I rise to speak on the Water NSW Amendment (Warragamba Dam) Bill 2018.
The Bill amends the Water NSW Act by specifying that the right of way required under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, will no longer be required for the temporary inundation of land upstream of the Warragamba Dam wall for flood mitigation.
Instead, Ministers for Environment and Water will be required to approve an environmental management plan.
That’s what the Bill does on paper, Mr Speaker.
In effect, what it does is seek to inundate swathes of one of the world’s greatest natural treasures in order to shore up land for developers in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.
It’s a bill I cannot support.
I have been contacted by multiple members of the inner west community deeply concerned about this proposal.
Their message was clear:
Could there be anything more destructive than swamping one of the most beautiful and unique wild places in our State?
Does anything epitomise more this Government’s lack of respect for our national parks and natural environment than putting 65km of wilderness streams and rivers within a World Heritage site under water?
There can be no doubt that the environmental cost of this proposal would be immense.
Inner west residents who have raised this issue with me know it’s a cost we can ill afford:
This proposal will allow for the drowning of up to 1,000 hectares of World Heritage lands, as well as 3,700 hectares of land in the Warragamba Special Area in the most extreme of flood events.
It will submerge up to 50 indigenous cultural sites of the Gundagurra people, including the only intact painting of a waratah connected to the Dreaming burial sites, meeting places and the Jooriland homestead.
To quote traditional owner Ms Clarke,
“We are talking about losing some of the places that are my only connection to my ancestors. If this Amendment to the Act goes ahead, it will be like they were never there.”
It will inundate the Burragorang valley floor, home to old-growth eucalypt forest, and the largest population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos that call the valley home.
The river flats that are home to Sydney’s last dingo populations will be underwater.
At risk, too, is the lower Nattai Valley, home to one of Sydney’s fast dwindling koala colonies. Flood waters will threaten the habitats of the Regent Honeyeater, Brown Treecreeper, Speckled Warbler, Hooded Robin, and the last will emu population in Sydney.
Pristine waterways like the Kowmung River will be sullied by rising flood waters.
The Government will say it is only allowing for temporary inundation, but I note the concerns of Roger Lembit of the National Parks Association of NSW, who said:
“The period of inundation would would extend for periods long enough to impact on plant species and other organisms existing within the temporary inundation area. It is also likely that inundation would facilitate weed invasion.”
Residents have raised with me concerns that this proposal will jeopardise the UNESCO World Heritage listing of the Blue Mountains National Park.
Given how hard the Blue Mountains community and former Environment Minister Bob Debus fought for the listing back in 2000, it is a national disgrace that the current Minister for the Environment would stand by and allow it to be jeopardised in this way.
The Minister in his second reading speech gave the rationale of this bill as the need to protect communities in the Nepean-Hawkesbury region from flooding.
That is an important goal and one that I think all members of this House share.
The Minister for Water noted in his second reading speech that the urgency for the bill was due to climate change, and indeed it is refreshing to see someone from that side of the house acknowledge the realities of climate change.
As many of us have argued for some time, the science is clear: climate change is real and will undoubtedly cause the increased weather events like flooding and drought that the Minister outlined in the other place.
But just as we must be guided by the science on climate change, so too must we be guided by research and best practice when it comes to mitigating its worst impacts.
I met earlier this month with representatives from the Colong Foundation for Wilderness who have been ringing the alarm bell about this proposal and head up the Give a Dam campaign.
They note that structural flood mitigation measures such as this proposal are no longer considered to be best practice, and raise concerns that alternative options have not been subject to proper consideration and scrutiny.
They point to research by Associate Professor Jamie Pittock from the Australian National University, who has argued that raising the Dam wall won’t make western Sydney residents any safer.
This is a view backed up by over 20 experts, scientists and environmental leaders, who have written a joint letter to condemn the proposal, stating:
“Leading flood and water quality experts believe that mitigating flood risks in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley can be achieved through several equally cost-effective alternatives. These include managing the existing storage of Warragamba Dam to mitigate floods, significant improvements in downstream evacuation routes, increased ability for flood forecasting, and the adoption of international best practice floodplain development controls in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.”
They strongly emphasize that:
“Such options would not cause environmental degradation within the World Heritage Area upstream of Warragamba Dam wall.”
Experts point to options such as improving evacuation routes and lowering the dam's storage level for airspace to temporarily store floodwaters, as advocated by the UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures.
Associate Professor Pittock has also recommended flood plain development controls, and investigating flood levees and diversion structures.
He notes that:
"Best practice in China, Europe and the United States involves restoring floodplains to safely catch and release peak floods."
In fact, Assoc. Professor Pittock has suggested that the Government’s proposal may actually pose greater risk to western Sydney communities by prolonging floods, as captured water from the dam is slowly released in periods of flood peak.
Scientists, hydrologists and engineers are clear that there are alternative options. What is also clear is that the experts and the community have little confidence that the Government has done due diligence and investigated them fully.
That is a view shared by the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on State Development, which has recommended Infrastructure NSW release to the committee members the source documents underpinning the “resilient Valley, Resilient Communities” strategy, and the cost benefit analysis of any alternative measures the Government has examined.
Dr Margaret Moussa, Lecturer in Economics, School of Business, Western Sydney University offered the following criticism of Infrastructure NSW’s assessment of the alternatives to the Inquiry:
“The inconsistency between the methods used to analyse the various infrastructure options suggests a pre-analysis boas towards raising the crest of the dam wall.
She concluded that:
“The analysis lacks credibility since it fails to consider policy options for this region recommended by leading experts in engineering, economics and environmental science.”
It is clear that the Government has not only failed to do its homework and fully investigate alternative options, it has wilfully pushed ahead with this plan.
The proposal to raising the dam wall has been considered over many years by numerous governments but rejected each time. Now it’s suddenly on the table again and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.
Organisations like the Colong Foundation point to the fact that the Government plans to house an additional 130,000 people on the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain, according to the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley Flood Risk Management Strategy.
They also point to the infamous video of the Minister for Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, gazing out across the Penrith Lakes, boasting that:
“As far as you can see to that tree line, all the way round, that’s the urban developable land.”
Yet again, we see this Government boot-licking their developer mates, no matter the cost to our community.
Rather than invest in evacuation routes and do the work to improve safety in existing communities, the Government would rather pump flood-prone land with thousands more apartments.
It’s a story we’re seeing all across Sydney – development at any cost.
Well, Mr Speaker,
The community has had enough.
The community is sick of NSW being treated like a developer’s paradise.
The residents of NSW are fed up with our public services, assets and spaces having a price tag.
It seems that everywhere we turn, our precious public spaces are being sold off to the highest bidder; our environment trashed for the benefit of developers and the big end of town.
Our suburbs are being pumped with development, with none of the community infrastructure we need to support it.
Heritage means nothing to this Government:
Look at the destruction of the colonial era box drains this weekend in Thompson Square;
Look at the neglect of the Parramatta Female Factory in Urban Growth’s proposals for apartments in the historic precinct;At the devastation in heritage suburbs like Haberfield for the WestConnex project;
Look at the wilful destruction of heritage trees along Anzac Parade for the CBD Eastern suburbs light-rail and the carving up of Moore Park for the Government’s wasteful stadiums scheme;
And look, Mr Speaker, at the way our Opera House was this week treated like the personal plaything of Alan Jones.
Our environment means little to this Government, too:
The Office of Heritage has been gutted;
The Government has overseen massive restructures and cuts to the National Parks and Wildlife Service;
The Government seems willing to allow koalas and native species to continue their march towards extinction, with fig leaf strategies that fail to protect genuine koala habitat and which do nothing to offset the massive losses predicted as a result of their land-clearing laws.
And now, Speaker, they seem intent on flooding swathes of our world renowned Blue Mountains National Park and surrounding wilderness, without having fairly evaluated the alternatives, and ignoring the strong advice of conservation experts, engineers and hydrologists.
This is yet more vandalism from a Government that is in the back pocket of developers.
I leave you with a haunting warning from MS Taylor Clarke, one of the traditional owners who spoke to the upper house inquiry:
“If this proposal goes ahead, so much more of our history will be lost to time and the next generation of Gundagurra people will never even know what is gone.”
It’s a warning for all of us, Mr Speaker.
Our children will never know what we have lost.