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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 393

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —by leave-I commend previous speakers; the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton); the Secretary, Mr Ian Dundas; and my colleagues on the Committee. The report is very worth while and it sets a number of benchmarks for the Australian community. Previous speakers have addressed those; so I do not intend to cover the area again. I would like to raise three or four matters in the House and in doing so bring them to the attention of the Australian community. A fundamental matter which is mentioned in the report and which must be attacked is the argument that somehow conservation is anti-economic and development is pro-economic. The Committee makes the observation that very often sensible conservation strategies can have a long term economic benefit. Honourable members have referred to historic buildings. Speaking as an economist, I say that sensible conservation measures for historical buildings mean that we end up with a net economic benefit to the community because of the attraction of tourists. There is also the visual benefit to the immediate community.

Other speakers have said that there is clearly an economic benefit through tourism from people going to look at forests. A matter that has not been properly addressed and that must be addressed is that if we do away with forest we do away with a substantial tourism resource. It can be well argued that there is a great benefit in having substantial stands of trees that people might come to look at as part of the tourism experience. I said to visitors to Western Australia recently for the sporting activities there that they should have a look at the south-west of Western Australia because there are some wonderful things to see which one can benefit greatly from. Many people did this and I am certain that they found that this was a worthwhile resource. Let us pay attention to preserving that resource. The honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth), the honourable member for Canning (Mr Gear) and our Chairman, the honourable member for La Trobe, referred to the use of forest products. I would like to make a correction on behalf of the honourable member for Canning. What he was trying to say was that one gets greater value added for the economy if timber is converted into finished products which are sold overseas than if it is simply woodchipped.

Mr McVeigh —That is right. That is sensible and we should be doing it.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —In our trip to New Zealand we noted the benefit of that. I thank the honourable member for Groom for his contribution. It is clear that the community must consider the question of value added. Members of the Committee and members on this side are clearly of the view that woodchipping gives the least value added and is one of timber's least productive uses. It enables us to get a resource out very quickly but the greatest long term benefit-talking about our balance of payments and so on-would be gained from increasing the value added. I am sure that the Chairman is aware that people have totally different views about using timber for woodchipping or for making furniture. People increasingly are opposed to woodchipping but they are easily persuaded about the sensible use of forest products to make furniture because they can see the benefit immediately. They can see beautiful furniture being turned out which ultimately can be exported. There is a lot of value added in terms of the trades people employed.

Mr Milton —It is more labour intensive.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I thank the honourable member for La Trobe for his interjection. We as a community must have that as our objective. That is one of the aspects that this Committee is addressing. I commend my colleagues on the Committee.

I turn now to the polluter pays principle, which the Chairman spoke about. It is frequently raised in relation to urban communities. Often spills and accidents result in a loss to the environment. I know that this is of concern to many people in metropolitan areas of Australia. The Committee previously addressed the problem in its hazardous chemicals report. We should examine whether certain industries should have surcharges to cover responsibilities in relation to fire and other protection agencies. For example, what does it cost when a fuel tanker is lost on the road? Petroleum is washed into rivers and waterways and the community has to pay for it. My view-I think others on this side would agree-is that industry should pay for its negligence: Firstly, for having drivers who are undertrained; secondly, for perhaps not having efficient hazardous chemical warnings; and thirdly, for not having quick recovery systems. The honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard) and I recently saw a fire in the Welshpool area. There were inadequate hazardous chemical codings on the warehouses involved. The fire people did not know what they were dealing with and there was chemical fallout. That is a very important issue. People in urban areas are getting impatient about it and we should be addressing it.

I turn now to soil conservation and degradation. The Committee came up with an estimate that Australia has lost 420,000 square kilometres of land because of the degradation of soil quality. We are looking at areas that in 40 to 80 years time will be useless; the soil will have no utility. We are confronting a major crisis. The members of the Committee have addressed this and said that there is a need for us, as a committee, to examine that. Let me make this point: It is not the case that all farmers are being negligent, because I do not think that is the case. There are many farmers who are well intentioned and who try to do the right thing. I recently saw a report of a farmer in the south-west of Western Australia who is attempting his own afforestation program. Unfortunately the grasshoppers have tended to wipe out the new trees that he has planted. We have talked about rebates and tax credits. I think that, as the Committee is saying to the community, we have to examine the question of tax rebates and tax credits to encourage effective farm practices.

The honourable member for Mallee mentioned the question of salination. Salination is a major problem. It is a big problem in Western Australia and it is a problem throughout Australia. We really must make a major effort in this area. When we look at the amount that is being spent at a national level on soil conservation, we see clearly that we are not spending nearly enough to preserve this important area in terms of our national strategy.

Let me conclude by saying that in tropical and wetland areas we have this simple question of soil erosion. The Chairman will remember when we visited the Kununurra area and saw the impact there of overstocking and overgrazing and the loss of top-soil in the Ord River irrigation area. It is a very serious matter. That is one area. We then have dry land salination, which is another area to be dealt with. The honourable member for Mallee has referred to that. (Quorum formed) Mr Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to see my colleagues here because they are intelligent in their debating in this place, and they always make an intelligent contribution. It is unfortunate, but the Opposition is very disruptive. In fact, it wastes public money. As the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) would know, the Queensland Premier uses that $10m plane at a cost of over $1,000 an hour. He is wasting the Queensland taxpayers' money. Some here are trying to emulate him. It is just that they are a little smaller in their efforts. They are not quite as good at wasting public money as Mr Bjelke-Peterson is. It costs the Queensland taxpayers over $1,000 an hour for a $10m plane.

Mr Brumby —It is $1,800.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —It is $1,800 an hour.

Mr Robert Brown —Plus the pollution.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —And the pollution-the by-products. My colleagues on this side would be aware that that is a waste of public resources, and we are seeing it every day. We on our side, however, are much more aware of our responsibilities; but those opposite, well, that is the way it is. They are not able to understand their wider responsibilities either to the Australian people or to this chamber, so we will see a continuation of these disruptive tactics. As my friend, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton), said, the honourable member who called the quorum has been noted only for either being exited from this place or for calling quorums. Opposition members are behaving according to type, but we are happy. Honourable members should not worry about these things; we will deal with them all in good time.

Mr Shipton —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I want to point out the enormous waste of time by the Government during Question Time. Only eight questions were answered--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —Order!

Mr Shipton —That is why it is all happening, and the honourable member knows that. It is he who is being irresponsible.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for Stirling.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —The honourable member should worry about his pre-selection. He should not worry about what is going on here.

Mr Shipton —I am not worrying about pre-selection. I am the endorsed candidate and I am going to win with an increased majority.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —The honourable member has got me worried because the former honourable member for Diamond Valley, the honourable member for Jagajaga (Mr Staples), is with him, and I think a coup may have occurred already.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Stirling will help if he does not carry on a conversation.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I will be happy to assist you, Mr Deputy Speaker. We will look at these things all in good time. I conclude by saying that I think there is a concern in this community about soil conservation and soil degradation. We, as a government, recognise our responsibilities. We have increased funding for soil conservation. We also recognise that many practices have been undertaken by State governments, in particular the Government of Queensland with the Daintree Forest. Honourable members would be interested to know that after the decision was taken to build the Daintree Forest road there were private approaches to the Federal Government to see whether it would repair the damage. So we did some costing. Honourable members would understand that the cost of repairing the Daintree road was a minimum of $50m.

Mr Robert Brown —How much?

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —A minimum of $50m. As an economist, the honourable member would know what that means. That would mean a $50m cost for the taxpayers when the road was built against the advice of many authorities, including the environment Committee and the Federal Government. Mr Bjelke-Petersen wanted us to put in another $50m of taxpayers' funds to repair the damage that was originally caused by his Government's irresponsible decision. Honourable members from Queensland on this side, and there are many of them and they are good quality people, would understand the situation. It is one of those issues that Mr Bjelke-Petersen does not quite understand. He wanted the taxpayers to spend $50m to repair the damage, but we are not prepared to do that.

Mr Kent —So what?

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Exactly, so what! Why should we bother? I conclude by saying that we are very pleased to be addressing this report before the House. We, as a Committee, have undertaken work that I think is important and sensible. I congratulate my colleagues on the Committee, the Chairman of the Committee and the Secretary, and I am pleased to commend the report to the House.