Greens (WA) MLC for the South West, Diane Evers, says urgent action needs to be taken over the management of salinity problems in WA.
Ms Evers made the call in the wake of a damning report released this week by the Auditor General, which assessed the extent of salinity in the agricultural regions of the South West.
The report said the scale of the problem was daunting, with an estimated one to two million hectares of land affected by salt, potentially rising to five million, with costs over half a billion dollars a year in lost agricultural production alone.
“Unfortunately, the scale of remedial action is also significant,” Ms Evers said. “It would require replanting 80 per cent of the Wheatbelt, a huge task requiring investment that would make broad scale agriculture, as it currently exists, impossible.”
Ms Evers said it was disappointing that priorities for salinity control appeared to have fallen by the wayside in the past 10 years.
“Since 2008, agencies have reduced monitoring and evaluation, and the Soil and Land Conservation Council, the key independent advisor to Government, has not met since 2003,” she said.
“The Department of Primary Industries (DPIRD) carries out only limited monitoring, and its estimates on the extent of dryland salinity are out of date.”
Ms Evers said there should be more coordinated management across government agencies, landholders and stakeholders to address the problem.
“The management of the salinity issue needs firm direction,” she said.
“Neither the State Salinity Action Plan, much touted when it was formed, nor the State Salinity Strategy, were completed.”
The report pointed out that there were currently no goals and targets for reducing water tables or planting deep-rooted species, while decisions to protect land are left to individual landholders, who may not choose to do anything at all.
It recommended that the DPIRD, in consultation with the Departments of Water (DWER) and Conservation (DBCA), set a strategic direction for salinity amelioration by December 2018, and establish regular monitoring and reporting of the spread, impact and cost of the problem.
“We tend to have a silo mentality when it comes to salinity,” Ms Evers said.
“The DPIRD is doing its thing here and the DWER is doing its thing over there. We need to work together. Salinity is not a problem that one group will be able to solve on its own.
“The funding needs to be there for these solutions. But ultimately, it is more than just the funding; it is also the will. We need the will from those departments to work together to see what they can do about this problem.”