IN its recent Hunter Regional Plan, the Baird government waxed lyrical about this region’s “biodiversity-rich natural environment”, stressing a need to invest in conservation that “enhances habitat connections” while delivering “multiple benefits to the environment and the community”.
Unfortunately, as this plan and its platitudes to the protection of the environment were being penned, another arm of the government was quietly preparing to sell six hectares of bushland at Salamander Bay that at least some people had thought were protected as part of the Mambo Wetlands.
Despite various protests and calls to stop, the government unloaded the land – once earmarked for a school – for a paltry $250,000. Although the land is protected to some extent, its E2 environmental conservation zoning could still allow some building, which is presumably why the developer in question bought the site.
Had the land itself had little or no environmental value, then the sale would not be so galling. But it sits on the western edge of the 170-plus hectare parcel that comprises the Mambo Wetlands, recognised as a crucial habitat for the region’s famed but dwindling koala population.
Even the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, recognised the error of the government’s ways, calling the sale “a mistake”. In comments to the Newcastle Herald, Mr MacDonald said the Department of Education’s sole concern had been to maximise its financial return.
As Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said in parliament on Tuesday, the number of people who had protested over the sale meant the government could be under no illusions about the importance of the land in question. While some may say that the majority of the wetland still remains, this sort of creeping gradualism – snipping off bits of undeveloped land here and there – makes a mockery of the environmental claims the government makes in the regional plan.
In the meantime, calls for the broader Mambo Wetlands to be protected under the Ramsar convention for wetland protection will certainly help to focus attention on the site in question. At a time when popular opinion is recognising the importance of restricting our urban sprawls, it makes no sense to be selling environmentally important land in Port Stephens for a few pieces of silver. And it makes good sense to maximise the protection of our natural assets, which a Ramsar listing would do.