Natural Resources Committee: Alinytjara Wilurara Regional Fact-Finding Trip

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 16:51 ): I move: 

That the report of the committee on the Alinytjara Wilurara Regional Fact-Finding Trip be noted.

 From 4 to 7 April this year, the Natural Resources Committee visited the Natural Resources Alinytjara Wilurara (NR AW) region as part of its regular schedule of visits to the state's eight Natural Resource Management regions. On the visit during that period were fellow committee members: the Presiding Member, Hon. Steph Key MP; Mr Jon Gee MP; Mr Peter Treloar MP; the Hon. Robert Brokenshire MLC; the Hon. Gerry Kandelaars MLC; and Mrs Annabel Digance MP, who has since resigned from the committee. 

The visit provided us with the opportunity to meet with a wide range of Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources staff, AW NRM Board members, traditional owners and community members. Alinytjara and Wilurara are the Pitjantjatjara words for north and west respectively, reflection the region's location in the state. With more than 11 million hectares, NR AW comprises more than half of South Australia's public land, and more than half of the region's area is dedicated Aboriginal lands owned or in trust of three major landholding authorities: APY lands, Maralinga Tjarutja lands and Yalata. 

Due to the large size of the region and the challenges and costs inherent in undertaking a visit to remote parts of the state, the committee visited only the southern portion of the AW region on this trip. Three years ago, the committee visited the northern portion, the APY lands. The findings of that visit are contained in a separate report tabled in this house in September 2013. 

Accompanying the committee on the visit and providing comprehensive background information and commentary were AW NRM Board Presiding Member Mr Parry Agius and NR AW Community Engagement Manager Mr Bruce Macpherson. Over the course of this four-day visit, the committee also met with many other regional and community staff and board members whose knowledge and presentations helped to inform this report, and I extend my thanks to them. 

The committee observed firsthand many excellent projects undertaken with support from the NRAW staff and of course the AWNRM Board. On day 1, the committee saw the recently completed Oak Valley water supply system, comprising 48 kilometres of pipeline installed by a team of 12 men from the community and using a special cart designed and built at Oak Valley expressly for this project.

Water is supplied through the new pipeline from six bores via solar pumps to a tank facility near the community, and the members were impressed to learn that this system replaced the former arrangements, which incorporated a truck carting 2,700 litres of water into the community every day—a four-hour round trip. 

As well as providing this critical water supply, the project provided training and paid meaningful employment to members of the Oak Valley community. The water supply project was implemented in partnership with SA Water's Remote Communities group and funded through both state and federal governments. 

Later that day the committee flew from Oak Valley to Maralinga, where we met with incoming village caretaker, John Harrison, and toured the area with the outgoing caretaker, Robin Matthews, who is a long-time resident of Maralinga and very knowledgeable about the area's history and culture. 

The committee heard that, although local people were, understandably, still wary of the area, their confidence and desire to be involved with telling the story of Maralinga was growing, underpinned by support from the commonwealth, the state Environment Protection Authority, the AWNRM Board and the roll-out of the state's co-management policy. This desire was reflected in the decision to support a tourism venture, Maralinga Tours, run by Mr Matthews with traditional owners' permission.

Having moved to Ceduna, on day 2, the members of the committee drove from that township to Googs Lake via Googs Track. At the lake's camping area, the committee met with local traditional owners and NRAW staff to hear about the remediation of public areas and how the introduction of statewide co-management policy assisted the project. The committee also heard that the combining of AW and Eyre Peninsula NRM staff in a single NRM office in Ceduna was beneficial. 

It was explained to us that the rehabilitation project at Googs Lake had helped to reduce negative visitor impacts and reverse the damage already done to protect the area's cultural heritage and environmental values. A community meeting to start the project reportedly resulted in a strong and diverse turnout, reflecting widespread support for the project from all sections of the community. 

The take-home message seems to be that solutions are found within communities and that the co-management works. The committee was very impressed with co-management in the AW region, and strongly encouraged its ongoing support. It was great to be at Googs Lake when it actually had a significant amount of water in it. I had not been there before. I know many people who have travelled up Googs Track on a number of occasions who had never seen any water in Googs Lake, so it was a rare site for those of us who were there that day to see the lake largely covered with water. 

On the third day of the trip, members visited the Yalata community and, following that, the Aboriginal Lands Trust-run visitor centre at the Head of Bight, where tourists can view whales seasonally. While we were at Yalata, it was interesting to learn of the work of many of the community involved in the management of the Head of Bight and their interest in safety in that area. 

Over the last two years, the Aboriginal Lands Trust has invested just over $250,000 in the cultural centre at the Head of Bight, with support from the Indigenous Land Corporation and the state Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Improvements include a solar photovoltaic power system for reliable energy supply for the centre and the caretaker's house and resealing the car park and access road. A grant from the Indigenous Land Corporation funded the construction and refurbishment of the boardwalk and shelters, which had been degraded through harsh weather. 

We were told that there had been concerns about the effects of recent seismic testing on whales in the Bight, with surveys indicating lower numbers of whales visiting the Bight while that seismic testing was ongoing—more so than in previous years. The committee also heard that Curtin University had been engaged by the oil and gas industry to conduct an analysis of whale migration to the Bight. The previous annual visits were about 160 whales but the 2015 migration season had seen only about 90 whales. However, I am pleased to note that the Curtin University researchers have recently recorded a record high number of whales returning in 2016 since the seismic testing concluded. 

On day 4, the committee visited the Murrawijinie Caves on the Nullarbor Plain where we heard about tourism and the protection of cultural heritage. Following that, we visited the Bunda Cliffs and we heard and saw evidence of the track rationalisation project, which was improving the local environment and also increasing visitor safety by making it more difficult for visitors to access tracks to the cliff area. Members then travelled back to Ceduna where we visited the arts and culture centre and the very impressive language centre that is part and parcel of that facility, before we flew back to Adelaide. 

I commend those who made that trip possible. It was a terrific opportunity to see a great deal of that part of South Australia ranging from Oak Valley, Maralinga, the Head of the Bight and Ceduna in that Googs Lake region including Yalata. We covered a great deal of that AWNRM region. I thank those members who took part in the trip and our staff, Patrick Dupont and Barbara Coddington. I commend the report to the house. 

The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE ( 17:02 ): I will be brief. There is a lot of business to get through in the next 60 minutes. I rise with pleasure to support the Hon. John Dawkins' presentation of the report on behalf of the NRC. I was not able to attend the whole of that field trip, but I did learn a lot in the time I was there with the committee. It is important that we continue to go on these field trips and get out there with the real people. Oak Valley was one of the few Aboriginal communities that I had not had the chance to visit before, having previously attended and visited Yalata with the formal minister for environment, the Hon. David Wotton. 

I had the privilege of going to Oak Valley and I commend the Aboriginal community, the management and particularly the teachers on the great work that they are doing there. It is an impressive community. Likewise, in Maralinga, a few dedicated men and women are determined to keep the history of Maralinga and develop the tourism opportunities there. Flying over the Bight, those white sandhills and the magnificent cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, which I had not been able to do for some time, is an enormous privilege and shows how pristine and natural that region is. 

I commend the NRM for the work they do there to keep it pristine, as well as the pastoral and grain-growing operators and farmers of that area. Whilst we desperately need economic expansion and development in this state, the trip highlighted to me the risks of BP exploration to the whales and the Bight, had it gone ahead in that region. That is enough from me at this point in time but it was a worthwhile trip and I commend the report to the house. 

Motion carried.