Today, I bring a simple message from my community to the Premier and her Government: Buy back the Mambo Wetlands before it is too late. I thank everyone who is in the gallery today for travelling here from Port Stephens.
I know that you have made a big effort and I know how much you care about the Mambo Wetlands. Why are we here? We are here because almost 15,000 people have signed a petition urging this Government to buy back the Mambo Wetlands. Yesterday, in this place, I thanked the many businesses, community groups and residents who have worked so hard to gain so many signatures in such a short time. It is a hard task and I thank them so much for their work, but it shows just how much our community cares about this.
But the real reason we are here is that this Government decided to sell a six-hectare portion of the Mambo Wetlands to a developer for a paltry $250,000.
Sensitive environmental land, core koala habitat, and home to multiple threatened species, sold off to fund a ridiculous stadium splurge in Sydney. It does not get much lower than this. For the benefit of those who have not had the privilege of visiting the Mambo Wetlands, let me give you a taste. As you walk among the beautiful old growth trees—ferns, eucalypts and blackbutts—the Mambo Wetlands buzz with vitality. Koalas sit high above you and sea eagles peer down on you. Other many threatened animals call it home—the powerful owl, squirrel gliders, wallum froglets, flying-foxes and green bell frogs. It is the only known place in the world, where koalas amble down to the beach to lick the minerals from the sand. It is unique.
The part of the wetlands that has been sold off is the high ground where the koalas breed. A koala carer told me that development of the site could see Port Stephens koalas become extinct. This is what is at stake; we are not making this up. The NSW Scientific Committee recently assessed our koala population as being in critical decline and recommended that it be listed as endangered. Given the obvious importance of the site, people often ask: How did this happen? Why and how did the Government sell it off? The answer is: Quickly. A for sale sign was erected on 7 May 2016 and within just one month, it was sold for a paltry $250,000 in an online auction to a developer. When the for sale sign went up, my community rallied.
We wrote to Ministers with portfolio responsibilities for Education, Environment and Finance, and the Premier, urging them to stop the sale. We held rallies and a community forum. I handed to the then Minister for Education a petition signed by hundreds of residents urging the Government to stop the sale. But no‑one listened. After the sale, the Government's spokesperson for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, had the gall to describe the sale as a "mistake".
Then, in an effort to recover the situation, the Hon. Catherine Cusack misled the upper House and said that the community did not make enough effort to let the Ministers know how important the land was. Suddenly, it was the community's fault. Seriously, we are sick of the excuses, and we are sick of the politicking. People of every political persuasion have been involved in this community-led campaign. This is not about politics. It is because we care deeply about the environment in which we live, and we care deeply about our community.
It is bleedingly obvious that on any environmental measure, the Mambo Wetlands should be preserved. Culturally, the wetlands are also important, having been walked by the Worimi people for centuries. Economically, the wetlands are vital. Visitors come to Port Stephens for all it has to offer, but particularly to see our bluewater wonderlands. We have the largest marine park in the State and we are the dolphin capital of Australia. Without the Mambo Wetlands serving as the lungs of the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park, the health of our entire ecosystem would be under threat.
We all have a moral obligation to take care of this beautiful land. We owe it to future generations to protect it so that they, too, can see koalas in the wild. Under this Government's watch, the chances of that happening are diminishing by the day.
Perhaps the only thing Government members will understand is the politics of this issue. If the Government does not buy back the Mambo Wetlands, it will never hold the electorate of Port Stephens again. If this Government does not buy back the Mambo Wetlands, when the Labor Party forms government next year it will return it to public hands.
I hope that today we hear something of substance from members opposite. I do not want to hear more mumblings about the Government not being able to buy it back or that it will look into it. We have had enough of that. Members opposite have a moral, environmental, economic and cultural responsibility to buy back this land, which they never should have flogged off.
They have the opportunity now to do the right thing by the environment and by my community. The Government should make the choice to buy back Mambo Wetlands.