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6 October 1997

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

Senator Macdonald: Mr Mick Venardos the Chairman of the Cooloola Shire; Mr Len Stephan, the local Member; Pam who is the State Manager of Greening Australia; Dave Sharp who's unfortunately an apology, but other members and representatives of the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers; members of the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee; and other people involved in this project; ladies and gentlemen.

First of all, can I just start by saying a special welcome and hello to my colleague, Mr Warren Truss, who as you all know on the week-end was appointed the Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs. It's tremendous to have Warren and someone from this part - another Queenslander - within the Federal Ministry, and it's really beaut that Warren has got that. The bad news, of course - well, the good news for Gympie people is that you now have someone representing you within the Federal Cabinet. The bad news for you though is that I understand after the redistribution, you won't be any longer in Warren's electorate.

But the extra good news, of course, is that your new Member will be Alex Somlyay, who was also appointed to the Ministry on the week-end as Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. So after not being represented for some time within the powers of the Federal Government, the Gympie area is now well and truly on the way. And again, congratulations to Warren.

Ladies and gentlemen, the function today is really to celebrate, I guess, a project that's got together the Mary River National Corridors of Green, which is a partnership between the Mary River Corridor Network, Greening Australia who are organising it all, and the Commissioner Gully Greencorps.

Now I'm particularly interested in, and praiseworthy of the Greencorps. I have Ministerial responsibility for the Greencorps, and the young people here today who I haven't yet had the opportunity of meeting - but who I will - I know are doing a tremendous job. That Greencorps project involves groups of ten young people between the ages of 17 and 20. They are volunteers for the environment. We don't conscript them into this. They come forward; put their hand up; and offer to do things to help our environment. So it's tremendous that they're part of this project; and other Greencorps teams are also part of the whole Mary River Catchment program - one further up river, and one a bit to the south, as I understand.

But there are three Greencorps teams working in the Mary River. Those young people, and I again emphasise because I like to emphasise this, are people who volunteer their time to do work for the environment. They do get paid a training wage, and they do get training out of it. But principally they're here to do things for the environment.

As well, Greening Australia who are the joint promoters of this whole concept do a tremendous job. Again, a team principally of volunteers who spend their time looking after our environment. I know the Federal Government is particularly grateful for the work they do, and I certainly very much appreciate it.

The Mary River, of course, as someone has said already, is one of the most degraded rivers on the east coast of Australia. It runs from the Belthorpe, Maleny area right through to Hervey Bay entering the sea at River Heads. It traverses quite a lot of territory.

The original vegetation of the Mary River prior to European settlement ranged from dense rain forest in the upper reaches, to open Eucalypt forests in the lower valley and to the north. It has been degraded. A major threat facing the catchment area now is a severe loss of riparian vegetation resulting from cattle grazing river banks and accessing the river to drink. The issues of particular concern to the consortium include the fragmented remnants of vegetation, the invasion of woody weeds, and the decline in the integrity of existing stands of remnant vegetation.

And this whole project is designed by local people and conservation volunteers to correct some of those real problems. I just wanted to mention briefly some of the people involved. The Barung Landcare Group will be working on 11 revegetation sites within the Obi Obi Creek subcatchment. They're a group that I understand have done a lot of work. Their 'on the ground' focus will include fencing, revegetation, and weed control; and a Greencorps team is going to assist them with those projects. And they also have the support of the Caloundra and Maroochy City Councils, the Caloundra Maroochy Water Supply Board, the Department of Natural Resources, local schools, land owners, community groups - all pledged their support and participation to that project.

The Lower Mary Remnant Network is looking at two corridor sites in the lower reaches of the Mary: one in the Tinana Creek subcatchment, and the second in the Sandy Creek subcatchment. And their partners in this include the Worldwide Fund for Nature, a nationally recognised conservation group; the Wide Bay Burnett Electricity Corporation; the Department of the Environment; the Maryborough Environment Group; and the Maryborough City Council; and their work will involve establishment of vegetation corridors to relink native forests at an Outdoor Learning Centre.

And this Outdoor Learning Centre is used by a number of schools throughout the district, and the project will provide an excellent opportunity to educate a broad range of students in landcare matters, and in the value of these corridors. The Noosa and District Landcare Group will be involved in a project in the Six Mile Creek subcatchment. The declining health of riparian vegetation has been identified as impacting on local water quality and local habitats, and the people there involved in that scheme, including a Greencorps team, will be undertaking seed collection, weeding, planting, and site maintenance.

And, ladies a gentlemen, the other major group in this project, the Gympie and District Landcare Group, has two corridor sites within this section of catchment. One side is at Dagun, south-west of Gympie, and planting activities are being undertaken there in an attempt to stabilise an area of land subject to land slips. Planting will also link remnant rain forest with existing riparian vegetation. And of course, the other one is right here at Commissioners Gully. And that project will enhance and expand the work previously undertaken in the Gully through an Urban Landcare Revegetation Project. And on completion of the project, the group will have protected and enhanced existing vegetation within the Gully and have restored a natural low flow waterway.

Involved in this project with Commissioner Gully are the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Primary Industry, the Cooloola Shire Council, Golden Circle, the Field Naturalists Association, and the Active Riders Association whose grounds we're at the moment, and local schools and some community members are involved.

So all of these projects involve a hell of a lot of volunteers, people who have a genuine interest in and a commitment to our environment and to conservation - saving what's left, and enhancing what's left to get it back almost, well not quite how it was, but a long way towards how it was.

All of this, ladies and gentlemen, is being funded out of Bush Care, the Commonwealth Government's National Vegetation Initiative, and that money of course, comes from the Natural Heritage Trust out of which we're ploughing 1.5 billion dollars into the environment following the sale of one-third of Telstra. That is a major commitment by the Howard Government to the environment, and one that we're very, very proud to be able to be part of, and grateful that we have the money to put into projects like this one here.

So ladies and gentlemen, to all those various groups and people I've mentioned, congratulations and my thanks. I am sure there are some that I probably haven't mentioned in my rush to try and mention everybody, but for all of you who are involved, my sincere thanks. My thanks on behalf of the Government, and really on behalf of the people of Australia for the tremendous work you do. And I do have pleasure, Pam, in launching this $80,000 project, the $80,000 commitment that the Federal Government is making to this National Corridors of Green.

Again, thanks for your help, and congratulations.

Pam Usher, State Manager, Greening Australia: Senator, thanks very much for coming. I think that the quality that we have in being able to have the Senator here to launch this program is just a small example, I think, of the knowledge that Ian travels with. He is not only a person who is involved in the Environmental Portfolio, but also someone who has had very practical landcare experience. I have been with Greening Australia for a short time. This is the second time in a couple of months that we have crossed paths, and actually he's been able to come and see what's happening, because I think that that knowledge alone, when people who are representing the area can come out and have a look at the degradation, have a look at the work that's being done, and with such reserves in the past, has been great. And thanks very much for your time, that you've come out to help us with this project. Thank you.

Commonwealth of Australia