Oct 20, 2015

A healthy Cooks River is critical for the inner west

Last week I spoke in the Parliament about the Cooks River, and the important role urban waterways such as this play in our local community.

I told Parliament:

The Cooks River winds its way through the inner west as the southern boundary of my electorate of Grayndler.

On a pleasant day, the local parks neighbouring the river overflow with families and friends.

People walk their dogs, cycle down the designated park which runs alongside the riverbank or take their kids to the water park that was established by Marrickville Council just a short time ago.

But it was not always this way.

For a long time the Cooks River had a reputation as one of the most polluted rivers in Australia.

Restoration began in the 1990s, and there has been a great deal of progress since then.

Indeed, I was proud when in 2010 we delivered, in government, $2 million to assist with funding to help revitalise the river.

Today the Cooks River is growing in health, and I want to congratulate in particular the councils—Marrickville Council and Canterbury City Council—the Cooks River Alliance, the Cooks River Valley Association and the Mudcrabs, for their determination in restoring this waterway.

For decades these organisations have coordinated clean-up efforts, educated our local community and advocated for funding to revitalise the river.

These organisations and particularly those volunteers in them have spent literally years of their lives dedicating themselves to improving this natural environment.

It is an example of how hard work by the community can make a difference. It shows the immense value that local communities attach to their urban waterways.

As our cities continue to grow we need to give more thought to our waterways and to the role that they play in our neighbourhoods.

Waterways make up the veins of our cities and contribute to the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our local communities.

This was something that former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam recognised as part of his vision for Western Sydney and other cities.

He ensured that each house had access to a sewerage system.

This was a tremendous equaliser, and it also meant that as Sydney’s population grew the city became more liveable.

In a speech at Melbourne University in 1969 Whitlam, as then Leader of the Opposition, said this:

… urban man is diminished by any final severance of his links with nature and the countryside …

Some years later, at his successful campaign launch in Blacktown in 1972, Whitlam said:

A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future.

Whitlam’s assessment of the importance of cities to life in this country is even more relevant today than it was in 1972.

It has now been just over a year since I put forward Labor’s urban policy agenda at the National Press Club.

I spoke about 10 ways that the national government can provide leadership in urban policy in cooperation with other levels of government, with industry and with the community.

One of the ideas I put forward is that we need to enhance sustainability and resilience of household and industrial water supply and rehabilitate our urban waterways.

For too long these urban waterways were used for industrial waste, and I do find it concerning that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has given the water portfolio to Barnaby Joyce.

While water management in rural and regional Australia is of the utmost importance, our inland waterways matter too.

I am of the view that water policy should be determined on the basis of science and outcomes, not abandoned as part of a political horse trade.

The federal government must advocate for an integrated approach across planning, transport and infrastructure when it comes to dealing with the challenges of urbanisation, but part of it has to be dealing with water.

That is why, when Labor launched Australia’s first national urban policy in 2011, Our Cities, Our Future, the policy spoke about water management and waste management as a critical part of the bigger picture.

Labor’s policy platform adopted at our national conference provides a strong framework for improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities, where four out of every five Australians live.

Management of our urban waterways, water recycling and water management in our cities is a critical part of making sure that Australia becomes the sustainable place that it should be, particularly as our cities grow into the future.

(Hansard, Thursday, 15 October 2015)