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 I rise to raise my concerns in relation to the management of the iconic Gippsland Lakes, which are a jewel in the Gippsland tourism crown. The Gippsland Lakes are a complex coastal lagoon system which has been impacted very heavily since European settlement with the establishment of towns, industry and primary production and the creation of an artificial entrance at Lakes Entrance itself, so it’s a dynamic system which is constantly changing. I believe this generation has an obligation to protect and enhance such a natural national treasure to ensure future generations can enjoy Gippsland Lakes and its catchment.

I have grown up fishing, swimming and boating on Gippsland Lakes, and actually reported on the state of the Gippsland Lakes campaign in the 1980s as a journalist at the Gippsland Times, so I’m concerned with the lack of state government commitment to care for Gippsland Lakes and its catchment. In recent years we’ve seen dolphin deaths, we have seen high inflows associated with recent flooding and we’ve seen the impact that’s had with nutrients affecting water quality. Now we have from the Environment Protection Authority an infringement notice being issued to East Gippsland Region Water Corporation for its failure to invest properly in wastewater management systems and for a discharge of effluent into the Gippsland Lakes. The notice I have in front of me from the EPA refers to the fact that, following previous discharges in 2011 and 2016, a capacity assessment was undertaken in 2016 which identified that the facility was not able to contain wastewater in a 90 percentile wet year. It goes on to highlight that the discharge of human effluent is high in nutrients, salts, suspended solids and pathogens, which pose a risk of harm to people, livestock, wildlife, plants and aquatic ecosystems. The notice from the EPA continues: ‘I have reason to believe that your repeated discharges of effluent into Forge Creek are likely to have resulted in harm and you have not taken all reasonable practical measures to prevent future discharges occurring.’ East Gippsland Water has been ordered to modify the wastewater management system at its Paynesville recycling facility so that wastewater is prevented from entering service waters, except where authorised by the EPA.

This is a Ramsar-listed wetland which is not getting the care and attention it needs. I was able to secure federal government funding for an independent water quality audit, which is being undertaken by the CSIRO. I thank Minister Ley for that contribution in the aftermath of the bushfires but I’m not convinced the state government is taking the condition of the Gippsland Lakes seriously. I’m looking forward to the report from CSIRO and to the recommendations it makes for future action. So I’m calling on the state government to do more of the heavy lifting required and to work with me to secure current and long-term funding for monitoring, research and practical environmental work in the Gippsland Lakes and the catchment. We need to do better to maintain this natural asset, and I am urging both the state and federal governments to work cooperatively to fund proper environmental work in the region.

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