In amongst all the legislation being pushed through this week, I also got to table the report of the inquiry into salinity which the Senate Environment Committee had been conducting for the last year.
I was very pleased that we managed to get a unanimous report across all party lines, with Liberal, Labor and Green Senators all signing on (along with me) to 23 practical but strong recommendations aimed at improving the ways we deal with salinity.
The report was titled “Living With Salinity” as a way of emphasising that salinity is not like a virus which we are trying to exterminate, but rather a feature of our environment which we have to understand and manage. Whilst we recommended that the government commit to extending existing funding programs, we managed not to just suggest that everything would be solved by pouring lots of extra money into it.
There definitely needs to be more awareness about the impacts and risks of urban salinity. Most people think of salinity as mainly affecting agriculture, but it can and does cause enormous damage to urban infrastructure such as roads, pipes and housing, which can be just as expensive and destructive.
We also need to do better at controlling the behaviours that continue to exacerbate the problem. There is no point spending money trying to fix up damage caused by salinity if people are simultaneously doing things, like landclearing or urban developments, which add to the problem.
In contrast, we are falling short in getting private money into the mix. More private sector involvement in sustainable industries in areas at risk of salinity would assist in keeping these risks under control.
There has been some very impressive scientific research done into many aspects of salinity, which has helped us getter a better grip on the size and nature of the problems which salinity presents. However, we can do a lot better at coordinating and disseminating knowledge, and at focusing it on the significant variations which occur from one region to another.