Victoria has around 13,000 wetlands which include everything from the shoreline at Westernport Bay and the Gippsland Lakes to freshwater lakes to shallow marshes and meadows that dry out regularly. Wetlands are among the most bio-diverse ecosystems on earth, and in Victoria they are home to about 850 different plant species and 164 vertebrates! As well as being beautiful and valuable in their own right, they do incredibly useful things like purifying water and recycling nutrients. In fact Melbourne Water spends millions of dollars every year building wetlands to replace the ones that were bulldozed when Melbourne was built. It’s the best way to keep our rivers, bays and beaches healthy.
The trouble is our wetlands are under threat. 37% of Victoria’s wetlands have already disappeared for ever. They have been ploughed up and/or drained for agriculture, or else built over. They continue to disappear at an alarming rate – twice as many wetlands have been drained and ploughed up in the Wimmera in the last 20 years as in the previous 200. All the constructed wetlands in the whole of Melbourne or even the man-made lagoons at the Western Treatment Plant can’t keep up with that.
Before the last state election in 2010, the Coalition government promised to investigate the condition and management of wetlands along with other freshwater-dependent ecosystems. They were going to give the job to VEAC (the Victorian Environment Assessment Council), the independent statutory body whose role is specifically to look at issues like this. Now Environment Minister Ryan Smith has gone back on this promise and claims that a VEAC inquiry is not necessary, that other government strategies will be adequate.
We do not agree. Along with 20 other state and regional groups, we have called on the Napthine government to come good on the promise they made. Our precious wetlands are under threat from changes to their water regimes, weeds, grazing and cropping, and their management is fragmented across agencies without a clear framework. They/we need a thorough investigation and some decent recommendations for their management. The Napthine government should give VEAC the job.