November 3, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:26): I rise to commend a wetland rehabilitation project that is underway in my community at the Heart Morass near Sale. I recently had the opportunity to inspect the Heart Morass project at the invitation of the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. This is an outstanding example of practical environmental work involving a vast array of community organisations, including the West Gippsland CMA; Field and Game Australia, through its WET Trust; the Hugh DT Williamson Foundation and its Bug Blitz program; and also Watermark, which is a group of concerned local residents that was formed about 10 to 15 years ago and which is interested in protecting and enhancing the Gippsland Lakes catchment.

The WET Trust and the Williamson foundation contributed the bulk of the $1.1 million used to purchase private land in 2006, which was the first stage of the restoration project. The project was formally launched in 2007. As I said, this is a great example of a community driven initiative. This was not government funding; the main funds came from philanthropic sources and also through a user group, Field and Game Australia. They were able to purchase some previously degraded farmland on the shores of the La Trobe River near the mouth of Lake Wellington and rehabilitate that to become a thriving wetland. The weather gods, I must confess, have been very kind. In the ensuing four years we have had a return to more normal seasons in the Gippsland area, so with the addition of some environmental flows of fresh water into the new wetland system the growth over the four-year period has been quite spectacular. We have seen bird species return to the Heart Morass, and there is a great sense of energy, enthusiasm and passion for the future amongst the groups that are involved in this outstanding project.

As I indicated, the partners in the project have come from quite diverse backgrounds, which reflects the opportunity for multiple use of environmental assets such as this outstanding natural asset. To really value a wetland like this you need to give people the opportunity to get out there and enjoy it, to walk in it, you should not just lock it up and leave it. There are hunters who are very interested in a sustainable and conservation based approach to the wetlands to make sure that their sport can continue into the future. They are very committed environmentalists in their own right and they obviously have a vested interest in ensuring that their sport has a future for future generations. There are also bird watchers and bushwalkers who are interested in enjoying those natural environs and appreciating the great natural beauty of the La Trobe River and the wetland area as it meanders its way down towards the Gippsland Lakes. Of course, there are also the natural resource managers, the West Gippsland CMA, who see real value in the capacity of the wetland to strip away some of the nutrients that would otherwise have ended up in the Gippsland Lakes system and be a source of future algal blooms.

This is a great example of a wetland project that has rehabilitated land that was very marginal at best and that is being actively managed. The community is really engaged in the project and understands how viable and vibrant a wetland can be. The classic example of how the community has engaged in this project is that from the day the contracts to purchase the land were signed they were able to get large earthmoving equipment on the site free of charge from people who were interested in the project. About $1½ million worth of earthmoving equipment was there on the first day of the project to start the process.

In terms of the project's future, what we have seen in the past few years has been outstanding, but there is a lot more work to be done. I believe there are opportunities here for governments to partner with community organisations. The community has shown the way by purchasing this marginal agricultural land and rehabilitating it, but there are opportunities for state and federal governments to take part in future land buybacks. I have written to both state and federal ministers in the past about opportunities to look at some of this degraded land, which is marginal at best. There are landholders down there who understand it is salt-affected land which probably should not have been drained in the first place and may have no real future as viable agricultural land. They are interested in buybacks and ways they can retire from the land in a dignified way. When I wrote to the ministers in 2009, the former environment minister indicated that the Caring for our Country program does consider land purchases. I intend to work with my community, to work with the groups which already have runs on the board on this project, to look at ways the federal government can make a contribution in the future. As I said, these groups have runs on the board and are already doing an outstanding job in the Gippsland community. I encourage both state and federal ministers, if they are in Gippsland, to take the time to come down to Heart Morass to see what my community has been doing. It is a project of national significance which is happening at a very local scale and has great potential to be expanded to other parts of our region. This is now an outstanding national asset which will benefit the entire community and also will help to restore the Gippsland Lakes and biodiversity which we value so highly.

There are educational opportunities with this project. The Williamson Foundation, with its Bug Blitz program, has been involved with bringing hundreds of school children together to learn in an outdoor classroom, to get a better appreciation of wetlands and how it all fits together in that package. So I commend the Heart Morass wetland project. It is a model of community partnerships and practical environmental work. I commend all the individuals and organisations involved.

(Time expired)

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