Mr PASIN (Barker) (10:20): I rise to speak about two geographically linked environmental needs in the iconic Lower Lakes and Coorong. Having an interconnector between Lake Albert and the Coorong is something that has been explored and discussed for a very long time. This is because the connection between the neighbouring larger lake, Lake Alexandrina, and Lake Albert is very restricted, so it’s very hard to facilitate water exchange. A Lake Albert scoping study was undertaken in 2013. It investigated a range of potential management actions to reduce salinity in Lake Albert. In relation to the interconnector, the proposed study concluded that there would be social, environmental and ecological benefits. It would help us improve salinity levels by returning them in a water-efficient manner to their historical ranges. Also, according to the Murraylands RDA, there would be a significant economic benefit, an additional 273 jobs, taking gross regional product from $2.7 million to $33.4 million.
The second issue I want to touch on is the New Zealand fur seals in the Coorong. Long-nosed New Zealand fur seals are found all along the South Australian coast, where they frequently interact with fishers, water users and beachgoers. Between 1800 and 1830, the species was hunted to near extinction. Thankfully, they’ve recovered, and the population in South Australian waters is now estimated in the range of 100,000 animals. Long-nosed fur seals are inquisitive creatures. They will often explore new territory.
Reports of fur seals appearing in the Coorong began in 2007. Fishers and the traditional owners of the Lower Murray lakes, the Coorong and surrounding areas, the Ngarrindjeri people, have both been impacted by the arrival of seals in the Coorong. The New Zealand fur seal is an apex predator in the Coorong and Lower Lakes and is not a native one. These seals are decimating the native fish populations. Generations of fishermen in the Coorong have made a living from fishing the Lower Lakes and Coorong, and it’s not just the fish; native birdlife is also under attack.
In 2015, I met with local leaders in Meningie and confirmed that federal legislation does not stand in the way of dealing with the issues of these seals in the Coorong and Lower Lakes through a sustainable cull. I commend the local state member of parliament, Adrian Pederick MP, for all his hard work lobbying on this issue. Regions matter, as the South Australian state government tells us, and the Coorong is no exception. We need action on this issue for the economic, environmental and ecological future of the Coorong and Lower Lakes. I urge the South Australian state government and its relevant authorities to authorise a sustainable cull of the New Zealand fur seal in the interests of our environment.