Second Reading

Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.

HON TIM CLIFFORD (East Metropolitan) [5.06 pm]: Picking up from where I left off, in closing, I ask the minister to ensure that there is close community consultation with all environmental groups and that the conditions imposed on projects aimed at minimising harm to our precious bushland will eventually be enforceable, as there is no point in having conditions if they cannot be enforced. I ask that as the projects proceed those conditions be closely monitored and enforced if they are breached and that the remaining urban bushland, including Ken Hurst Park and Ningana bushland, is managed with special care in the future to preserve its characteristics and prevent it from falling into a degraded state like so many other sites across the metropolitan region.

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.07 pm]: I rise to make some comments about the Railway (METRONET) Bill 2018. I want to support the comments that my colleague Hon Tim Clifford has already made about the future of Bush Forever sites. Members would know that I have spoken numerous times in this place about the importance of ensuring that we do a better job of protecting our Bush Forever sites and that we are pretty lucky to be living in a city where we still maintain some of these unique bushland sites in our urban area. I want to remind members that when Bush Forever sites were established, a huge amount of science and dedication went into identifying the best places for them to be. Unfortunately, we have not continued to give the funding required to make sure that we are best protecting those sites. It took 10 years for the metropolitan region scheme to be amended in such a way that Bush Forever was recognised. I have spoken before about my concerns that instead of treating these sites as precious natural heritage resources, which is exactly what they are, we seem to keep chipping away at the edges, which is like death by a thousand cuts for these sites. In 2011, I spoke extensively on my motion about the need for Bush Forever sites to be acquired by government and placed into the conservation estate with appropriate funding for management, but, unfortunately, here I am in 2018 and no government has yet listened to my excellent advice, and I suggest that they probably should, because I knew what I was talking about!

I particularly want to talk about the Ningana bushland, which this bill will have a direct impact on. The fragmentation of the Ningana bushland by this rail line is a matter of concern as it is one of the few remaining east–west ecological links in the Perth metro area. I want to touch a little on what happened the last time the rail line was extended. A few kilometres south, the rail and freeway extension from Clarkson to Butler utterly failed to keep intact a major east–west ecological linkage—that is, the link from the Tamala Conservation Park through Bush Forever site 323, Neerabup National Park, Bush Forever sites 384, 293, 382 and 380, through the state forest over the Gnangara mound in the Shire of Chittering. That was a substantial and important ecological linkage. I particularly want to note the way in which ministerial conditions of approval completely failed to provide adequate preservation of that linkage. Condition 8 of the Mitchell Freeway approval was an investigation of alternatives for the facilitation of fauna movement across each alignment. An investigation was carried out, but not to the extent that it should have been. Instead of investigating either an underpass with suitable lighting gaps or an overpass, we simply got the advice that it was too wide for an underpass. The net result was that nothing at all was designed into the project. When the Quinns Rock Environmental Group brought it up with the Environmental Protection Authority when it was assessing the subsequent freeway extension from Burns Beach to Hester Avenue, the response from Main Roads was, effectively, that the connection was already closed off with a fenced-off railway, that there were two other roads—Connolly Drive and Marmion Avenue—and that an overpass would be too expensive and would require rail stoppage. As a result, it was not included in the business case for the freeway extension and was dismissed during approvals of the fauna management plan.

I am drawing attention to the history of these extensions for a number of reasons. Previous outcomes have not been good enough and we need to make sure that we do it better this time. The ministerial conditions of approval clearly did not achieve the best possible environmental outcome and I think it is important that the minister note what happened. I hope the minister will endeavour to ensure that the conditions of approval, should there be an environmental approval, are tight enough for this section extension. Previously, environmental standards were allowed to slip by facilitating a pretty loose interpretation of the conditions, which cannot happen again.

Another reason I draw the previous extension to the house’s attention is that the community is often best placed to provide successful tactics to maintain and enhance ecological linkages. One of the pleasures of this job is that I get to meet and work closely with various bushland friends groups. The level of knowledge within those groups is extremely high and the government would be foolish not to take advantage of that localised expertise. A review of the input from the Quinns Rock Environmental Group shows that a number of its concerns and suggested avenues of remedy were provided over and again to the construction reference group, and at all stages of planning and design when consultation and communication with the community happened. For whatever reason, a great deal of those ideas and the information provided were not responded to until well after the fact. Ironically, the feedback was that it was too late to influence what was by then a completed design. That is a sign of a complete failure of process. I understand that a community reference group will be developed for Metronet. I strongly recommend to the government that there be a reference group for each line as they come up and that local communities be able to provide proper input to the process. The reference group or groups for Metronet need to be accorded more weight than some sort of community engagement tick-a-box. I argue very strongly that the ideas and concerns generated by this group should be taken seriously and properly considered as part of the planning process.

With the previous extension, there was an expectation that various preconditions for land use across the area would be fulfilled. In 1990, the EPA approval for Burns Beach stage 2 stated that if implementation of the national park rationalisation did not proceed, the transport system—freeway and rail—would not be permitted to encroach on the Neerabup National Park. The Neerabup National Park boundary rationalisation would have been a net gain to the national park of about 369 hectares. That would be the loss of 140 hectares of land excised from the national park, plus the isolation of 63 hectares by the train and freeway lines. The trade-off was supposed to be an additional 432 hectares of land reserved as parks and recreation adjacent to the national park. That land is now zoned as parks and recreation and the majority is Bush Forever sites. However, 111 hectares is subject to a section 16 agreement under the Conservation and Land Management Act, which means that it is managed for conservation purposes. However, the formal protection of the proposed additions has not been progressed and it is not yet all part of Neerabup National Park. It has been 28 years since that bulletin was released back in 1990. The rail line, the freeway and Neerabup Road have not only gone ahead, but we are now debating extending them even further. That land has still not been added to Neerabup National Park.

Should this extension go ahead, I am very concerned that we do not see similar lapses of environmental controls around this corridor through important bushland. It is really important to ensure that this linkage is not completely severed with the equivalent of a bureaucratic shrug. That simply will not be good enough. The Butler to Yanchep extension has been broken into two sections for the purpose of environmental approval because the development envelope of the rail line between Butler and Eglinton has already been covered off by the national environmental regulator under six subdivision plans for the area, and agreed offsets are already in place at a national level for that land. However, those approvals were made prior to the endangered listing of Banksia woodlands on the Swan coastal plain. Life has moved on since those approvals were initially granted. The clearing for the second part of the line, which is Eglinton to Yanchep, will be assessed for the first time.

Documents submitted to the EPA demonstrate that a number of environmentally significant communities will be destroyed by the development and the access roads, as my colleague Hon Tim Clifford made mention of. We are looking at threatened ecological communities of banksia woodlands and melaleuca shrubland on limestone ridges. The priority 3 communities are tuart woodlands and northern spearwood shrubland and woodlands. I understand from the briefing on the bill that the offsets for these losses are still in negotiation and will potentially include rehabilitation options and research activities, along with securing suitable lands for the conservation estate. The question I have for the minister is: where are those negotiations currently? If they have not been resolved, as I assume they have not been, when are they likely to be resolved and when are people likely to know the outcome?

I would also like to note that it is very heartening to see all the agencies coordinating to ensure that all their needs can be serviced by one set of access roads. That is certainly an improvement on the way that practices have been undertaken in the past. I would like to strongly encourage this kind of ongoing cooperation and planning across government because it is really important that we minimise any environmental disruption for projects such as this. In some places, we are getting better at it but we need to make sure that when good practice has been identified, we do what we can to keep that up. I have said this before and I really do not want to keep saying it but it looks like I will say it over and over for a while; that is, we have a problem ensuring that we commit to our strategic direction on planning in this state. I recognise that this is partially due to the sheer volume and complexity of our planning documents. We continue to behave as if our regional significant bushland is simply a land bank for future development or infrastructure location, and that is completely wrong-headed thinking. It needs to be recognised as a precious community resource that is there forever, as the name says, which is what it was intended to be. We also partially have a problem because we continually fail to plan sufficiently far in advance to ensure that new communities in Perth have the services they need.

On that last point, I wanted to make some comments as a member for the North Metropolitan Region about the issue of future growth in the northern corridor. I think it is really good that we are attempting to plan for the future of the northern corridor prior to the expected population explosion. I will compare that with what happened with the Mandurah line. By the time the Mandurah line opened in 2007, the 2006 census showed that 67 813 people were already living in Mandurah, 84 307 were already living in Rockingham and other people were living adjacent to that line at the time. When that rail line was established, we had an existing large population in the south and we did not have an existing rail corridor. This meant that the train line had to be put into the existing freeway corridor, which meant locating the stations outside the cultural and business centres of the towns. As I recall, the Greens were quite disappointed about this as it meant that we lost opportunities to create transit-oriented developments because effectively we were retrofitting a rail line into an existing corridor to meet existing need.

Looking to the north, the 2016 census shows that a significantly smaller number of people live there right now. There are 8 859 people living in Yanchep and 9 945 people living in the Alkimos and Eglinton area. These are very different starting circumstances for this line. Importantly, the rail line and the stations will be operational before the population really expands. The figures are showing us that it will expand. The population will absolutely go skyward. What is more, population forecasts show that not only are the forecasts for growth large, but also they will be happening quickly. In fact, it is expected that by 2031, Yanchep will have added more than 90 000 people to its village so that it will have a population of an estimated 103 000 people. Eglinton will grow from what is currently a pretty small village of a couple of hundred people to a substantial town of about 31 000 people. The area encompassing Butler to Alkimos will also grow quickly to more than 40 000 people.

I want to acknowledge, because it has been raised with me, that it may be the case that due to the economic slowdown through mid-2010, population growth may end up being a little slower than originally expected. We would really have to not know what we are talking about if we suggested that it will not happen. The one thing we do know is that the sort of growth that is predicted will happen, and the only uncertainty is exactly when. That means that by building the train line now before the population grows, people will move into these areas and, importantly, essential services will already be in place. As we saw with the Mandurah line, this is a better way to undertake planning. I reflect on the years and years of toing and froing around the issue of public transport in some of the newer developments and what a headache that has been. It is just a given that trying to retrospectively put in large public transport infrastructure such as we have tried to do, particularly with Ellenbrook, is a less desirable way to move forward. It will also allow for the proper development of town sites at Alkimos, Eglinton and Yanchep. The town plans for Alkimos, Eglinton and Yanchep include the railway station and, importantly, planned higher density and mixed-use town centres that will be built around those stations. That is much smarter development than we had in the past. When I say “in the past”, I mean the past 50 years, but certainly when we talk about the way transport developed in the history of the colonies, that is exactly how it was originally. These developments are at the edge of the metropolitan area.

It is also interesting to look at the projected population demographics. We expect that a higher proportion of the people who will be living in those areas will be young families, first home buyers and also people on low incomes rather than people who live closer to the city. That particularly emphasises the fact that reliable transport will be necessary. I understand that it is intended to ensure better traffic flow to Yanchep and Joondalup. It is anticipated that a lot of people’s activity and work functions will occur around those spaces. It is also important to ensure that those populations are serviced to come into the Perth city centre, particularly as we are growing as a city and more and more infrastructure is occurring within our central city areas. It will be absolutely essential to ensure that people living in those areas can also access cultural, educational and economic opportunities in those centres, as well as within inner city Perth.

There is a lot to like about the proposed rail line. It has the potential to be a major benefit to the population in the far north of the city. It is good to see it being done in advance of the anticipated population explosion in that corridor. I have given members the numbers. We are talking about a huge number of people. History has shown that we have not always followed through with all the environmental elements for these types of extensions and that we have not listened to the community, and we need to. Because of that, in the past we have allowed an important environmental linkage to be broken and thus far have made no effort to restore it—and restore it we must. We are really going to have to make sure that we do a much better job with this rail extension. I ask the government, particularly the Minister for Environment, to ensure that any ministerial conditions of approval for the Yanchep rail extension are driven by environmental need and not by what is most expedient to completing the rail line. We need to make sure the conditions are enforceable and meet community expectations around engagement and consultation. If this rail line is going to go ahead as part of the Metronet suite of projects, it really needs to be done properly. We need to preserve as much of our urban bushland as we can in the process of trying to address the legitimate needs of an ever-growing city, which needs to be appropriately serviced.

As a member of the Greens and as a member for North Metropolitan Region, I will be keeping a very close eye on this. I really hope that the Minister for Environment in particular has had the opportunity to listen closely to what I have raised. I am sure I have not said anything that has not also been raised directly with him by a number of environmental groups but we need to make sure we do not repeat the large-scale problems of the past. There are ways we can ensure that we implement some best practice in this space.

[Speeches and comments from various members]

Question put and passed. Bill read a second time.


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