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Tuesday, 19 February 2002
Page: 495

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (10:45 PM) —I will take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to congratulate you on your re-election to the high office of Speaker. I hope you are able to relax and enjoy yourself during the life of this parliament. I encourage you to do that, and I say to you that things are never as bad as they look.

The SPEAKER —I thank the member for Wills. I will work on it.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON —On the Friday before last, I had the pleasure of visiting Tasmania. I spoke to a number of people down there to get some briefings on environmental issues—the environment minister, David Llewellyn; HydroTasmania and Forestry Tasmania—and I enjoyed it so much that I will be back there next week talking to the Wilderness Society and a range of Tasmanian conservation groups. I am sure they will have exactly the same message to give me on forestry issues as the people I was speaking with last week.

The group that I spoke with and that I want to bring to the attention of the House was the Tasmanian Council of State School Parents and Friends Associations. The reason I do this is that they had established with Natural Heritage Trust funding a program called Patchwork—`Adopt a Patch: Building Community Partnerships in Local Bushland'. This project has been running for several years. However, they sought renewed, continued funding but that was rejected in September last year by then environment minister, Senator Robert Hill. So, as a result, we face the prospect that this particular project will disappear.

This program has enjoyed strong community support. A Natural Heritage Trust evaluation of the project in 2000 was very positive, deeming the project well planned with appropriate management systems. An independent evaluation found participants had increased understanding skills and on-ground experience in sustainable native vegetation management and rehabilitation. I put it to the House that this is a model of good management practice, supporting over 6,000 participants in practical bushland management in their local communities. Some 20 sites are being managed for threatened species—and one of the parents, Jenny, said to me that the patch of bushland which they had adopted included the swift parrot, which is a threatened species. They have developed some 62 management plans as a result of this project, with 10 new sites and with 20 of the existing sites to be increased by 50 per cent. I point out to the House that there are no other bushcare projects involving the education community. Senator Hill launched a national schools action plan which states:

This Government accepts its share of the responsibility for encouraging environmental education in Australian society and offers this action plan as an effective way forward. What we have been developing is a package of measures that complement our initiatives in policy and legislation in particular the Natural Heritage Trust ...

If you withdraw funding from the Adopt a Patch program, that is completely inconsistent with those sorts of objectives. So we have a program which involves many schools in Tasmania—some 62—and as a result we are getting less vandalism due to community involvement and a growth in school pride. Two of the schools have won national awards due to their Adopt a Patch work.

There is a relatively small sum of money involved, and I ask that the minister for environment reconsider the decision made by his predecessor not to spend any further money on this project. I point out that I am told it was rated seventh out of 95 projects by the Tasmanian State Assessment Panel. I ask the minister: how many projects from Tasmania were funded? Were any projects ranked lower than seventh by the assessment panel funded? Has all the money from this particular program been allocated? Unfortunately, we are increasingly discovering that there are a number of environmental programs for which money has been allocated but not spent by this government. I finally ask: why did the government not think this project value for money when it involved primary school students from no fewer than 62 schools, when it attracted involvement by the Tasmanian education department and Greening Australia (Tasmania), and when two of the schools which participated had won national awards as a result of their Adopt a Patch work?