Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 May 1995
Parliamentary Record 10
Debates for 7th Assembly 1994 - 1997; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 7th Assembly 1994 - 1997
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES - Wednesday 17 May 1995 by all members of the committee and its staff - Graham Gadd, and Rod Applegate who was seconded from the Conservation Commission to help with expert advice and the preparation of the report. The Sessional Committee on the Environment worked very well on this reference and has shown the way for further work by itself and other committees of the Assembly. I believe the Northern Territory and the operation of this parliament will benefit from the use of this committee and other recently established committees. I commend the report. Mr MITCHELL (Millner): Mr Deputy Speaker, it is with mixed feelings that I speak today on the Mary River wetlands. It is good that I saw this country well before it reached the state that it is in today. However, when I went back recently, for the first time in 9 or 10 years, the changes were incredible. I have had the advantage of being familiar with this area since about 1971, as a fisheries officer, wildlife ranger, pastoralist and, in my teens, in the mineral exploration industry. I was extremely pleased when the honourable minister sought the expansion of the terms of reference of the Sessional Committee on the Environment to investigate and report on matters relating to environment protection and multiple use of wetlands associated with the Mary River system, including measures to rehabilitate and restore wetlands degraded by usage and natural occurrence. Given the record Wet that we have just experienced, the request was very timely. In 1971, the only way by road from Darwin to this area was via the old 47-Mile road which runs off the Stuart Highway just to the south of Manton Dam. It was considerably more than the day trip it is today. In the Mary River area, large numbers of buffalo roamed the flood plains and the freshwater swamps. Barramundi were to be caught at will in almost any billabong. Birdlife and other wildlife were prolific throughout the whole area, and there was no Mimosa pigra to be found anywhere. There is little doubt that buffalo contributed to some of the environmental damage in this area, as is mentioned in the report, but it would be unfair to say that their presence was the only factor involved. The human factor has also been a major player in the state the area is in today. Some of the damage has been intentional and some has occurred as a result of complete ignorance of the consequences of human activity. It must be clearly understood also that the Mary River system is not the ordinary river running through a flood plain and meandering off as a single stream. It is very unusual. In the wet season, the river floods and can become kilometres across in some areas as it flows out to sea. During the dry season, the river dries up to form a series of large billabongs and melaleuca swamps. Sampan and Tommycut Creeks, at the mouth of the Mary River, revert to saltwater tidal creeks through the Dry, or at least that is the way it was until about 1983 or thereabouts when some billabongs from Shady Camp towards the mouth of Sampan Creek became subject to saltwater intrusion. At that stage, salt water was already intruding from Tommycut Creek into the large freshwater swamps close to the coast. Today, large tracts of the swamp look as though they have been hit by an atomic bomb. The fragile barramundi nurseries in these swamps are under serious threat as a result of the imbalance in their natural habitat and the rapid onslaught of the saltwater intrusion. Thousands of areas of melaleuca trees have been destroyed and their remnants stand in the middle of what now represents a stark moonscape-like desert. Fortunately, the landowners and government bodies have worked vigorously together since the early 1980s to prevent the rapid spread of salt water into the freshwater environment. As mentioned in the report, this has involved the construction of barrages in key areas to stem 3290
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