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How a nuclear dump could save SA's environment

Opinion

State Labor whip Tom Kenyon continues to advocate for a nuclear storage facility – arguing the billions generated could safeguard the state’s national parks and revive its agricultural land.

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The proceeds of storing spent nuclear fuel should be spread widely across the community.

If they are spent only on expanding government services or even just tax cuts, we will not see the full possibilities that the receipt of hundreds of billions of dollars holds. That is why I believe that infrastructure spending should be the main avenue of dispersal of the funds – because it has a broad reach across the community. Everybody benefits from better roads and better public transport for instance.

But for the best results we need to consider as infrastructure some things that we wouldn’t normally put in that category.

I am arguing that environmental repair, some education spending and research spending should all be classified as soft infrastructure and should be considered on a par with traditional infrastructure.

In this article, I want to discuss environmental repair and I want to split it into two areas: that relating to our National Parks system and the repair of our farmland.

National Parks cover around 20 per cent of the state but the truth of the matter is that they are rarely pristine ecological treasures.

Instead they are usually parcels of land that have been purchased more because they were available, rather than as a deliberate acquiring of land targeted for its ecological value.

They are also often degraded pastoral or agricultural land that has been so run down that it is no longer economic to own and thus sold off relatively cheaply. In fact, agriculture and pastoral activity (particularly land clearing) have been the main cause of environmental damage in Australia over our history.

It’s no-one’s fault; it’s just how our country developed.

Upon purchase, there are rarely the resources available that are required to rehabilitate the land properly and usually the rehabilitation process involves a bit of fencing and stock removal. The land is largely left to its own devices and often becomes a haven for feral animals and plants that not only interfere with native species but form a nuisance for neighbouring farming properties.

Additionally, the facilities available to visitors are limited – and this often reduces visitor numbers. This may not be a bad thing in environmental terms, as more visitors without the required facilities can lead to an increase in environmental damage. But it seems a shame to me that the wonderful parks and natural environment that we have are not more widely visited and appreciated.

Again, it’s not really anyone’s fault, it’s just a matter of competing demands for limited resources right across the state.

A state infrastructure fund could be applied to national parks as well.

The first priority would be adequate fencing (sorry DEWNR, but Dr Wamsley is right!) and feral eradication. These are both very expensive projects, especially when applied right across the state, and quite frankly will never be within the reach of government as things stand.

But significant progress could be made in the restoration of natural habitats in a strategic and widespread way.

The restoration of habitat and the eradication of predators and competitors would assist in the regeneration of threatened and endangered species.

If you need an example of the effects of pest invasion, take a wander through the Morialta Conservation Park and see the infestations of blackberries and olive trees. A sustained program could see them removed from the park and native plants replacing them which in turn will see a return of native animals and birds once the cats, foxes and other feral animals are removed as well. Imagine that spread across the whole state and within 20 years our National Parks will have been transformed.

It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars – but it would be affordable.

Additionally, to enable greater visitor numbers, facilities and accommodation could be increased and improved to ensure that those increased numbers don’t have a significant impact on the environment while they are there. Better visitor experiences will lead to greater affection and thus protection for our parks. We will all be better off with better parks.

The environment can be further improved by paying attention to land that is still being actively farmed.

A recent trial undertaken by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) called New Horizons looked at soil management to 50cm instead of the usual 10cm and studied the impacts of adding clay, organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

The results were astounding.

At each of the three sites yields were increased by 70-200 per cent. That is not a typo. A yield increase of up to 200 per cent!

PIRSA estimates that if applied across the state the increase in the value of the harvest would be around $800 million per year.

Improving the soils would have a couple of significant environmental benefits. Firstly improved soil and soil management will help to reduce soil erosion as well as making farms more profitable and freeing up cash to undertake land care programs and weed and pest management. The second major benefit will be that massively increased yields will allow farmers to free up some land for native corridors. These are strips of bushland running over many properties and that connect reserves and national parks. The effect of them is to multiply the benefits of national parks and reserves and also to allow animals and birds to deal with the effects of seasonal weather patterns as well as climate change in the longer term.

Obviously, sourcing and moving the required quantities of clay and nutrients around the state and applying them to soils will not be cheap – but this is where an infrastructure fund can be applied.

By co-operating and negotiating with farmers (perhaps with a co-funding arrangement), the fund will be able to improve soils, farm profitability and environmental outcomes. The state will have vastly more effective National Parks and reserves and will be well on its way to improving the situation of threatened and endangered native animals and adapting to climate change.

The wise application of the wealth from storing spent nuclear fuel right across the state has the potential to transform our environment and make us all better off – and not just financially.

An improved environment means a better place to live.

Tom Kenyon is the Labor MP for the state seat of Newland, and a former minister for Science, Employment, Manufacturing, Innovation and Small Business.

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