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November 14, 2010

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says lives will be put at risk if the Greens policies to stop dredging at the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes are ever implemented.

Mr Chester says the facts don’t support the claims made by the Greens Candidate for Gippsland East Jill Redwood in Friday’s Advertiser relation to dredging depths and the impact on the lakes system.

“The entrance is safer than it has been for decades and lives will be lost if the Greens have their way and dredging is stopped,” Mr Chester said.

“The Greens are a threat to jobs in our traditional industries, such as commercial fishing, and have no practical understanding of the needs of our community.

“The dredging program at the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes and within the internal channels is subject to a wide range of approvals from both the Federal and State Government.

“It has the support of government departments, along with recreational and commercial fishermen and the tourism industry. I was President of the Lakes Entrance Business Tourism Association when it successfully campaigned for funding to improve safety at the entrance and the Greens attack is unsubstantiated and without any basis in the truth.”

Mr Chester said the dredging activity is regulated by State and Commonwealth regulatory frameworks including the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) Act, the Coastal Management Act, Heritage Act, National Parks Act and the Planning Act.

“It is irresponsible scaremongering by the Greens to claim that environment legislation has been ignored,” he said.

“It is also factually incorrect to talk about deepening the port and the impact on salinity. Historical surveys of the channel depths indicate that it is no deeper than it was several decades ago and the majority of the lakes have been brackish throughout history. The biggest impact on salinity in the lakes has been the drought and the lack of freshwater flows following the construction of the Thomson Dam and other diversions.

“To blame dredging at the entrance for all of the environmental issues in the lakes system is both simplistic and irresponsible.”

Given the Greens claims, Mr Chester said it was ironic that several decades of dredging had actually provided improved habitat for some bird species.

“The nesting sites of the little terns for example have been created by pumping sand out of the channels and onto Rigby Island and it has had an unexpected environmental benefit,” he said.

“Ms Redwood should check her facts before she makes overblown claims and false allegations about a program that has widespread community support and is subject to strict environmental controls.”

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