Don't Waterdown Sydney Catchment Water Management

(11.40 am 2 May 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

I make a brief contribution to debate on the Sydney Water Catchment Management Amendment (Board Members) Bill 2012. The bill removes the requirement for the Sydney Catchment Authority to include nominees from the NSW Farmers Association, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and a local councillor, and expands the expertise and experience required of board members. I am concerned that this bill could remove the representation of the Nature Conservation Council, possibly even before the current nominee's term has expired. The Minister has said that the bill is about giving her the discretion to nominate the best person for the board. In the past the Nature Conservation Council has offered the Minister a choice of three nominees, and the Minister has wide discretion to appoint an additional five members. The current legislation provides for a broad range of expertise and experience, and gives the Minister ample discretion to establish a board that can ensure the best outcome for Sydney's catchment.

The Sydney Catchment Authority supplies water to more than 4.5 million people—almost 60 per cent of the State's population. It is essential that, first and foremost, the board works to protect the integrity of Sydney's drinking water through the environmental sustainability of the local ecosystem. I share the concern of the environment community that this bill is the result of lobbying from the mining industry. The Sydney Catchment Authority has been concerned with the impacts of longwall mining and potential pollution from coal seam gas exploration within and adjacent to Sydney Catchment Authority land. It has appointed two in-house scientists to assess mining impacts so as not to rely solely on biased proponents' environmental reports. The authority has made submissions on longwall mining proposals and it has opposed coal seam gas exploration on its land.

Mining activity can have devastating effects on water supplies. Clearing land and pollution from dust, chemicals, waste water and subsidence can contaminate water, rendering it unsafe to drink and harming the ecosystems that support it. Riverbeds can crack, leading to loss of water, and rehabilitation of waterways after mining operations have occurred has had little success. I share community concern that the board should not include anyone with a pecuniary interest in the mining and gas industries, including employees, consultants and contractors, and associated lobbying companies. The aim of the board must be to continue to protect Sydney's drinking water. A clean, healthy and sustainable water supply is essential to Sydney's wellbeing. I share widespread community concern that the potential to remove the Nature Conservation Council of NSW from the Sydney Catchment Authority Board is not in our best interest.

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