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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

30 March 2000

Barmah Forest Strategy Endorsed

A milestone in protecting the long-term future of the Barmah-Millewa was achieved with the endorsement of the Forest's Water Management Strategy at the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting last Friday.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Heritage and local Federal Member for Murray, Sharman Stone, said she was delighted the Strategy had been endorsed and that vital remedial works to protect and manage the forest wetlands would continue.

"For years the Barmah and Millewa Forests have been at the mercy of different management regimes and objectives because it straddled a state border. The Strategy's endorsement will ensure that all parties in the region can work together with a common goal and purpose in future."

The Barmah-Millewa Water Management Strategy's primary function is to preserve and protect the Forest through the special allocation of 100 gigalitres of water per year. It is widely accepted that the continued survival of the Forest is dependent upon periodic, controlled flooding from the River Murray.

"One of the key elements of the Strategy is to deliver a water allocation that mimics the Forests natural cycle."

Dr Stone said the problems with the Forests water flows and cycles were originally caused in 1936 when the then new Hume Dam began to regulate the River Murray.

"The River was altered to run high in summer to support irrigation and town needs, with low flows in winter when the dam refilled. This reversed natural high-low flow patterns, leaving the red gums with wet feet in summer and dry in winter."

"Over the years shallow flows of water at the wrong time saw tree die-back or other areas choked with regrowth.

A key part of the Strategy is to recognise the economic and social needs of adjacent industries, farms and communities in determining appropriate water allocations. Extensive public consultation on a draft version of the Strategy was conducted in 1997-98, with revisions included in the final version.

"I was concerned to hear about delays in implementing the Strategy's works schedule late last year. I made these concerns clear to the Council meeting on Friday and I am now confident that strong support continues for implementation of the Forum's recommended works program."

The Barmah-Millewa Forest is the largest Red Gum forest in Australia, covering 70,000 hectares along the River Murray in Victoria and New South Wales.

"I am concerned that the Barmah Forest is recognised as a wetland of international significance under the RAMSAR convention, while the Millewa is not," Sharman Stone said.

"Ensuring the Millewa is listed in future is a priority."

The Strategy is overseen by the Barmah-Millewa Forum, an expert advisory panel of local representatives, established by the Murray Darling Basin Commission in 1994.

"In an Australian first the community came together representing the region's interests - the timber cutters, cattle graziers, indigenous inhabitants, irrigators, environmentalists, bee keepers and Bardi grub collectors - in a cooperative forum," Sharman Stone said.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the forum members for all their hard work over the past few years. Their advice and expertise is vital in ensuring the future health of the Barmah-Millewa Forest."

Dr Stone said the Strategy had been endorsed in time for the annual Back to Barmah Festival and traditional Easter and ANZAC Day celebrations.

Media Inquiries
Nicole Johnston, Assistant Adviser, 02 6277 2016 or 0419 219 415
30 March 2000

Commonwealth of Australia