WALLIS LAKE OYSTER CONTAMINATION
Mr GAUDRY: I direct my question to the Minister for the Environment. What is the status of oyster harvesting in Wallis Lake?
Ms ALLAN: Today I am in a position to advise the oyster farmers of Wallis Lake, after much hard work by the interagency task force set up by this Government and the Great Lakes Shire Council, that Wallis Lake is expected to be reopened for oyster harvesting by the end of this month.
Is the honourable member for Myall Lakes still feeling well? The contamination of Wallis Lake has been a tragedy for the victims of the hepatitis A outbreak and for the families that rely on the oyster industry to survive. On 20 March, the Premier and I released a 10-point response to the contamination. Those measures included the introduction of an oyster quality assurance program for Wallis Lake; a financial assistance package to allow further investigation; a sewage system upgrade, including a $1 million extra assistance for Nabiac and Coomba Park; sediment and virology testing; and a recovery strategy. At that time I announced that the task force would meet to agree on the criteria which, once met, would allow for the reopening of the lake for oyster harvesting.
Those criteria were that the quality assurance program for the lake was fully operational; that a report from the Great Lakes Council on sewage contamination was complete, together with a timetable for the management of all sources of pollution in the lake; that cases of hepatitis A had returned to background levels; that at least one month had elapsed since the last date of sale of Wallis Lake oysters; and that no hepatitis A virus could be detected in the water from the oyster purification tanks in recently harvested Wallis Lake oysters. Has the honourable member for Myall Lakes had his test yet? The good news is that those criteria have now been met. The quality assurance program is now operational and the report from the council has identified several high-priority possible sources of contamination. Those sources are septic tanks on both residential and commercial properties.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Wakehurst will cease interjecting.
Ms ALLAN: Cases of hepatitis A have returned to background levels and no hepatitis A virus has been detected in the water from the depuration tanks. I am also pleased to announce that the Minister for Land and Water Conservation has today agreed to further ensure the continuing health of the waterway. A grant of $50,000 will allow the Great Lakes Council to clean and seal the several high-priority septic tanks identified during the extensive pollution survey carried out in recent weeks. Some honourable members opposite do not believe that is good news. I can assure them that my good friend the Mayor of the Great Lakes Council does believe it is good news. Wallis Lake is now the most tested body of water in Australia. Has the
honourable member for Myall Lakes had his body tested yet? The Government is moving to minimise the chances of a recurrence of such a devastating outbreak. My colleague the Minister for Fisheries will extend the quality assurance program to all oyster growing areas in this State with a product and environmental quality monitoring program, grower education and sanitary surveys.
The interagency task force, which continues to meet, is now developing a strategic action plan. Should contamination of this type occur again, all government agencies will have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. More sophisticated testing of oysters will be introduced, and oyster growers across New South Wales will have to take part in quality assurance programs that enforce strict guidelines, enhanced testing and grower education strategies. In the longer term, the Government is working, through the development of its coastal policy, to ensure that the State's waterways are not contaminated through careless and uncontained development. Several other proposals, including a suggestion that all properties with septic tanks be registered, are also under consideration. The Government is also considering other ways of reducing the impact of private vessels on waterways such as Wallis Lake. The Government is working to ensure that the Wallis Lake incident is never repeated.