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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 340


Senator COULTER (11.14 a.m.) —I will briefly pick up two points. The minister has talked about the difference between various environments in Australia and the need to take into account regional differences. His example, which was not well developed, was about pristine and degraded environments. I hope he is not suggesting for one moment that we set lesser standards in relation to degraded environments or that we set standards which would allow those pristine environments to be degraded to some sort of a standard.

  It is certainly true that we have near pristine environments and degraded environments; but it seems to me that the more closely we look at those situations, the more we will come to the conclusion that we need to maintain high standards and to ensure that those high standards are applied to those degraded environments so they do not remain degraded, but come back to a better environment. The minister did not develop that argument but the implication behind that example is that one would accept lesser standards for some areas than others. The opposition amendment states:

when making national environment protection measures the Council seeks as far as practicable to pursue effective harmonization rather than uniformity in achieving the outcomes described—

The opposition is attempting to open the door even more widely on that question. The government needs to bear in mind that it is quite conceivable that the opposition could be the next government. It would certainly use that sort of loophole, as it has clearly indicated through the amendment that will shortly be moved. The government needs to be very conscious of that.

  The second point that the minister made was that he depended heavily on the intergovernmental agreement as to the reasons certain things had to be done and could not be changed. I have already drawn attention to some aspects of the intergovernmental agreement. Let me just draw attention to another. Under schedule 5 of the intergovernmental agreement, which is an appendix to the bill, it is stated:

The parties note their endorsement of the decision to adopt an interim planning target to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions . . . based on 1988 levels, by the year 2000 and reducing these emissions by 20% by the year 2005. The parties reiterate their support, as agreed in October 1990—

Neither the Commonwealth nor the states have done one jot of anything to meet those greenhouse gas emission targets. The day is now so late in relation greenhouse gas emission targets that they cannot possibly be met. There is nothing that this government or state governments could put in place to meet those targets, because the states and the Commonwealth have procrastinated.

  Since this agreement was signed there have been four more coal-fired power stations. We have gone on with transport planning in this country and with the use of fossil fuels in that area, as well as in electricity generation and a whole range of other areas, totally ignoring this intergovernmental agreement on which the minister relies so heavily. This intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it was written on, yet the government is relying on it as a substantiation of not accepting the amendments and as a reason for passing this very flawed legislation in this form.

  That argument which the minister has put up simply does not wash. It underscores again the totally inadequate nature of the process on which this federal government has embarked under the rubric of federalism, when in fact it is clearly sidestepping the responsibility it has in relation to proper environmental standards. It is sidestepping those because it is giving itself a way out. It is not accepting the fact that with very few exceptions—this was mentioned in my speech—it does have very considerable powers under the constitution to act in these areas.

  Many of these standards will relate to the actions of corporations and, under the corporations power, it does have the power. Contrary to what Senator Knowles was saying, I was not in any way extolling the virtues of Commonwealth-state interaction in an antagonistic sense but simply pointing to the Tasmanian dams case as an example. The High Court found that the HEC was indeed a corporation and that therefore it came under Commonwealth powers. We might not like it, but the legal position is that the Commonwealth does have that power.

  As the minister knows, there is a section in the ozone protection legislation, which the government itself formulated, which is absolutely and exclusively based on that head of power in the constitution. And it has never been challenged. So I simply make the point that the Commonwealth does have the power. What it lacks is the political will to take up that power and institute proper national standards—admittedly, through processes of consultation and everything else which allow the states and other groups to come in. But at the end of the day the Commonwealth has the power and the responsibility. It is sidestepping that responsibility because it does not have the political will. That is the point that I think needs to be stressed.

  Amendment negatived.

  Amendment (by Senator Chamarette) negatived:

1.Preamble, page 2, at the end, add the following paragraph:

"That Agreement is reflected in, and implemented by, the provisions of this Act, subject to one modification which is designed to make the objects of the Act more readily achievable, by removing reference to the preparation of impact statements.".

  The bill.