding job. Only Tuesday morning, I had a briefing, as did other members of the government, to better understand what is currently on the table, the way that the Coorong and the Lower Lakes will work more efficiently.

For the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be developed and brought to fruition, many of us would understand that 3,200 gigalitres is the number that has been put on the table and it is a target. It is an achievement that what we need is better flows, we need overbank flows, but we also need those environmental purges of water to come down our river when we are not seeing natural flows and natural flood events so that we can purge salinity out into the ocean and we can purge some of that silting we see. Also, we need those flows to push some of the unwanted pests, weeds and the constraints we currently encounter.

Along the way, the Lower Lakes have been declared a Ramsar site, and through the Millennium Drought we used the Ramsar connotation with the need for more flows, more water. Sadly, when we have a drought and there are not those bodies of water, we need practical action and under a previous government we continued to see what was political interference with what I call progressive action in better managing the river system to the detriment of a large part of community along the way. Not only was it irrigators who had to give up their water and the environment that also had to give up its water but there was also a level of political interference that saw not much happen.

The previous state Labor government continued to use their levers to gain points to the detriment of irrigation communities and to the detriment of the environment. Anything below Lock 1 is basically connected to the Lower Lakes and connected to the Coorong, as well as a small amount of input from the reflows program out of the South-East, and what we saw were some tree planting programs that amounted to nothing. We saw some bunds put in place to try to hold water back in that final reach of the River Murray, which is below Lock 1, down to Narrung to the barrages and then ultimately to the mouth.

Yes, we saw dredging at the mouth to try to give some relief through a reduction in salinity, but, sadly, when we saw river and lake levels go below a point of sustainability, we saw those acid sulphate soils emerge. We saw toxic blooms that not only had an impact on the environment and wildlife but had a toxic effect on those river communities.

I must say that the level of concern was felt by many, but it became state versus state. South Australia sent an SOS to its neighbouring states that we needed to work together. We needed to come together and put solutions on the table. Sadly, there were a few unsubstantiated opinions about the solution—whether it was a saltwater solution or whether it was a freshwater solution. Those arguments are still being had today.

If we look back to yesteryear, before we saw the management of the river system with locks and weirs, regulators in our wetlands, it was a free-flowing unregulated system. If you look in the history books, you will see dry spots in the river, people walking across the river and riverboats high and dry—that is what an unregulated river system is.

Today, in that highly managed environment what we are seeing is a level of greed. To its credit, South Australia, then under Premier Steele Hall, decided to strike an agreement with the other states in capping South Australia's take. Back in 1969, we capped it at 1,850 gigalitres and that drove efficiencies here in South Australia. That drove our water users, our environment and our irrigation communities to be better at what we did, to drive efficiencies to do more with the same amount of water, while those upstream continued to take.

Nowadays, we see state governments looking after their own political interests and looking after their own constituency to the detriment of the environment. What this trust will potentially do is again clog up what I would call the progression needed to better manage our river system here in South Australia. We know we have previously looked to irrigators and their communities to find on-farm efficiency programs to put more water back into the environment. The target of 3,200 is almost met, bar the 450 in the southern connected system, but it took 100 years to get us into the situation we are in.

It is not going to be fixed overnight. It will not be fixed in one year. Potentially, it will not be fixed in 10 years. The basin plan has been running for almost 10 years and we continue to see progress, but while we have a continuation of political interference wanting to set up more trusts, more meetings and more committees, we are not getting progress, so I urge everyone in this chamber to look at practical solutions.

We know that there is a five-point plan on the table. We know that there are off-farm efficiency measures that are looking to be put in place. We know there are proposals there to be supported with commonwealth government funding, and I urge everyone in this place to look at a solution-based approach—not more bureaucracy, not more red tape, not more stalling, because South Australia is at the bottom end of the river and we need action and we do not need more political interference.


The Hon. D.K.B. BASHAM (Finniss—Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development) (12:14): I also rise to make a brief contribution. The Coorong is such an important asset of South Australia. We have seen, particularly during those drought years, the stress it was put under, and I certainly very much have strong memories of that time. The member for Chaffey talked about the bunds being put in place: the bund at the Narrows at Narrung, the bund at Clayton Bay, another one on the Finniss River and another one on Currency Creek. Those earthen mounds that were put in place to stop the water flows going between those natural creeks and the lower River Murray itself certainly were damaging at the time.

We saw particularly the damage the one at the Narrows did long term in allowing those natural water flows to be re-established after the bund was removed, which was also problematic. The water flows rely on the south-easterly winds to push those waters back out to keep down the salinity levels. To put a bund in that environment was a real challenge for the natural systems in getting back to being able to operate in an appropriate way.

I certainly remember, as a passionate person in that region during those very low water environments, going down and, outside the Gawler Aquatic Club, out to the jetty and standing underneath it, which meant there was about two metres of water missing from that point immediately out the front of the Goolwa Aquatic Club. Cricket games were held out on sandbars that were exposed. The pressure that was put on the system was enormous. Likewise, the Coorong itself effectively was cut off from Goolwa by boat. You could not get out there to go in and see the Coorong itself.

In my electorate, there are some great business operators: the Veenstras have been passionate River Murray boat builders and tourism operators for many years. Three generations have been operating in Goolwa, and they have done a fantastic job. The Spirit of the Coorong is the boat they currently take down into the Coorong region to enjoy that environment. I have done that tour several times. It is an amazing opportunity to go down and enjoy that local environment, to see what is down there, to see the natural birdlife, to walk across the sand dunes to the sea, to go cockling and then take the cockles back to the boat, where they cook them for you. To enjoy the cockles you have caught yourself just moments earlier is a great part of that experience in the area.

I have had connections there for many years. I certainly remember going down there in my really early youth, probably when I was about eight or 10, with friends in boats to enjoy that lovely natural life, to have a look at the birdlife. The birdlife that exists there is incredible. Anyone who really wants to see the Coorong at its best needs to look at either of the Storm Boy movies—the one made in the 1970s or the one made much more recently. Their portrayal of that area highlights how important and sensitive that region is.

I have a great desire to see this area prosper, but I am not sure that this trust, as another level of bureaucracy being put in place, is the right way to go. We need to make sure we do not oversystemise the whole management of this system, and we allow action to be taken with due consideration and make sure that we do not make the mistakes of putting in bunds as a quick-fix option. We need to think long term in this space, and we need to make sure we get this right.

It is pleasing that we are seeing the federal government commit the funds to address some of the problems here in the Coorong going forward, but we need to get the solutions right. We need to work out what can be done between the north and south lagoons to make sure that we get the flows right so we do not get the hypersaline salt in the regions.

This is something all South Australians I believe are passionate about. They need to understand there is lots of interest there. Governments certainly are very keen to make this right, whether it be state governments, local governments or the federal government. I think it is a very important thing that we consider going forward and that we make sure we address this in the appropriate way. I have seen the birdlife at the Coorong, the number of pelicans that can be seen down there at times. It is an amazing part of the world. There are birds that you will see down there that you just will not see anywhere else because of the isolation and the natural environment.

We also see the challenges that have been going on for many years. I certainly remember as a child the challenges of the mouth closing off and having to be dredged. I remember the photo of it being effectively reopened by a front-end loader literally just digging a channel through to try to get the water to flow back out to sea. Luckily, they were able to re-establish that. They were concerned that it could have breached other points rather than that natural point of where it had been for many years.

The Coorong is very much a living system. It is something we need to continue to work with, and I very much respect both the state and federal governments in what they are doing to address this. I will continue to support the focus that needs to be there and make sure that we are able to enjoy that environment through trips like the Spirit of the Coorong. It is a great tourist asset, it is a great natural asset and I very much want to see the Coorong survive.


Mr TEAGUE (Heysen) (12:22): I will be brief and look forward to participating in the course of the committee debate. The observations that I will make are in the nature of the importance in this space if we are to go down this path of maintaining a very close and productive connection between what private initiatives might otherwise be applied and the important role of government in this space, both state and federal.

The bill that we have before us reads very much like the constitution of a private organisation, and that is all very well. I just observe that it is unusual for the parliament in this modern day and age to be going down the path of establishing by legislation what might otherwise be very productively established as a private initiative.

I focus on clause 20 and the functions and powers of the trust; that will be the matter of some debate in the committee. I am also concerned to highlight without debating them the importance of amendments that would bring home the connection between the important role of the minister and, in turn, the Department for Environment and Water in this space, so that we do not end up going down a path where a body such as this might find itself in competition with the state for funds, including from the commonwealth, to achieve ends that they ought be pursuing jointly. I share, in that sense, the sentiments of the member for MacKillop about promoting private contribution. It ought not be done by way of competition with governments in this space.

I otherwise take the opportunity, as the member for Chaffey has observed, to recognise the tremendous work that has been done by the Coorong Partnership, led by the Hon. Dean Brown AO among many others, and indicate that like all South Australians, the Coorong is at our hearts, and that is from Storm Boy to Professor Paton to those day-to-day experiences that we all have. We all have the Coorong's best interests at heart. Legislating in this space should be directly toward achieving improvement, and so I look forward to contributing to the committee debate.


Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:25): I thank all members who have made a contribution to this bill, as well as the Hon. Tammy Franks in the other house for drafting it and getting it past the Legislative Council. I look forward to its speedy passage through a committee stage and hopefully we will get it done very shortly.

Bill read a second time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I would like to inform members of the house that this bill establishes the Coorong Environmental Trust and provides for the administration of the trust. It has been received from the Legislative Council and restored in this house. The bill passed the council after it had been referred to a select committee for inquiry and report.

While the bill shows elements of being hybrid in nature, in that its object is to establish and promote the interests of the body corporate, the Legislative Council did not consider the bill as a hybrid bill but instead referred it to a committee out of an abundance of caution. While the bill does create a benefit to a local body, it is marginal as to whether it can be deemed hybrid. I rule the bill as not being hybrid and therefore there is no requirement for the bill to be referred to a select committee pursuant to the standing orders.

I note the Legislative Council has already sent this bill to a committee; however, the house can determine for itself if it wishes to refer the bill to a select committee. I will leave that to the house and, with no-one seeking the call, I expect that the house now is looking to go into committee.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The CHAIR: Thank you for your patience, members. The house is in committee on the Coorong Environmental Trust Bill 2019. The bill has been moved by the member for Mount Gambier. Are there any questions or contributions relating to clause 1?

Clause passed.

Clause 2.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: I move:

Page 3, line 2, after the word ‘operation’ insert the word ‘within’.

This amendment focuses on the commencement to create a situation where the words under the heading 'Commencement' read, 'This Act will come into operation within 3 months after the day on which it is assented to by the Governor.'

The CHAIR: You are moving to insert the word 'within'. Does anyone wish to ask questions of the minister in relation to this amendment?

Amendment carried; clause as amended carried.

Clause 3 passed.

Clause 4.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: I move:

Page 3—

line 32, after the word ‘established’ insert the words—

to raise and administer philanthropic funds to support the ecological wellbeing of the Coorong.

after line 36, insert the words—

The Minister will approve an initial set of rules relating to the membership, management and operations of the Trust.

Thereafter, the Trust will maintain the rules of the Trust.

The Trust must publish any variations it makes to the rules of the Trust in its Annual Report.

The Crown does not incur any liability for the Trusts/all costs associated with the Trust are to be met by the Trust.

The CHAIR: We are just getting detail of those amendments. My understanding, minister, is that you have moved amendments Nos 2 and 3 standing in your name to clause 4?

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: Yes, clause 4, amendment No. 2. That is what I have moved.

The CHAIR: We have two amendments relating to this clause.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: I went through them all.

The CHAIR: You have moved amendment No. 2. Are there any questions of the minister on his amendments?

Amendments carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 5 to 9 passed.

Clause 10.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: I move:

Part 3, clause 10, page 6, lines 6 and 7—Delete subclause (1) and insert in lieu thereof:

10—Board of management

(1) The Minister will appoint an initial board of management of the Trust to carry out the day to day operations of the Trust and manage its general affairs. Thereafter, 2 voting members will be appointed by the Minister.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Remaining clauses (11 to 25) and title passed.

Bill reported with amendment.

Third Reading


Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:36): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.