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Speech by Senator the Hon Robert Hill,
Minister for the Environment
Thank you for inviting me here today to launch the Australian Seafood Industry Council's booklet 'An Introduction to Acid Sulfate Soils'.
Acid sulfate soils are a natural part of Australia's estuaries and floodplains.
Unfortunately, they can cause significant environmental problems, including economic losses to Australia's fisheries and aquaculture industries.
Australia's coastal areas, particularly flood prone areas and wetlands, are coming under increasing development pressure for tourist facilities, agricultural production and mining.
The draining of such areas creates the potential for the release of sulphuric acid and potentially toxic metals.
The acid and metals end up in our rivers and seas, and can severely affect the quality and quantity of our fish and aquaculture stocks.
About one million dollars worth of fish from east coast commercial markets are rejected each year due to disease related to acid sulfate soils.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Who knows how many fish die from to acid sulfate related problems, and never even make it to the markets.
Industry, scientists, coastal resource managers, and government are attempting to clarify and document the magnitude of the problems posed by acid sulfate soils.
To its credit, the Australian Seafood Industry Council identified a need for clear and simple information on the causes of acid sulfate soil problems, and some ways of managing them.
The result is this booklet, which provides scientifically based, but easily readable, information on the issue.
The booklet is also the first step in building the capacity of landholders, catchment management committees, local government, industry and the community to manage acid sulfate soils.
As capacity building is an important component of the Government's Coastal Action Program, it is appropriate that the Program has provided financial assistance to publish and distribute this document.
The Commonwealth is working closely with, and providing financial assistance to, the Australian Seafood Industry Council in another major capacity building project - the development of environmental guidelines for coastal aquaculture.
The guidelines are currently being prepared in full consultation with industry, local and state governments, and the community.
They will help ensure that the future of the industry is economically viable and ecologically sustainable.
As with the acid sulfate soils booklet, the impetus for this project came from industry itself, and represents an example of government working with industry to overcome problems through self-regulation.
Coastcare is another major component of the Coastal Action Program. Coastcare is a community participation program that draws on the enormous enthusiasm within the community for active involvement in the management of our coasts.
The Commonwealth and State Governments are providing matching funding for Coastcare projects, with Local Governments supporting many individual projects.
The projects themselves are being developed and implemented cooperatively by communities and local managers, principally local councils.
Coastcare provides the opportunity for the fishing and aquaculture industries to work with local communities on local projects that will result in the increased protection of fisheries and aquaculture resources.
I urge the fishing and aquaculture industries to become part of the Coastcare movement: build partnerships with local communities and local governments, and develop solutions to local environmental problems.
Coastal Strategic Planning is another key component of the Coastal Action Program. Industry, the community, and the three spheres of government, all have a significant role to play in Coastal Strategic Planning.
These long term planning strategies will help to resolve the conflicts that arise in areas of the coast under major development pressures.
I again encourage the fishing and aquaculture industries to participate in this process to ensure that the strategic plans that are developed take into account the issues and concerns of these industries.
Clearly, the sustainable management and development of our coasts and oceans is imperative to our way of life and economic prosperity.
Our Government is committed to protecting Australia's coasts and oceans, so that we and future generations can continue to enjoy these national assets and their abundant economic, social and environmental benefits.
We will work cooperatively with government and non-government organisations alike, to achieve lasting solutions to Australia's environmental problems.
As a matter of priority we will ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to be actively involved in developing these solutions.
While the Coastal Action Program is making a major contribution to improving coastal management around Australia, still more needs to be done.
During the election campaign we announced our intention to implement a major coasts and clean seas initiative.
This will provide a further 100 million dollars, from funds raised from the one third sale of Telstra, to tackle coastal pollution 'hot spots' and significant threats to Australia's marine biodiversity.
It is an exciting initiative which will target several areas of policy neglected by previous Commonwealth governments - oceans management, ocean outfalls, stormwater pollution, marine research, and oil spills.
The creation of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone provides us with a new challenge - to manage an area larger than Australia's land mass, some 11 million square kilometres of marine waters.
We need to put an integrated Oceans Policy in place to promote ecologically sustainable use of our ocean's resources, and to protect the ocean environment.
This task will be made even more difficult by our lack of knowledge of marine resources and by the many competing interests in the marine environment. Development of an Oceans Policy is in its very early stages, but like the Coastal Policy, it will be developed in full consultation with all major interest groups including the States, a wide range of industries, conservation groups and indigenous communities.
The fishing industry obviously has a keen interest in the sustainable management of our exclusive economic zone, and will have key role to play in developing our Oceans Policy.
I look forward to working with you on this important initiative.
Sewage is an obvious pollutant that threatens our coastal and marine environments, and in particular our aquaculture and fisheries resources. Ocean outfalls rely on the dilution capacity of oceans. But where outfalls are badly designed or an area just can't cope with the amount of sewage, our beaches and marine environments suffer.
Subsequently, our fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, and associated industries also suffer.
Stormwater pollution also poses a significant problem to our urban beaches and popular recreational and environmentally sensitive coastal areas.
We will assist State and Local Governments to address the problems associated with outfalls and stormwater through support for the development of innovative approaches to the management of waste water.
Sound management of our coast is dependent on the sound management not only of our ocean resources, but also of our land resources.
Acid sulfate soils are a classic example of the impact land use practices can have on the marine environment.
Our policies recognise the need to integrate land and marine policies and programs, and will draw together a number of related activities to ensure the best possible outcome.
Our proposed 85 million dollar National Rivercare Initiative will address issues that are relevant to the quality of our coastal rivers including agricultural run-off and the reuse of waste water.
And assistance for rehabilitating, revegetating and preserving remnant vegetation, including vegetation in our coastal zone, will be provided through the Government's National Vegetation Initiative.
Finally, I would like to return to the reason for my being here today, the launch of the acid sulfate soils booklet.
Congratulations to all those involved in the production of this informative publication.
It is pleasing to see the high level of cooperation between industry and government in the production of the booklet.
In particular I wish to congratulate the Australian Seafood Industry Council which got this project off the ground, the National Landcare Program which provided salary funding, and the Acid Sulphate Soils Management Advisory Committee which is an excellent example of industry, government and the community working together to deal with a major environmental issue.
Given the interest that this publication has generated to date, I am confident that it has already helped raise awareness of the problems associated with acid sulfate soils and take us a step closer to dealing effectively with those problems.
I look forward to further productive partnerships between industry and the government on coastal management issues.