I’ve lived all my life in south-east Queensland, and it’s fair to say that sometimes Queenslanders can be very parochial. We grab onto all sorts of things to try to show how Queenslanders are special, especially if it makes us look better than the ‘southerners’. Parochialism isn’t unique to Queensland of course, but we can certainly lay it on thick sometimes.
But occasionally I have to wonder why we are proudly parochial about some things – like our sporting teams for example – but seem to be totally disinterested in some of the really special things that are genuinely unique about Queensland.
A very relevant example of this is the Queensland lungfish (also called the Australian lungfish by southerners who are trying to muscle in on our fish). The Queensland lungfish (formally known as Neoceratodus forsteri, just to avoid nomenclature arguments) is arguably the most scientifically significant fish in the whole world, and the only natural breeding habitat it has is in south-east Queensland.
The Queensland government, promoters of the Smart State slogan, are determined to press ahead with a dam which according to Professor Jean Joss, probably the world’s leading expert on the Neoceratodus forsteri, will almost certainly push the fish to “critically endangered” status, and in the long term will lead to its extinction in the wild.
Professor Joss gave evidence to a Committee hearing as part of the third day of public hearings of the Senate Committee inquiry into south-east Queensland’s water supplies, and the Traveston Dam in particular.
The day also had some good evidence from the local conservation group, the Wide Bay Burnett Conservation Council, as well as officials from the federal Department of Environment & Water.
But I found Professor Joss’s material the most interesting, perhaps because it put aside all the disputes about water yield, seepage, evaporation, megalitres, etc and just focused on the impact on one fish. One very significant, highly unusual, pretty damn cool fish (even if they are somewhat on the ugly side of the spectrum) – whose only breeding habitat is in south-east Queensland.
I recommend you read Professor Joss’s succinct, two page submission here.
The Queensland lungfish is “probably the oldest vertebrate species in existence”, with a fossil record stretching back around 400 million years – way older than the dinosaurs. Prof Joss says “To describe it as “scientifically invaluable” would be an understatement.”
The final paragraph of her submission states
The take-home message is very simple. Neoceratodus forsteri is a species that provides unique scientific evidence for how our own distant ancestors made their way onto land. It is a scientific treasure that Queensland (and Australia) holds in trust for the whole world; the Mary River dam will destroy its spawning and nursery habitat and threaten it with extinction; and this will be a scientific scandal that the scientific community will neither forgive nor forget, and which will permanently stain Australia’s conservation record in the eyes of the world.
Why are Queenslanders accepting this? Our lungfish, the most scientifically significant fish in the world – indeed the most significant fish in the entire universe as far as we know –and we are blithely sitting to one side while we knowingly risk its extinction, after it has survived for 400 million years?!
Everyone knows we are going through major water restrictions and are in the middle of a big drought, but the dam won’t help with the current drought. Naturally the people from communities near the affected area are up in arms, but the level of protest from people in Brisbane and surrounds just a little bit further south is very low.
In the final washup, it will take a political decision to stop this dam – either from the Queensland government changing its mind, or the federal Environment Minister using the clear powers they have under the federal environment law to stop the Queensland govenment being stupid. Public pressure from people outside the area immediate effected will make a huge impact on whether this happens. I should say, as someone who played a key role in putting those powers in place under federal environmental law, in the face of some very fierce criticism (from the Green Party, but also from some environment groups of all people), I’m very keen to see that they are used as they were intended – to prevent actions that have major negative impacts on matters of national environmental signficance.
The Committee will have a further hearing on 4th June in Canberra, which should include some further evidence from Queensland government representatives.