25 November 2021

This piece was first published in Canberra Weekly on Thursday 25 November 2021.

Canberra’s lakes and waterways are a central part of life in the capital. As a child, my favourite thing to do as a treat was to hire a paddle boat on Lake Burley Griffin with my parents.

Nowadays, my husband and I love getting out on the lakes in our tandem kayak, getting that unique water level view of the banks and the birds that inhabit them as well as some exercise. While we haven’t been able to kayak as much as we’d like since having small children, we really appreciate having Lyneham Wetlands nearby, which provides a beautiful pram-friendly walk and opportunity to connect with nature right in the middle of the suburbs.

My experiences are the norm for many Canberrans.

Head out to any Canberra lakeside park or reserve on a weekend and you’ll see families getting together for picnics, children’s birthday parties, and parents teaching their children how to ride bikes and walk the dog.

And these spaces have become even more important recently during lockdown. Taking care of Canberra’s waterways and the catchment areas around them gives people access to a better quality of living.

Almost half of our threatened animals and one-quarter of threatened plants live in urban areas. But we are letting many of these assets go to waste, with the health of our urban waterways often fragile.

For too long, our rivers, creeks and wetlands have been treated like stormwater and industrial waste drains and left to become polluted and filthy. Urban run-off feeds frequent blue-green algae outbreaks in our lakes, pest species such as carp are endemic, and litter kills our native wildlife.

The ACT Government has invested heavily in improving our waterways, including restoring natural wetlands such as those at Lyneham in place of cement drains, upgrading infrastructure, cleaning up water quality, and educating the community on ways they can help.

The ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment is also busy investigating the state of the territory’s lakes and waterways. The report, due back next year, will provide valuable recommendations on how to protect and restore the health of Canberra’s waterways.

There are also hundreds of community groups across the country taking action to clean up their local waterways for everyone to enjoy. Here in my electorate, groups such as the Molonglo, Ginninderra and Southern Catchment groups, SEE-Change and the Climate Factory work hard to improve and care for our urban waterways and their surrounds.

It’s why I welcome Labor’s recent $200 million commitment to fix urban rivers and catchments. If Labor wins government, it will work hand-in-hand with these dedicated community groups and local and state governments to regenerate their waterways and the catchment areas – restoring precious habitat and creating valuable recreational spaces for local communities.

The $200 million Urban Rivers and Catchments Program is expected to provide grants for as many as 100 projects – and I will be advocating hard to secure grants for projects in Canberra. Works will include creating wetlands to slow water flow and filter pollutants from stormwater before it reaches our rivers, removing cement walls to return concreted waterways back to their natural state, and revegetation and tree planting.

The repaired and restored waterways will, in turn, deliver improvements to water quality and the local environment, create improved open spaces for kids and families to enjoy and create local jobs. It will also provide a much-needed sanctuary for wildlife. Citizen science and education projects for pre-schoolers and school age children will ensure the good work will be protected and continue for future generations.

It’s an exciting commitment which will have real benefit to communities across the country. Labor knows healthy waterways help build a healthy city.

Canberra’s waterways and wetlands are a great asset and frame our beautiful city as a showcase to the world. Environmentally, they are havens for biodiversity, provide habitat and breeding grounds for our rare and wonderful native species, and sequester carbon.

Whether for relaxing, exercise, or sightseeing, they are a wonderful place for recreation and to connect with our community. Labor’s policy will give them the care and protection they deserve and continue Labor’s strong record of delivering environmental policies which deliver results.

This piece was first published in Canberra Weekly on Thursday 25 November 2021.