The future of Lake Illawarra

The Lake Illawarra Authority (LIA) has managed Lake Illawarra successfully for over 25 years.

However in late 2012, the NSW Government announced a review into whether the authority had met its key objectives and how to manage the lake into the future.

The review was scheduled to be released in January 2013, however months later the lake’s management was still in limbo. The delays were yet another example of the NSW Government announcing reviews, setting an arbitrary timetable, and then not being able to meet its own deadlines, and left the public in the dark over the lake’s future.

It was not until June 2013 that NSW government announced the LIA would be abolished.

The review considered three model options for the future management of Lake Illawarra: retaining the LIA, establishing the lake as a state park with a trust in place to manage it, or transferring responsibility to Wollongong and Shellharbour councils and state government departments. The review recommended the third option, which included the creation of an ‘estuary management committee’ to replace the LIA, which was dismissed as part of a cost cutting measure.

Since the announcement of the review in 2012, Anna has called for the Lake Illawarra Authority review to be subject to further community consultation. This included the Minister providing the local community with an opportunity to comment on the review report and its recommendations prior to any final decisions being made by the NSW government.

By abolishing the LIA, the risk is that the management of Lake Illawarra will revert back to the bad old days when no-one accepted responsibility for the waterway or its foreshore and simply passed the buck, like a game of ping-pong.

Lake Illawarra will now have to compete for financial resources with other waterways in NSW for ongoing funding from the state government. Wollongong Councillor Crasnich’s intervention, begging the NSW Government for funding for Lake Illawarra will become the future for this great waterway.

Unless both Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils take immediate steps to secure on-going, stable and certain funding for Lake Illawarra, both Council’s will be stitched up by the NSW Government to re-allocate already scarce resources from local roads and community services to Lake Illawarra.

In fact, in mid-2014 the State Liberal Government did just that, wiping its hands of the establishment of an estuary management committee for Lake Illawarra, saying it was now the total responsibility of Wollongong and Shellharbour City Councils to determine.

The NSW Government has still not established an estuary management committee for Lake Illawarra nearly a year after deciding to scrap the Lake Illawarra Authority. It has become like the legend of the Loch Ness Monster – much discussed but seldom seen. The continued hands-off approach of the NSW Government calls into question the continued good management of the Illawarra’s most prominent waterways.

Both Wollongong and Shellharbour City Councils have been forced to reject or delay accepting funding because the NSW Government simply can’t get its act together.

It is simply not good enough. The subsequent stand-off between Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils over the future management of Lake Illawarra is like going ‘back to the future’ – we’ve already been through the finger-pointing, blame-shifting, lack of responsibility and lack of co-ordination for the management of Lake Illawarra during the 1980s. The NSW Government alone bears responsibility for this absolute chaos.

“Both Councils should be rejecting any cost-shifting burden onto the shoulders of ratepayers and demand guaranteed funding and clear governance arrangements for Lake Illawarra by the State Government before doing anything else,” Anna Watson said.

“Otherwise, the ratepayers in both local government areas are going to be pinged for decades with responsibility for deteriorating water quality and foreshore access.”

After all of the improvements to water quality and the Lake’s foreshores over the last 25-years, we need to ensure we get the management of the Lake right for the future. There was never a good reason presented by the NSW Government to abolish the Lake Illawarra Authority.

Anna has called on the NSW Government to stop dithering and guarantee funding for Lake Illawarra’s management or to re-establish the Lake Illawarra Authority and will continue to hold them to account on this important issue.

The waters of Lake Illawarra are all within the electorate of Shellharbour.