Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (12:19): Thank you, sir, and congratulations on your retirement speech yesterday. I am sad that I did not contribute, but it was all inclusive, as I witnessed. I would like to make a contribution to the commission to establish and maintain the exceptional tree register. The feeling is that it will impose significant and ongoing administrative function, and it is also unknown exactly what councils will do in implementing such a register.
If we look at the requirement that councils must provide a list of exceptional trees at least each month, as other members will talk about, what designates a significant tree? Obviously, living in a regional setting, living on a river or living on flood plains, or being surrounded by commercial trees or ancient forests, there is a significant piece of work that would need to be done, particularly in understanding what the significance of a tree register means.
Currently, I think there are a number of areas of duplication when it comes to tree registration and whether it is adhering to the Native Vegetation Act and whether there would be confusion under the current legislative controls by other regulatory requirements for trees. I would say that the bond provisions of the bill are impractical. They will impose significant financial cost burden on any development affecting an exceptional tree or adjacent to within 10 metres of an exceptional tree.
What are exceptional trees? What is the significance of exceptional trees? Are they a tree that is a native tree? Are they an introduced species? Are they a tree of significant age or are they trees that have been planted by our forebears or our forefathers for a level of significance?
As an example, if I look in the Riverland to the area of Monash, there is the Lone Gum. It is the only river red gum, a 20-metre tree, which was still standing after much of the land was cleared. It gave shade to the teams of surveyors who camped while that area was being developed. Also, the Monash school uses that tree as their emblem. What we need to better understand is that urban canopy and preserving brilliant trees is great, but it does not just have to be in an urban setting.
As I have said, the area that I represent, being Chaffey, is one of the greatest electorates in South Australia and it has a number of areas with trees of significance. It also has ancient forests. So what is the role of looking at preserving trees of significance if it is just in an urban setting? Where is the significance of protecting or keeping that register of trees of significance?
I know that a flood plain I overlook from my home has trees that are 400 and 500 years old and they are significant trees, but how are those trees counted? How are they registered? We have to have a better understanding of exactly what the trees are there to do, why they are there and if they were planted for reasons. I think there needs to be a much clearer understanding, so that is why I think this bill will be impractical and impose further financial cost burden on any further development.
I want to talk a little more about the significance of trees in general and why we have large trees that are normally given a registration or given significance here in metropolitan Adelaide. I think South Australia is a beneficiary of all sorts of trees that have to be registered and protected, but also trees that are there not only to reduce the consumption of water and the consumption of energy but they are there for different reasons.
They are there in different climates, and different trees are in different areas of our state to help protect not only animals but humans from the heat and from the sun. That seems to be having a greater bearing on any constituents who might live nearby or be there in passing. Particularly on the banks of the River Murray many trees have been planted on nature strips and on the verges in our communities. Primarily that is done there not only for beautification but also as a contribution to provide transpiration, to help keep the climate cooler and also to make it more livable.
I will not talk too much about the trees that I have planted over my lifetime as a farmer, as a primary producer, but I have planted a lot of native trees as a contribution back to the environment. I have also planted significant numbers of commercial trees, probably in the order of hundreds of thousands—whether they be citrus, whether they be stone fruit or whether they be for wind protection for those commercial plantings. We need to better understand that this bill will add a level of complexity, and I do not think that anyone is prepared to shoulder the burden of the register.
But what I will say is that many, many landholders, including my neighbours, my fellow farmers and horticulturalists, keep registers themselves. Whether they are commercial trees for horticulture properties or whether they are part of the native tree network that is adjacent to flood plains or river corridors, or on the banks of the river, we need to better understand exactly what is currently there as a registered tree.
We know that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is there for the benefit of our natural environment. It is there for the benefit of those watering programs that will give life to the regeneration of many of the trees. Sadly, what we have just seen come through the Riverland in recent times were the massive storms. I do not see anyone taking note of the number of trees that have been blown over, thousands and thousands of trees that are significant.
We have undercutting on riverbanks, then we get high winds, and then all of a sudden those trees blow into the river. No-one is there taking the loss of those trees into account. But with high rivers we see regeneration. We are now seeing young red gum saplings starting to grow again. Sadly, we are not seeing some of those river flows getting back to that higher country where we can see trees of significance, particularly black box, that are needing that watering to substantiate the ongoing life of that tree. Through drought and through salinity impacts we are seeing a significant number of trees that are falling over, that are just wasting through no fault of anyone, bar a natural weather event.
The bill does give a level of complexity; I see it as being duplication. That is why here within government we will not be supporting it. But I do see that trees are life. Trees need to be accounted for, but we are currently experiencing more and more burden from those who are looking to put duplication into the system.