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Launch of Waterwatch Australia's National Snapshot '96
and Internet Site

Speech by Senator Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

23 October 1996
Yarrabend Park, Melbourne

It is a great pleasure to be here today, in this very appropriate location, to launch Waterwatch Australia's National Snapshot '96 during this the fourth National Water Week.

The Waterwatch Australia Program is an environmental education and awareness program which promotes water quality monitoring as a way to involve the Australian community in land and water management at the local and catchment scale. It is operating in every major metropolitan centre as well as in the bush, creating links and mutual understanding between urban and rural dwellers, leading to greater cooperation in catchment management.

During this year's Snapshot we expect there will be up to 50,000 people from Waterwatch groups across the country that will be out monitoring at their local creeks, rivers, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters. Not only will their interest and enthusiasm in the state of our waterways send a strong message of concern, but it will also provide a very valuable national picture of the "health' of our environment in general.

One of the most important messages programs, such as Waterwatch -- and events such as the national Snapshot -- convey is that everything which happens in a catchment has downstream impacts, and that all communities within each catchment must work together, be they city or country dwellers, to correct the problems.

This year, people participating in the Snapshot, will measure turbidity and macroinvertebrates at several thousand sites across nearly 100 river catchments. This is a remarkable demonstration of community commitment.

I can assure these people that the Government has heard this call and intends to respond with action to protect waterways through the establishment of the National Rivercare Initiative and its related components of the Natural Heritage Trust; the National Vegetation Initiative and Murray-Darling 2001 program.

The National Rivercare Initiative has as its primary objectives the conservation and restoration of Australia's rivers. It is to receive $85m over five years and when implemented in an integrated way with the National Vegetation Initiative and the Murray-Darling 2001 project we should see a turnaround in the water problems being experienced right across the country. Added to this will be our National Wetlands Program, the Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative and the National Land and Water Audit.

Under the Rivercare Initiative, activities such as reuse of wastewater, improved stormwater management, sewage treatment and further development of low-cost treatment technologies will be promoted, as will a range of actions designed to produce improvements in water quality and environmental flows to our waterways

Waterwatch Australia is to be the cornerstone of our efforts under Rivercare to increase the level of community understanding and involvement in waterway management and rehabilitation. We see it continuing its remarkable expansion that has seen it grow from about 200 groups operating in 16 catchments in 1993, to nearly 1150 groups in 86 catchments. It is estimated that around 30,000 Australians are participating regularly in this program. Monitoring is occurring at nearly 4,000 sites nationally. With the new allocations under the program this year, that I announced in Hobart on Sunday, we will see Waterwatch expand in all States and Territories and be operating in close to 100 catchments.

Of course, I think we all appreciate that one of the reasons we measure and monitor is not only to identify problems, but also to guide the remedial actions that should follow. Community environmental monitoring is about people taking responsibility for their environment by acting to understand it better and then translating this into actions.

We see here around us a wonderful example of just that with the work of the Friends of Merri Creek and the Merri Creek Management Committee which I note was a pilot program for Waterwatch Australia in its first year of operation.

Since 1989, specialist Merri Creek staff have revegetated much of the Merri Creek waterway, coordinated environmental policy and activities of Councils and involved thousands of community members in environmental education programs and environmental restoration works. Since restoration works commenced, many native species have returned to the Creek, including sacred kingfishers, echidnas and swamp wallabies.

Merri Creek, with assistance from Monash University, has produced a "Strategy for Restoration of the In-stream Environment of the Waterways of the Merri Catchment" which it will implement under the banner of YarraCare and with support from relevant agencies and Councils. The strategy addresses pollution and litter control, habitat recreation and restoration and environmental monitoring. Merri Creek is also coordinating a schools-based water quality monitoring program across three northern tributaries of the Yarra; the Moonee Ponds, Merri and Darebin Creeks.

The work of the Merri Creek Management Committee is a model we can promote nationally through Waterwatch and Rivercare as a way for the Australian community to reverse the unfortunate trend we are seeing in the declining 'health' of our rivers and streams. This was emphasised in the 1996 State of the Environment Report and it is clear that community environmental monitoring will play an increasingly important role in national and regional State of the Environment reporting.

My other function here today is to launch Waterwatch Australia's new internet homepage; a very exciting new dimension to this innovative program. As our community at all levels starts to fully embrace the information superhighway it is pleasing to see a community program positioning itself to cater for what will clearly be the way of the future.

One of the goals of Waterwatch is to support and encourage communication and information sharing between monitoring groups at the local, regional, national and international levels. There is no doubting that the internet can assist with that and in a few minutes I will be delighted to launch the new national Waterwatch Australia internet site by recording some data from this location.

Before doing that it is worth reflecting on what this internet site will give us. It will provide a "front door" for the program for those wanting to know more about it as well as a forum area where groups will be encouraged to share information about the work they are doing and their experiences. It will provide a stepping off point to other related internet sites which will be 'hotlinked' to it to make it easier for community members to understand, not just what Waterwatch does, but also what might be happening under Rivercare, the National Wetlands.

The site will also eventually have clustered around it, state-based homepages, linked together to aid groups with communicating across catchments and States. This acceleration in the networking process can only benefit our work in managing and restoring our waterways.

Also, before I launch the national internet site I should acknowledge the achievements of Waterwatch Victoria whose internet recently won two prestigious awards recognising excellence in internet design and application. These awards, the inaugural Australian Financial Review/Telstra Australian Internet Awards were won in the categories of Community and Special Interest and Secondary Education against strong competition from more than 600 entries. I congratulate all involved with this success. I understand the Waterwatch Victoria internet site will be launched tomorrow at Interact '96, a multimedia exhibition at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.

I will now launch the Waterwatch Australia homepage.

Thank you for your attendance.

Commonwealth of Australia