World Wetlands Day reminds us of commitment needed in Victoria

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As a duck hunter, I consider myself to be a conservationist.

Healthy wetlands and waterways provide habitat that is ideal for waterfowl, such as ducks, to thrive.

Healthy wetlands also provide a wider ecological benefit by safeguarding communities against natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Victoria is fortunate enough to have 11 wetlands considered to be of such significance they are named as ecosystems the Australian Government has agreed should be actively protected, as per the Ramsar Convention.

On February 2 each year, the Ramsar Convention and the wetlands it aims to protect are recognised as part of the annual World Wetlands Day. For 2017, the focus is ‘Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction’.

With the generous rains of last year’s winter and spring, those of us who spend a considerable amount of time at our state’s wetlands welcomed the replenished conditions of our waterways. It is imperative to ensure policy and actions are aligned to ensure the wetland habitats continue to thrive.

Unfortunately, the Victorian Government has failed to follow policy that would help make our valuable wetlands sustainable and avoid the continued degradation caused by drought and ill-conceived and inconsistent irrigation practices.

The Victorian Auditor-General released a report in September 2016 – ‘Meeting Obligations to Protect Ramsar Wetlands’ – which was critical of successive state governments for their failure to properly manage the state’s obligations under the convention. Essentially, there is a lack of a coordinated effort to provide base-line data and, following on from that, monitor the health of the wetlands.

There are some exceptions to this criticism, in that the report noted Gippsland Lakes, Kerang Wetlands and Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands have clear governance arrangements, which should be used as examples of ‘better practices’.

However, there is a lack of coordination between the agency responsible for promoting the conservation of the wetlands, in the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), and the agency responsible for implementing management plans, in Parks Victoria. The report notes that DELWP has limited oversight and Parks Victoria poorly executes its plans, and is described as being ‘reactive’ based on available funding.

As we mark Word Wetlands Day, I call on the Andrews Government to step up to its obligation under the Ramsar Convention and take serious its election promise to develop a strategy that would improve the state’s riparian land and river ways. A starting point would be implementing the recommendations made by the Attorney-General in September.

Meanwhile, I will continue to do my part in helping conserve and protect our wetlands. As a politician, I will continue to advocate for more resources and better management of the wetlands. As a hunter, I will continue to provide hands-on support of the conservation activities of Field and Game Australia – the #surprisingconservationists.

It will be fitting that on this week of World Wetlands Day, the Geelong Field and Game will be opening the Connewarre Wetlands Centre on Sunday (February 5). For the past three years, thousands of volunteer hours have gone towards the funding and construction of the centre.

In the words of organisers: “This project has been made possible by donators and volunteers with a vision to share their respect for wetland habitats, their dedication to wetland conservation and restoration, the wish for future generations to enjoy the ecological, environmental, educational, and recreation benefits that wetlands have to offer.”

To mark World Wetlands Day, I encourage everyone who cares about the future of our wetlands to visit the Connewarre Wetlands Centre opening, or find out more about a wetland near you.

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