There is an intrinsic, intertwined relationship between the natural environment, human wellbeing and economic progress.
Global pressures on the environment such as climate change, exponential population growth and unsustainable use of natural resources are reminders that we cannot take our natural environment for granted. Everything has a breaking point.
The last South Australian State of the Environment report brought little joy - further decline in our biodiversity; increased impact on our coastal zone; increased pollution; an increase in volume of per capita waste; reduced water flows for the natural environment from the River Murray; and changes in the acidity, salinity and temperature of our marine environment.
Within this context, SA-BEST will focus on the following strategic sustainability and environment priorities:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report concludes that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are at the highest levels in at least the last 800,000 years, with many of the flow-on effects to our natural systems, unprecedented.
As a result of atmospheric warming, the oceans are also absorbing this heat and warming and as a result, the rate of sea level rise since the industrial revolution has been greater than during the previous two millennia. Climate systems are changing, bring about shifts in rainfall and weather patterns. The oceans are also absorbing more CO2, resulting in their acidification.
The increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, storm surges, droughts, floods, cyclones, and bushfires are already exposing our vulnerability and the vulnerability of many of our natural ecosystems.
We do have some capacity to adapt, but these efforts will only be effective if we also make substantial and genuine effort to reduce our greenhouse emissions.
SA-BEST strongly supports Australia’s commitment at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement to reduce our greenhouse emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – at least, and will work with our Federal colleagues to urgently and substantially increase the level of funding and commitment towards both climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.
In 2004 the new Natural Resources Management (NRM) Act established a legislative framework to support ecologically sustainable development in the State.
The Act consolidated a range of previously separate legislative arrangements for water catchment management, land management, animal and plant control and also brought together incorporated regional natural resource management bodies established by the Federal Government to manage and deliver funding through the Landcare, Coastcare and Bushcare programs.
Whilst there was a need, and strong support, for a more integrated approach to managing natural resources, the current system has been a disappointment.
Instead of delivering real action on the ground, it has been plagued by inefficiency and bureaucracy, with too much focus on planning and administration at the expense of on-ground and extension support.
SA-BEST believes funding and administrative arrangements for NRM delivery in South Australia need to be completely overhauled and the focus returned to delivering real results on the ground.
In addition, land managers need more local access to technical expertise, particularly when it comes to navigating regulation in the area of native vegetation, coastal and land management. SA-BEST supports a review of funding and resourcing to more strongly re-integrate this technical support into local NRM delivery.
We need our NRM system to work.
SA-BEST supports a complete overhaul of the funding and administrative arrangements for NRM delivery in South Australia to return the focus to delivering real results on the ground, including to more strongly integrate native vegetation, coast and land management technical support into local NRM delivery.
WATER AND CATCHMENT MANAGEMENT
It goes without saying that our water resources are critical to life, the environment and economic growth.
High-quality water supplies are needed to support our growing population and enrich our surroundings. Future water availability will also be a key determinant of industry growth, including in mining, manufacturing and agriculture.
Key to our state’s water supply is the River Murray.
In 2009, as part of negotiations with the Rudd Government over its $42 billion stimulus package, Nick Xenophon – in his balance of power role in the Senate – insisted that a package of measures be funded and implemented at the height of the millennium drought. That included $500 million for environmental water buybacks to help restore the health of the Murray, $200 million for stormwater harvesting and $200 million for River communities under stress.
SA-BEST’s Nick Xenophon has called for a Royal Commission following ongoing problems with the Murray Darling Basin Plan, the Authority, and allegations of water theft along the Murray Darling river system.
All levels of Government have a case to answer.
In addition to the Murray, our state’s other rivers, groundwater systems, ephemeral streams, wetlands, estuaries and rock-holes are under increasing threat. Many of our water resources are not managed within sustainable limits, with water quality and pollution levels highly variable across the state.
Furthermore, whilst the quality and reuse of treated wastewater is increasing - as is the capture and reuse of stormwater - we need to do more, and faster.
The 2015 Senate Inquiry on Urban Stormwater Management initiated by then Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon revealed that water sensitive urban design (WSUD) has the capability to reduce costs of flooding and management of stormwater systems, to improve urban greenspace, to improve urban coastal water quality, and to increase liveability of urban areas and reduce use of mains water in summer.
SA-BEST supports the existing Murray Darling Basin Plan and a Royal Commission into allegations of water theft in the upstream states.
SA-BEST also calls for a substantial increase in funding for water sensitive urban design and stormwater capture and reuse initiatives for both metropolitan and regional areas.
South Australia’s coastline stretches for just over 5,000 kilometres and has a diversity of sheltered waters, gulfs, bays and open ocean coast.
More than 90% of South Australians live on or near the coast, with many commercial, industrial and recreational activities relying on our coastal and marine resources.
This means, in many cases our precious coastline is, quite literally, being loved to death.
Our fragile coastal dunes and beaches, cliffs and estuaries are then placed under further stress from development pressure, along with increasing foot, motorbike and vehicular traffic.
On top of that, the effects of sea level rise will continue to see greater erosion of dunes and loss of beaches at many locations right across the state, along with increases in coastal flooding.
This will not only impact on infrastructure and development, but also coastal ecosystems and habitats and our own coastal lifestyle.
The current level of resources allocated to coastal management in South Australia are woefully inadequate for the task ahead. SA-BEST supports establishing a Coastal Management Authority that relies on the best science and evidence available to manage our coastline and required remedial action.
We are running out of time.
SA-BEST supports an urgent and thorough review into how we will protect, manage and fund our coasts into the future.
Around 80% of marine life found in South Australia's waters are found nowhere else on earth, with our marine environments more diverse and unique in many ways than the Great Barrier Reef.
South Australian marine waters support more than 6000 invertebrate species, 350 fish species, 16 breeding seabird species, 33 mammal species, 1200 algae species and 12 seagrass species. Our rich diversity of marine life is a result of the unique south-facing coastline, varying oceanographic conditions and the wide variety of coastal and marine environments.
The Marine Park system in South Australia was introduced in 2012 to conserve marine biodiversity and habitat, within four levels of protection. The mandatory 10-year review of the Marine Park management plans by 2022 will provide a thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of each park in delivering the objectives of the Marine Parks Act, including zoning arrangements.
Since their introduction, South Australia’s Marine Parks have not been without controversy. SA-BEST recognises the challenges in finding a balance between protecting our marine environment and growing the opportunities this brings for marine-based tourism, whilst recognising the importance of our world-class, sustainably managed fishing industry.
SA-BEST supports maintaining the current network of marine parks in South Australia, with sanctuary zones based on a clear, thorough and evidence-based process, not political interference.
South Australia has many important and endemic species – found nowhere else in the world. Our biodiversity is critical to human life, helping to regulate air and water quality, mitigate increases in atmospheric carbon, control erosion and pests, pollinate plants, and contribute resources for food, fibre, fuel and medicines.
Unfortunately, the extent and health of remaining native vegetation in South Australia is declining, with less and less revegetation and habitat restoration being undertaken.
The number of threatened species and ecological communities are increasing. So is the number and distribution of most pest plants, animals and diseases.
Farmers and other private landholders are the custodians of around 65% of the state’s remaining native vegetation. We must provide stronger support for private landholders, as environmental stewards, to maintain and improve these remaining pockets of important habitat and biodiversity.
SA-BEST supports a much stronger focus, and increased landholder stewardship support for landscape revegetation and restoration efforts across the state.
Whilst South Australian recycling rates are commendable, the volume of waste generated per person in this state has increased. We are increasingly becoming a throw-away society.
China's decision to implement bans and more stringent contamination standards on a range of imported recyclables is a further reminder that our own waste management behaviour at home has global impact.
Whilst China’s decision will undoubtedly cause short-term disruption to our recycling facilities, it also offers a timely opportunity for us to develop stronger domestic recycling markets and local processing and secondary manufacturing.
The waste management and resource recovery industry is already a significant contributor to our state’s economy, with an annual turnover of around $1 billion and employing around 4,800 people.
We are well placed to attract and grow new, potentially high-value added, advanced re-manufacturing enterprises.
As at 30 June 2017, the balance of the Green Industry Fund was $108.3 million. SA-BEST believes the timing is right to significantly increase the level of re-investment from this fund back into growing the industry and helping to further reduce waste from landfill.
SA-BEST supports a significant increase in the level of re-investment from the ‘Green Industry Fund’ back into new initiatives that result in waste reduction, a greater diversion of waste to landfill and; new re-use and recycling industry and employment opportunities.
Renewable energy is our future.
SA-BEST is a strong supporter of storage-based renewable energy technologies, such as solar thermal. Nick Xenophon stands by his deal with the federal Coalition Government to secure $110 million concessional equity loan to Solar Reserve, to secure their $650 million ‘Aurora’ concentrated solar thermal power plant at Port Augusta. The first in Australia. The largest in the world.
There are many other exciting, new opportunities for South Australia in storage-based renewable energy, including more solar thermal and solar PV, bioenergy, waste to energy, pumped hydro and hydrogen fuel, along with rapid advances in battery storage, demand management that is improving efficiency, stability and bringing down the price.
SA-BEST is committed to a renewables future that provides affordable, reliable, quality and secure power, that is good for jobs, small business, residents and the environment.
SA-BEST supports the current state target of generating at least 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, to drive investment and reduce emissions. SA-BEST is open to a more ambitious target if it can be shown that it will lower electricity prices and enhance reliability of supply.
ENCOURAGING LOW-EMISSIONS TRANSPORT
Australia ranks close to the bottom in transport energy rankings.
South Australia has low rates of public transport and cycling, and high and growing private car use. Not only does this contribute to congestion, air pollution and noise, but vehicles are a significant source of greenhouse emissions.
SA-BEST supports initiatives to increase public transport accessibility and use, including inter-regional options; and to further encourage cycling as a transport option. We also support and encourage the manufacturing of electric vehicles and related industries in South Australia.
SA-BEST supports an increase in public transport accessibility and use, including inter-regional options. We also encourage cycling as a transport option and strongly encourage the uptake, and manufacturing, of electric vehicles and related industries in South Australia.
Extraction of unconventional shale and tight gas relies on a controversial practice called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”- fracturing underground coal seams and injecting water, sand and chemicals into the fracture to release the gas contained within.
In other parts of Australia, there are limitations and prohibitions on ‘fracking’ for a number of reasons, including potential to contaminate groundwater.
Farming and primary production growth in the south-east of SA has a strong future, which SA-BEST does not believe is compatible with fracking. There is considerable risk to the Limestone Coast’s Clean and Green image with this technology, including the export wine industry.
There is also overwhelming opposition in the local community over fracking.
SA-BEST has significant concerns about unconventional gas extraction in the South-East and we oppose fracking in this region until all health and environmental safety concerns are addressed and a social licence is achieved.
The risks of groundwater contamination, reputational damage for our agricultural sector and social damage to our communities is too great if we get it wrong.
SA-BEST opposes fracking in our state’s South-East until all health and environmental safety concerns are addressed and most importantly, until a social licence is achieved.
UNDERGROUND COAL GASIFICATION
Underground Coal Gasification is a very different – but equally controversial - process, underground coal gasification converts coal into gas by burning coal underground and then extracting and processing the resulting “syngas”, which is brought to the surface in pipes.
Nearly two years ago, the Queensland Government put a ban on underground coal gasification because it believed the environmental risks outweighed economic benefits.
SA-BEST supports responsible business investment in South Australia and appreciates the need to avoid presenting a sovereign risk. However, taking into account action by other jurisdictions and with precautionary principle in mind, we must tread very carefully until such time as environmental safety can be assured through a rigorous and independent assessment.
SA-BEST insists that proposals for underground coal gasification in South Australia must be subject to a rigorous and independent assessment with regards to safety, environment and economics in a fully open and transparent manner.
DRILLING FOR OIL AND GAS IN THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN BIGHT
The 2017 Senate Standing Committee report into oil or gas production in the Great Australian Bight considered a number of issues including resource security, economic activity, jobs, professional and recreational fishing, tourism, environmental conservation and risk management of a catastrophic event.
Evidence given to the committee set out the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight, with South Australia likely to suffer irreversible consequences to its coastal environment, and deep and long term economic damage.
Any proposal to justify drilling in the Great Australian Bight must unequivocally demonstrate that the potential benefits far outweigh harm to the environment and our economy.
Weighing up the risks and benefits to date, SA-BEST is not yet satisfied that the burden of proof that drilling in the Great Australian Bight would not be harmful, has been met.
SA-BEST opposes drilling for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight until such time as it can meet the burden of proof required by the precautionary principle.
Radioactive waste is produced each year from the use of radioactive materials in medicine, industry and research. Over 100 sites across Australia are currently licensed to store radioactive waste and materials on an interim basis, including Lucas Heights near Sydney. Many of these facilities are nearing capacity or were not designed for disposal or long-term storage.
On 12 December 2014, the Commonwealth announced it would be seeking voluntary nominations of land for a national low-intermediate radioactive waste management facility. Twenty-eight nominations from landholders across Australia were received. Three shortlisted sites are in South Australia – two near Kimba on Eyre Peninsula and one near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges. The issue has divided both communities.
The Commonwealth has stated it will not proceed to the next phase unless there is broad community support.
Earlier this year Senator Matt Canavan, the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, advised he would need a figure in the range of 65% community support to progress plans in Kimba. Three ballots have been run in Kimba and none have reached 60%. More recently, the Minister said there was no threshold which constituted ‘broad community support’.
SA-BEST fully supports the action of our Federal colleagues to instigate a Senate inquiry into the radioactive waste management facility consultation and selection process, if the Federal Minister does not make public all relevant information.