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Ministerial Forum - Longreach Communique

26 May 2001

Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum meets

The Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum held its historic first meeting in Longreach, Queensland, today.

The Ministerial Forum, established under the Lake Eyre Basin Inter-governmental Agreement, has responsibility for the development and review of policies and strategies for the sustainable management of the major cross-border river systems in the Basin.

The Ministerial Forum comprises the Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator the Honourable Robert Hill, the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, the Honourable Stephen Robertson MLA, and the South Australian Minister for Water Resources, the Honourable Mark Brindal MP. Minister Hill chairs the Forum.

The Federal Minister for Conservation, the Honourable Wilson Tuckey MP also attended the Ministerial Forum on behalf of the Hon Warren Truss, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

A community forum was also held following the Ministerial Forum, which was attended by representatives from the Lake Eyre Basin Coordinating Group, and the Cooper's Creek and Georgina-Diamantina Catchment Committees.

In opening the meeting, Senator Hill said that the first meeting of the Forum reaffirmed the commitment of the Commonwealth and the Queensland and South Australian Governments to fully implementing the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement - signed by Ministers in Birdsville last year.

"The Lake Eyre Basin Inter-governmental Agreement was a historic achievement, it provides the framework for ensuring the future sustainable management of the major cross-border river systems of the Lake Eyre Basin," Senator Hill said.

Senator Hill recognised the important role being played by members of the Basin community in relation to the Agreement, in particular the work of the Lake Eyre Basin Coordinating Group and the Cooper's Creek and Georgina-Diamantina Catchment Committees.

"The ongoing support and involvement of the Basin community is essential for the successful implementation of the Agreement", he said.

"This is an innovative partnership between governments and the community which will enable the nationally important natural values associated with the major cross-border river systems of the Basin to be protected, without diminishing the Basin's other economic and social values".

The Ministerial Forum will develop appropriate policies and strategies for the sustainable management of the cross border river systems in the Basin in consultation with the Basin community.

"These river systems alternate between periods of little or no flow and massive flooding events, as recently witnessed in the Basin. This requires a different management approach than that usually applied to coastal rivers, which tend to have more constant flow regimes.

"The natural variability in the frequency, duration and volume of these flood events is essential for the maintenance of ecological processes in the Basin's river systems and associated wetlands. We need to better understand the ecological implications of management decisions affecting these river systems to ensure we avoid making the mistakes now affecting the Murray-Darling Basin and elsewhere in Australia," Minister Hill said.

"The major outcome was the release of draft policies for community consultation which will provide the basis of strategies designed to protect water quality and river flows within the major cross-border river systems and to maintain ecological integrity of in-stream and floodplain ecosystems," Senator Hill said.

Key Outcomes

Key outcomes from the Ministerial Forum include:

a) confirmation of membership and other arrangements for the Ministerial Forum;

b) establishment of a permanent secretariat to support the Ministerial Forum and its scientific advisory body to be located with Environment Australia;

c) appointment of the Lake Eyre Basin Coordinating Group as the Community Advisory Committee to the Ministerial Forum with an expanded membership to include a local government representative (in the first instance to be from the Western Queensland Local Government Association) and the South Australian Arid Areas Catchment Water Management Board;

d) a budget of $500 000 per annum for implementation of the Agreement, including an allocation to the Coordinating Group to provide secretariat support to the Community Advisory Committee;.

e) establishment of a Scientific Advisory Panel, with Professor Peter Cullen, Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology as the inaugural chair. to provide the Ministerial Forum with scientific advice on matters under the Agreement;

f) confirmation of a process and timetable for the development of policies and associated strategies for the management of water and related natural resources. Release of draft policies for public consultation. A commitment to seek to develop strategies by November 2001;

g) establishment of arrangements for the State of the Rivers Assessment (to be known as the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers Assessment) as required under the Agreement;

h) agreement on the financial and cost-sharing arrangements for the Ministerial Forum and its associated community and scientific advisory bodies;

i) arrangements for the first Lake Eyre Basin Conference to be held in October 2002.

Further Information:
Minister Hill: Belinda Huppatz 0419 258364
Minister Robertson: David Wildermuth 07 38963695
Minister Brindal: Huw Morgan 0417 834547
Ministerial Forum Secretariat: Scott Parker (02) 6274 2784

Commonwealth of Australia