Minister Guy Barnett’s announcement that two new water management and river health staff will be hired is welcome. It is, however, clearly a response to growing pressure on the Gutwein Government over its cavalier attitude to water management and an entirely inadequate response to chronic problems facing Tasmania’s waterways.
Tasmania’s rivers are the lifeblood of our communities. They are the source of drinking water, they support agriculture and industry, habitats for aquatic life, and they are central to our way of life.
Healthy waterways are crucial for lutruwita/Tasmania, and its people.
Scientists, including those working for Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRET), have documented a serious, accelerating decline in river health. Farmers, anglers, oyster growers, and tourism operators are also increasingly stressed about the sorry state of Tasmania’s rivers.
Given Minister Barnett’s previous reluctance to even acknowledge the many problems confronting Tasmania’s waterways and those who rely on them, it’s good to see some small movement in the right direction - finally.
Employing two new river health staff is a positive step, but it won’t solve the complex and interrelated challenges the state’s rivers are facing. To ensure the health of Tasmania’s rivers into the future, we need sustained action at a much higher level and a preparedness on the Gutwein Government’s part to change tack from its plan to increase agricultural production ten-fold by 2050.
It appears the recommendation from the Premier’s Social and Economic Recovery Advisory Council for the Liberals to take a broad approach to water policy is still being ignored – despite the fact PESCRAC said it should be an immediate priority.
While Mr Barnett likes to remind us there’s $1.5 million of funding to implement the Rural Water Strategy, only a fraction of this figure is going to river health initiatives. He’s also failing to mention the brutal cuts his government made when they took office, which resulted in the scrapping of water quality monitoring and critical research on the health of rivers and catchments.
It seems the Gutwein Government has finally realised Tasmania’s rivers are under increased strain. Now it’s time for the Liberals to acknowledge we need real reform, not just tinkering at the edges. This issue is too important to our future health and wellbeing as Tasmanians.