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Tuesday, 29 June 1999
Page: 7817


Mr ANDREN (9:59 PM) —I hope that, in summing up, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage was not regarding my contribution as insignificant, but I doubt that she was. I want to make some general comments on the thrust of the environment bills, concerned as I am for our national environmental program post-Telstra, funded, as much of it is, from the Natural Heritage Trust. I also find it appalling that this so-called landmark legislation is again being rammed through the House—another example of executive contempt for representative democracy.

I remember so well speaking in the House on the bill providing for the sale of the first third of Telstra and pointing out how the Murray-Darling 2001 Program was in fact a 2101 project, so vast are the environmental problems we are confronted with. The former member for Barker, once the shadow minister for the environment, backed up my assessment immediately after that speech. We have heard again in recent days how desperate is the salination problem, particularly in Western Australia, and notably throughout the western parts of New South Wales. In his second reading speech, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage said the Howard government is dealing with issues such as land degradation and the retention of remnant bushland through the Natural Heritage Trust. As I said in the Telstra speech, once we have sold the silverware we can only make the money go so far, and the land degradation problems we face will not be solved by the Natural Heritage Trust. So much for environmental restoration. How about environment protection?

These bills, based on a COAG agreement, seek to ensure the seamless integration of Commonwealth and state laws through what the minister calls a `transparent mechanism for Commonwealth accreditation of state processes'. It is efficient to combine five acts into one. It is efficient to remove the uncertainty surrounding Commonwealth involvement in environmental matters. It appears efficient to provide accreditation of state processes and agreed management plans, assuming these are uniform across all the states. It is important to clarify those areas of pre-eminent national importance such as the Commonwealth marine area. Having worked on the committee of this parliament looking into Australia's fisheries, I must say it is one area requiring constant supervision and research. Similarly, I trust the approval process for actions having an impact on notionally threatened or internationally protected migratory species will include places like the Macquarie Marshes in New South Wales, which are subjected to ongoing and growing pressures from a variety of water users, including wildlife.

I have grave doubts about the ability of state governments and local governments to act in the best national environmental interests, and hence my nervousness about certain aspects of these bills. Queensland, for instance, is accommodating 80 per cent of our land clearance at the moment, and we are tipped to increase by 25 per cent our carbon emissions, not the eight per cent we negotiated at Kyoto. The political pressure on state governments to approve developments, whether on the coast or inland, whether tourism or mining, can and do cloud environmental judgments. Fraser Island, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the Franklin Dam, Lake Pedder, water management, land clearing and forestry management—all these areas leave one wondering if the states are ready for any new responsibilities. All too often those questioning a development do not have the resources to challenge the contentions of environmental consultants hired to prepare impact studies. There needs to be an independent national environmental impact assessment for projects meeting certain impact criteria. I wonder how we determine, as these bills proscribe, `an activity which does not have a significant impact on one of the matters of national significance'? A mine or a quarry on the headwaters of any stream in the Murray-Darling has the potential to cause an impact of national significance.

On balance, I must accept the work that has gone into these environment bills and the assurances from many sides involved that they will work, or at least work better than the disparate processes we have in place now. But I have no other means of judging, except those comments. I have not had time to study these bills. I have not had time to look at the amendments. The bills have been steamrollered through in the same disgraceful fashion as the so-called Democrats set that rolling gag in motion in the Senate. So much for the term `Democrats' applied to that particular group. I have had insufficient time to get the feedback or study I would like. I would like to support elements of this legislation, but I am ill-prepared to assess these bills in the allotted time. I will therefore be abstaining from recording a vote because I have certainly not had the time to look at the bills in the detail that my constituents demand.