Cairns Environment Roundtable was held on Sunday 28 February 2010 when Kate Jones, Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability met with representatives of environmental groups in the area including Syd Walker of Friends of the Earth Kuranda.
Syd presented the following briefing paper on three issues that particularly concern us:
- Water Quality
- Continuing vegetation clearance and associated wildlife habitat loss
1/ Transport with specific reference to the Kuranda Range
During this visit to FNQ, Ministers may well be lobbied by advocates of a proposed Four-Lane Highway through World Heritage, linking Cairns to the Tablelands.
This proposal was put on hold by the Bligh Government – when it announced that a decision over the highway would be deferred for at least a decade. But the main roads lobby never lets up.
Friends of the Earth Kuranda is one of many groups and networks that applauds the decision taken by the Bligh government to defer a decision on a new Highway. Developing the tablelands with the same car-dependency model that’s already rampant in FNQ is no way towards a sustainable future – quite apart from World Heritage and biodiversity issues specific to the proposed area and route.
However, we urge the Government should act now to reduce pressure on the existing two-lane Kuranda Range road, through effective demand management and better use of existing local rail facilities.
It is nothing less than a scandal that the busy and scenic Kuranda Range Road is still used by waste trucks to transport solid waste from a long-time malfunctioning ‘recycling’ facility in Cairns to landfill in Mareeba. Both ends of their journey are on existing rail links. Why isn’t rail used?
We ask the Government to put serious effort is put into revitalising rail in FNQ – and to pursuing transport demand management strategies. Taking effective action to reduce traffic on the Kuranda Range would be an excellent test-bed for broader sustainable transport planning.
FoE Kuranda proposed quite a sophisticated demand management project a couple of years ago. Our proposal was not accepted for funding by the State Government. We wish to know what the Government intends to do instead?
2/ Water quality
Among the plethora of threatening processes affecting the Great Barrier Reef is the hot potato of sediment , nutrient and especially pesticide run-off from land.
We have been appalled, over the years, at the complete absence of any serious monitoring of our local river – the Barron – for pesticide content. It’s known that several hundred pesticides are used in this catchment annually. The toxicity of this complex brew is really unknown. It is a serious issue for the reef and river wildlife – but there are additional concerns that the drinking supplies of townships such as Kuranda, extracted from the river without elaborate filtering for complex chemicals, may also be unsafe for long term use.
The Premier’s aspirational target of a 50% reduction of pollution run-off onto the Reef over the coming 4 years is a positive beginning. But there must be real monitoring – or it will be impossible to know whether or not it has been achieved – and real action, especially with regard to farmed land – or such an ambitious target will never be achieved.
Organic agriculture provides an obvious way forward – and we’d like to see a lot more government support for this small but not insignificant part of the Queensland agricultural sector which tends to overlooked.
We would also like to see the State Government require its own agencies and local councils to move rapidly, where possible, to chemical-free land maintenance strategies.
3/ Continuing vegetation clearance and associated wildlife habitat loss
As other groups at this meeting are leading on this issue we will not duplicate their efforts in this short briefing presentation, other than to note our deep concern over continuing loss of native vegetation in this area and our frustration that the existing planning regime fails to give adequate protection to this priceless asset.