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Speech: Warragamba Dam

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 15 Oct 2018

Right now in the parliament of my home state of New South Wales sits a bill that would devastate national parks. The New South Wales government is proposing to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 metres, which would inundate up to 4,700 hectares of national parks and 65 kilometres of wild rivers. This will cause irreversible damage to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. At least 25 threatened species are known or are likely to occur within the area that is at risk of inundation. The environment has intrinsic and inherent value, but the Liberals and Nationals just see it as an inconvenience getting in the way of their mates at the big end of town.

Many Aboriginal cultural heritage areas belonging to the Gundungurra people of the southern Blue Mountains will be destroyed and submerged, including cave art, scarred eucalypt trees, dreaming waterholes and marker sites. This disrespect to Aboriginal cultural heritage is appalling and unacceptable. These sites are not disposable. Thoughtless proposals like this trample on the rights of Aboriginal people to their culture and their connection to the land. To strip an area of its legal protection before an environmental impact assessment has even been done shows what we all suspect: that this is a foregone conclusion, that community consultation will be completely worthless and that an EIS will be prepared to justify a predetermined outcome. What a complete farce!

The Blue Mountains National Park is World Heritage listed. This is no small thing. It was listed for having an outstanding diversity of habitats and plant communities that support its globally significant species and ecosystem diversity. A significant proportion of the Australian continent's biodiversity occurs in this area. Why is the New South Wales Liberal-National government putting all this at risk? Why do they do anything? There is only one reason and it's always the same: money and greed. Their plan to raise the dam wall isn't about safety and flood management; it's all about opening up more land in our flood plains for inappropriate development. It is about taxpayers potentially spending billions to subsidise the risk of flood for property developers. Flood mitigation and risk management are important, but we can do it without destroying the environment.

Australian National University Associate Professor Jamie Pittock has said there are alternatives to raising the dam wall, including management of the existing storage of Warragamba Dam, improvement to flood evacuation routes, increased flood-forecasting capacity and adopting international best practice flood-plain development controls. He states:

Dams do not stop the most severe floods. Wivenhoe Dam did not save Brisbane from flooding in 2011. Flood control dams lead to downstream development on the floodplain that increases risk.

As a civil and environmental engineer I completely concur with this analysis.

Make no mistake, this is just another of the New South Wales Liberals' attacks on the environment, and on our national parks in particular—like their devastating land-clearing laws, which were put in to placate their corporate donors in mining, big agribusiness and property development. They are pushing species to the brink and setting off a climate-change time bomb. And where is our federal Minister for the Environment? She's meant to be protecting our World Heritage. She is missing in action, just as she was when the Liberals in New South Wales treated our World Heritage listed Opera House as a cheap billboard. The environment can't afford an environment minister who is not willing to do her job to protect our precious environment from destruction by the Liberal and National environment vandals.

The raising of Warragamba Dam will drown thousands of hectares of World Heritage national park, destroy Aboriginal cultural and spiritual sites, and damage our internationally recognised wild rivers. This has nothing to do with preventing flooding and everything to do with enabling more and more inappropriate property development in the flood plain. It is all about destroying the environment because it stands in the way of big money. Even before doing an environmental impact statement or a business case, they want to remove environmental protections from our Blue Mountains National Park, the most visited park in the country. What arrogance! It's time for the Minister for the Environment to step up, take seriously her role to protect our World Heritage sites and block this proposal once and for all.

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