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Speech: T4 Newcastle coal loader environmental impacts

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 6 Dec 2012


Adjournemnt Speech - Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Australia's coal export industry delivers dangerous climate change to the world. It also presents dangers at home. In the New South Wales Hunter Valley there is a growing awareness that living alongside the coal industry is bad for your health. A community campaign to oppose the fourth coal export terminal being built at Newcastle Harbour is gaining momentum because Hunter residents have become united by a common cause: they are sick of coal.

CTAG is a coalition of 16 Hunter based community groups who oppose the fourth coal loader development proposal, which is known as T4, which is being constructed in Newcastle harbour. A chief concern for CTAG is high levels of coal dust in Newcastle and across the Hunter from an increased number of coal wagons moving through the region and the further expansion of coal mines. They are also concerned about the many negative environmental impacts of the T4 proposal.

It is well known that each year many hundreds of coal ships make the long journey to export coal from Australia to Japan and Korea. What is less known is the reciprocal journey that thousands of migratory birds make each year, flying from Northern Asia to Australia to nest, breed, forage and fatten up in the unique wetland environment of the Hunter estuary, in the heart of Australia's largest coal-exporting port at Newcastle harbour.

The Hunter Bird Observers Club has expertly and thoroughly documented their concerns that the proposed T4, if built, would permanently destroy a key element of the wetland ecosystem of the Hunter estuary and the Hunter Wetlands National Park. Two wetland sites, Deep Pond on Kooragang Island and Swan Pond on Ash Island, will be destroyed if T4 goes ahead. Unfortunately these two sites lie just outside two RAMSAR listed wetlands. The Hunter Wetlands National Park received RAMSAR listing in 1984, and the nearby Hunter Wetlands Centre was listed with RAMSAR in 2002. Despite the important role they play in the wetland ecosystem, Deep Pond and Swan Pond were not listed, nor were they gazetted by the New South Wales government as part of the national park. The New South Wales government has now rezoned land on Ash Island to pave the way for the fourth coal loader to proceed.

The federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Tony Burke, has the final say in this. He can save these key wetland sites in the Hunter estuary and honour the Australian government's commitment under international agreements with China, Korea and Japan to protect migratory shorebird populations. These wetland areas, Deep Pond and Swan Pond, under threat of destruction are invaluable. They form a complex and densely interwoven ecosystem, with an extremely rare combination of near-natural wetlands, made up of coastal mangrove, melaleuca swamp forest and freshwater reed marshes, with artificial wetlands such as freshwater lagoons and ponds. Together they form a unique haven for the 112 species of waterbirds and 45 species of international migratory shorebirds they nurture, such as the endangered Australasian bittern and other threatened and vulnerable species like the green and golden bell frog and the estuary stingray. They combine both tidal seawater and brackish freshwater ponds, making them highly significant as both feeding and roosting sites for migratory shorebirds, often at critical stages of their life cycles, and providing refuge in times of inland droughts.

Much of the Hunter wetlands have already suffered from the existing coal port operations, whittled away through reclamation, infilling and dredging and degraded by pollution. When freshwater swamps were lost to development, one of the last remaining lakes, Deep Pond, became a pivotal watering ground for birds and animals alike. Its freshwater flats now provide essential roosting and feeding grounds for a great many local, international and threatened species. These wetlands are internationally recognised as being a most important destination in New South Wales for international migratory shorebirds using the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. They have suffered a 'death by a thousand subdivisions' and are also threatened by changes in tidal range due to dredging to accommodate bigger and bigger coal ships, and changes in the freshwater and saltwater balance.

There is increased contamination of these ecosystems by the constant passage of coal trains and the subsequent coal handling and loading. If the annual throughput of coal to the port of Newcastle reaches the predicted 330 million tonnes in 2022, an estimated 37 tonnes of coal dust would be emitted per kilometre every year from loaded train movements, all of which would pass through this area.

Like so much of the rich biodiversity in the Hunter region, these magnificent wetlands are being forsaken for vested corporate interests. It is so important that we preserve what remaining habitat we have for these migratory shorebirds. I urge the environment minister to offer the highest level of protection available to the Hunter estuary, including Deep Pond and Swan Pond and its migratory bird populations.


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