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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

16 June 1999

STONE'S WATER SUMMIT WATERSHED


Sharman Stone MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Heritage, today addressed the critical need for water policy reform across all parts of the nation at the 1999 National Summit on Water Reform and Management in Sydney.

Speaking at the summit, which brings together Australia's leading water managers, economists, ecologists, irrigators and conservationists, Mrs Stone said that the key to lasting prosperity was not a trade-off between the economy and environment, but sustainable management based around the 'wise-use' of natural resources.

"The Federal Government recognises the need to build environmental protection into economic activity and not wait to pick up the pieces afterwards."

Mrs Stone went on to say that water management was an essential part of the Howard Government's environmental agenda, with water reform one of the key planks of the National Competition Policy payment regime agreed to by the Council of Australian Government's (COAG) in 1995.

The COAG water reform agenda aims to put sustainable water regulation and preservation in place throughout Australia by July 2001. $800 million in National Competition Payments are due in July 1999, with a further $3 billion falling due in July 2001.

The Framework requires states to establish mechanisms such as environmental flows for stressed streams, strategies for reducing withdrawals in over-allocated systems, appropriate pricing, water trading entitlements, integrated catchment planning and ensure any new water resource developments, such as dams, are sustainable.

"Some states have already established effective regulatory controls to ensure their resources are fairly allocated and the environment safeguarded. Other states are still working towards putting in place sustainable, long-term management measures and have some way to go yet before they get it right."

"Our message is simple. Without major improvements in water use efficiency and a progressive overhaul and improvement in water regulations related to allocation, trading rights pricing and environmental considerations, industry, income and our unique natural resources could be lost," Sharman Stone said.

Australia is the driest continent on the planet and has the highest per capita storage capacity of any country - the equivalent of 3 olympic sized swimming pools for every man woman and child.

Freshwater accounts for just 3% of all available water.

The environmental toll caused by European settlement has been devastating. Around 50% of natural wetlands have been destroyed and 2.5 million hectares of land affected by salinity.

Mrs Stone also reminded conference delegates that water conservation was not just an 'on-farm' issue, and that urban populations also needed to focus on their water use and waste water recycling.

"In particular, getting the community strategically involved, in planning and hands-on activities, on a local level is vitally important. That's where the Federal Government's Natural Heritage Trust is making a real difference," Sharman Stone said.

In a working partnership with the community, The Howard Government's Natural Heritage Trust will inject $260 million into improving water quality and the ecological health of our river systems through the Rivercare, Murray-Darling 2001 and National Wetlands programs.

"This year the Federal Government has also committed $50 million to the Living Cities Program, which aims to help improve the health of urban waterways and stormwater discharges and reduce coastal pollution."

Mrs Stone said a great example of how the community and government could work together was the recent listing of the Gwydir Wetlands in northern New South Wales as the 50th internationally protected RAMSAR site.

"The Gwydir Wetlands are particularly important because it was the first to be voluntarily listed by landholders and managed on cooperatively on bi-partisan basis. It is a marvellous example of practical conservation and sustainable use at a local level."

"Water is essential to our way of life as Australians, whether we live in the bush or city. Ensuring it is strategically and sustainably managed so that the environment, agriculture and industry can all flourish is the key," Mrs Stone said.

For further information please contact:
Nicole Johnston, Assistant Adviser, 02 6277 2016 or 0419 219 415

Commonwealth of Australia