Standing up for Canberra

Australian Capital Territory Water Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 (Federation Chamber)

Water management in the ACT is an issue that I am very passionate about. The ACT has some spectacular waterways. However, as is often the case in cities, sometimes these waterways have suffered as a result of the urbanisation of the surrounds. Since my election in 2012, I have been campaigning for the better protection and restoration of Canberra's waterways. In particular, I have been advocating the development of a number of wetlands in the Lake Tuggeranong area. I know that the ACT government, through federal funding, has received quite a significant investment to build a number of wetlands in the Tuggeranong region, but the people who spend a lot of time around that area cleaning it up, investing their time and their effort, and their heart and soul, into making sure that it is as pristine as possible believe that more wetlands are required.

I am a huge fan of wetlands. I had the good fortune when I had only just been elected to be one of the judges for the Australian Institute of Architects awards here in the ACT. You are probably wondering what architecture has got to do with wetlands. It has a lot to do with wetlands because a lot of what architects are now doing with commercial buildings is getting rid of those huge concrete drainage systems, those eyesores, and introducing wetlands as a way of getting rid of excess water, and, in the process, purifying water and creating a lovely natural environment where you get a number of little ecosystems being established through those wetlands. I am a huge fan of them, particularly because my electorate has a seam of concrete waterways running right through it from the top of the electorate right down to the bottom of the electorate, which causes all sorts of problems with the Lake Tuggeranong catchment and also with the Lake Burley Griffin catchment because there is so much unfiltered and unpurified water going into those significant lakes.

Beautiful Lake Tuggeranong is at the heart of the Tuggeranong community in my electorate. That is where my electorate office is. I see people walking around the lake, using it every day. They may be running, walking, walking with their babies, using the parks on the shores of the lake, having picnics or catching up with friends. I join with many residents of Tuggeranong in my concern for the lake's wellbeing as well as that of Lake Burley Griffin. That is why I have supported a community initiative for the restoration of the ecosystems of the Tuggeranong catchment. It is a project that will encourage and empower the community to become directly involved with the restoration of the lake through activities such as clean-ups and tree plantings. The project also has a long-term aim of developing a wetland area by the lake, which I know would be of huge benefit to the community and to the environment of Tuggeranong.

The bill we are debating today is an important step in the water management of the ACT. The bill will enable the ACT government to complete its responsibilities under the Murray-Darling Basin plan. For over a century, the Murray-Darling Basin has not been managed with a basin-wide plan. This has resulted in environmental degradation, a lack of resilience and an ongoing layer of uncertainty for basin communities. Members will have heard many times in this chamber about the ground-breaking work this government is doing to reform the management of the Murray-Darling Basin and this bill is another part of that reform. The Murray-Darling Basin plan requires that the ACT prepare a water resource plan that covers all of the territory's water resources as well is the Googong Dam. However, currently the management of water on national land in the ACT is a Commonwealth function and is not managed by the ACT government. This bill amends the Australian Capital Territory Planning and Land Management Act 1988, or the PALM Act, which regulates the management of land in the ACT so that the abstraction of water on national land is no longer managed by the Commonwealth government and can be managed by the ACT, consistent with the Basin Plan.

This bill enables the ACT government to take full responsibility for the management of water within the territory. Cooperative, consistent and efficient management arrangements of water extraction within the ACT will have long-term benefits for the sustainability of water resources within the territory. However, this bill is about more than water. By giving this responsibility to the ACT government, this bill is further recognition that the government of the ACT has well and truly come of age. The ACT achieved self-government in 1988 and I was privileged enough to work for our first Chief Minister, Rosemary Follett, shortly after that. I was there at the early stages of self-government when it was all pretty ratty and there were all sorts of interesting individuals who had been elected under all sorts of interesting party names. It was a very interesting time: the burgeoning—the early stages—of self-government. Not only did I have an interesting time in an interesting work environment, but I also got to meet my husband, which was an added benefit.

It was a privilege to be a part of the unfolding of self-government in the ACT and it has been a privilege to watch the ACT Legislative Assembly mature over the last 25 years. In 2011, I was proud to be part of this parliament when we passed laws to remove one of the most final and most significant barriers to the citizens of the ACT and the Northern Territory enjoying full democratic rights. This was the Territories Self-Government Legislation Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment of Laws) Act 2011, which removed the ability of federal parliamentarians to veto the laws made by the ACT government. This was an important step for ACT selfgovernment, and so is the bill that we are debating today, which hands the important role of water management in the ACT to the ACT government, where it rightly belongs.

For over 25 years, the Legislative Assembly has been making laws for the peace, order and good governance of the ACT. It has grown to be a mature and stable chamber that is accountable to its constituents. As the former Chief Minister of the ACT John Stanhope said, from ambivalent beginnings, self-government is now firmly embedded in the consciousness of our community. The ACT, through its stable government and mature parliament, has embraced the social responsibilities with which it is charged. On average, Canberrans are among the healthiest, best educated and most prosperous in Australia. We are just, free and relatively free of prejudice. We have grown in population terms and as an indispensable presence in our region. We have also grown as a community and as a vibrant and engaged polity and increasingly we are recognised as such by a nation whose capital and seat of government we are proud to uphold and sustain.

Water management is an important responsibility and the ACT government has well and truly demonstrated that it is mature enough to manage this responsibility. This bill is not only an important milestone for our environment but an important milestone for the ACT. I commend it to the House.

Download a copy of this speech.