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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3948

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats)(10.08 a.m.) —The Democrats will be supporting this motion for disallowance, just as we supported this same motion about 12 months ago. That is because we believe that the Commonwealth must not abandon its role in the control of export of minerals.

Senator Parer —It is not all minerals.

Senator LEES —I am specifically looking at minerals here, Minister. I believe it is crucial, it is critical, that the Commonwealth retain this mechanism—a mechanism that has in the past been so important, as Senator Faulkner has already said. Who in this chamber is going to stand up today and say that Fraser Island really should have been a sandmine? Indeed, as we look at the decision of the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, to protect Fraser Island—it is now a world heritage area—he looks incredibly enlightened compared to this government and its actions here today.

In Senator Parer's last speech on this issue—I presume we are going to get a similar speech today—he characterised the actions of this place as basically an abuse of power. I characterise this government's failure to protect the environment as a gross dereliction of duty. Senator Parer also argued that export controls were an inadequate mechanism for environment protection. But what is he suggesting replaces it? State management? Hopefully not. Thanks, but no thanks.

Our concerns about the ability or willingness of the states to protect the environment are precisely why we want to keep what limited power the Commonwealth has, why we want to keep these controls in place. State legislation has been shown over and over again to be inadequate to the task. Indeed, federal legislation is often not up to the task. The Democrats argue that we must put in place better mechanisms, particularly mechanisms that involve community consultation, so that we can protect this country for future generations.

Last year Senator Parer also stated that export controls would remain on uranium for environment and heritage purposes. So what are we saying here? That somehow the area around a uranium mine is inherently of more importance and needs protection, needs a mechanism, and not other areas? I suggest he look at some of the devastation caused in other areas by other mining activities.

The government has made no changes to these regulations since we rejected them last year. Indeed, I would suggest that their reintroduction is quite arrogant. Perhaps the minister was hoping that nobody would notice, that they would slip quietly through this place without anybody noticing what the government was up to. The only thing that has really changed with these regulations since they were rejected is the government's record on the environment. I would argue that that is on a steady downhill spiral.

So there is no way the Democrats are going to change their mind, their stance. That is because of our concerns about the whittling away, the erosion of, the ignoring and the subverting of, the way this government can find ways through and around, environment protection powers. That is why we are moving to establish the Senate committee inquiry into Commonwealth powers to look at the balance between state, local and federal government powers on the environment—to find where the cracks are, where the buck-passing is able to be used as an excuse for not protecting the environment. So at this point in time, taking away a Commonwealth power is the last thing we are going to be interested in.

The government said that it is not interested in the Senate inquiry because it is off reviewing environment powers on its own. Perhaps that is part of what is going on behind the scenes. Maybe they are, Senator Faulkner, reviewing environment powers out the back on the quiet. I think that is a major concern for all of us. It makes the Democrats fear for the worst as to where this government is pushing the ability to control environmental damage in this country.

So I believe this government is trying yet again to get through regulations which it knows will tie one hand behind its back, which it knows will make it easier to buck-pass, to pass it off on to the states. These regulations would abolish an important mechanism by which we can, even if not perfectly, at least offer some environment protection. The reintroduction of these regulations makes the intention of this government crystal clear. I hope the Senate will reject them.