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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3949

Senator MARGETTS(10.13 a.m.) —On 23 May last year the Senate clearly rejected the last time the government tried to throw these responsibilities away.

Senator Lees —Six days ago.

Senator MARGETTS —Yes; we have just passed the anniversary of the last time they tried to do that. My reasons for rejecting their efforts last time stand. Anybody wishing to read back on those can see them on page 1003 of last year's Hansard . However, there are some issues that are adding to that. The government is saying, at the moment at least, that they are not going to exclude uranium exports from the Export Control Act. It is interesting to note that, if we are exporting mineral sands, uranium and thorium are part of those mineral sands. It is a bit bizarre to say, `We will continue to control uranium but we will not continue to control products which may have uranium in them.' That is not right.

Senator Parer —That's not right. Any radioactive product is not covered.

Senator MARGETTS —Senator Parer said that is not right. Perhaps he can supply me with a science that says there is no uranium in mineral sands. There certainly is in Western Australia. In Western Australia we are well aware of that because we have thousands of tonnes annually proposed to be dumped in the goldfields, about which the goldfields are not terribly happy.

However, we have some other issues here. We have had some clear statements from Senator Parer to the mining industry that he is going to make some changes, that this government is going to revise and review environmental laws. This is part of the proposed delivery of his promises to the mining industry.

You see, we are in a situation here under the international so-called free trade where investors can play off one country against the other and the way they play off one country against the other is in relation to taxes, labour standards and, of course, environmental standards. If you can prove to your international investor that you are prepared to be tougher on the environmentalists and push through mineral proposals then you have a winning edge in competitiveness.

Isn't it great where our priorities are lying these days? Isn't it great that somehow or other there is this great big blind spot in relation to where we are going and what are we going to do when we have ruined the resources we have, when we have used up all our liquefied natural gas and when we find ourselves resource depleted with no environment left to live on either. Sometime down the track, when the minister is going off and arguing in the international arena that Australia cannot afford to do the right thing on greenhouse, who are we going to call on then when we are in deep trouble? I believe there is already substantial concern about the evidence of climate change in Australia and substantial economic cost involved with that evidence of climatic change in Australia.

So here we are, acting like we are from another century, trying to throw away what is—yes—considered to be not a particularly adequate protection but—yes—one of the few that still exists within the Commonwealth legislative provisions, and the government is trying to throw it away.

Senator Parer interjected earlier on and said we have had 22 years of environmental laws since these regulations were first put in. Well yes; however, he overrules them all. He has actually made a point of overruling environmental laws on every occasion that I can think of in recent times. So we have an environment minister who has been gagged or who does not wish to speak up, we have ministers who want to push resource extraction at the expense of everything else—and we are being told that the Commonwealth no longer wants this overseeing capacity through the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations. It is not good enough, and I think the Senate, in this instance, will be the voice of the majority of citizens of Australia if this disallowance is carried.

People in Australia believe governments have a role to play in protecting the environment. In fact, until ecological sustainability is a right of citizenship under the constitution, this Senate has an obligation to stand up on every single occasion when this government is trying to turn its back on its environmental responsibility, and speak up for what I believe the majority of the citizens of this country demand of governments. When you see the EPAC surveys, that is what people are saying. They do believe that governments have an important role and they do believe that spending on environment should actually be increased rather than decreased, because that is what they pay their taxpayers' money for.

Therefore, I strongly support the disallowance motion today, and I certainly hope that we are not here again next year trying to do the same thing with a government that is not learning.