On World Wetlands Day today we celebrate Australia’s significant contribution to the global wetland conservation movement.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory, being listed as the world’s first Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
Through a number of governments there has been bipartisan recognition that our wetland and river environments have been under stress and action was needed to deal with the stresses placed on our precious natural environments.
Most notable is the long-term strategy laid out by the Howard Government to deal with the issues faced in the Murray Darling Basin, setting in motion the process of developing the Basin Plan.
This was visionary policy making stretching well beyond a single election cycle and is part of a long history of protecting our environment.
Australia has listed 65 Ramsar wetlands. They cover more than 8.3 million hectares, forming an impressive estate of diverse wetland types including freshwater and marine, permanent and ephemeral. And they are located in every climatic zone.
Often we must balance the needs of those wetlands and a productive farming sector, which is what the Murray Darling Basin Plan strives to do.
Continued water reform is vital if we are to secure the longer term health and resilience of our communities, local economies and the environment.
The Australian Government is committed to the implementation of the Plan, on time and in full.
One of the Government’s key priorities is to ensure the Murray-Darling’s food and fibre industries remain vibrant and sustainable, and that the river system on which they rely is restored to good health for the long term.
Over recent years more than 3000 gigalitres of dedicated environmental water has been put to good effect, delivering water to key sites throughout the Basin, improving the health and resilience of the entire system.
Water is delivered year to year, in line with the environmental conditions of that period and it's only been this watering year that the independent regulator has started to use their ability to trade water, with the aim maximising environmental outcomes with the Commonwealth water holdings.
Our government will also prioritise water recovery for environmental purposes through infrastructure investment over water buybacks, with almost $3 billion forecast to be spent on rural water use and infrastructure projects. This approach will deliver the water we need for the Murray-Darling environment, while best positioning the productive capacity of river communities.
The Basin Plan is the fulfilment of a century long hope for agreement and cooperation about the sustainable sharing of water resources across state and territory borders.
Through reforms like these, Australia will continue to be an international leader in the sustainable management of wetlands.
Senator Simon Birmingham is the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment