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Wednesday, 19 June 2002
Page: 3844

Mr KING (3:26 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Can the minister advise the House of the community response to the Howard government's Envirofund for the repair and conservation of Australia's unique environment and natural heritage? Is he aware of any alternative policies?

Dr KEMP (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank the honourable member for Wentworth for his question and congratulate him on his great support for environmental groups in his local area. The Australian government's Envirofund, to which the honourable member referred, is a crucial component of the $1 billion of new money that the government is putting into the Natural Heritage Trust. This is money that is going to empower small groups and individuals to repair their own local environments, whether they are city based or whether they are in outback communities. The Howard government's $20 million Envirofund provides grants of up to $30,000 through the Natural Heritage Trust for programs such as replanting native trees and shrubs, training for land carers, monitoring water quality and endangered species and restoring their habitats.

I am delighted to inform the House that hundreds of groups and individuals from every Australian state and territory have responded overwhelmingly to the government's new initiative. We now have 1,751 applications for grants under the Envirofund, which is twice the level of interest shown last year for Natural Heritage Trust Fund grants of the same dimension. In other words, the government's commitment to local communities is undoubtedly lifting the interest of local communities and local groups to do something positive to restore their natural environment. It is changing the culture of communities around Australia and the Envirofund response is reflecting the fact that we are committed to a successful policy that empowers local communities to act effectively in relation to their environment.

Under the first phase of the Natural Heritage Trust, we have already seen 400,000 volunteers joining the great endeavour to attack environmental problems at the local level. I thank the states for their role in administering this particular program and for monitoring the grants. By contrast, it is very disappointing that all we have heard from the opposition is attitude, platitude and a complete lack of gratitude to the 400,000 volunteers whose sweat and commitment are making a difference to Australia's environment at the local level.

The Howard government is committed to an environmental policy which is based on community action, on empowering communities and on strategic investments. All we saw from the Labor Party at the last election was a policy to attack and criticise these groups, these programs, and to put these programs back in the hands of central bureaucracy. The Labor Party still takes its marching orders from Trades Hall, making it totally out of step with the aspirations of the Australian people.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.