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Monday, 25 February 1985
Page: 117


Senator MASON(3.20) —I speak briefly to the report of the Australian Agricultural Council because many people are concerned about probably the worst problem for our future so far as agricultural products are concerned. It is a problem which has been substantially ignored over the years. I refer to a matter which is being brought up by the Australian Conservation Foundation, among other organisations. Because of the acute seriousness of the problem concerning soil conservation, it has become a cliche in our society, as road accidents have. We tolerate the situation in which year after year in our wheat lands a certain amount of our topsoil is routinely removed. Australia is the one agricultural country which has cause to worry about this situation because we have perhaps the most fragile ecology and the lowest amount of normal tree and vegetation cover compared with any other country of our degree of civilisation, if I can put it that way.

We are neglecting this issue shamefully. I think that part of the neglect is due to the fact that so many government departments are involved. No attempt has been made to concentrate on the problem which is one which deserves major consideration in this country. After all, all of us owe our lives to those fragile few inches of top soil that exist to that we may grow living things. All of us have, I would hope, a stake in preventing the loss of top soil which, after all, has taken millions of years to evolve. Yet since the first national assessment of soil erosion was made in 1970, 15 years ago, virtually nothing has been done to overcome the problem. There have been many conferences, and discussions were held recently. The Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Environment, in its inquiry into land use, pointed out the grave difficulties of co-ordination in this area and the fact that the States and the Commonwealth are in on the act. A large number of different departments is also involved. Because of this the situation exists whereby the loss of top soil is continuing and the problem, if anything, is becoming worse than ever, especially in some States. No palliative measures are being implemented and a relatively small sum of money, in relation to the nature of the problem, is being devoted to this area.

I refer briefly to an unusual aspect of the problem as it exists in my own State of New South Wales. I refer to the crass and criminal decision which has been made by the State Government of New South Wales to pipe sewage from the cities of Sydney and Newcastle miles further out to sea instead of returning this material in a properly processed form to the land. Some years ago I was in Shanghai. The sewage of that city is composted and used for the surrounding communes which are the food bowl of that great city. It was pointed out by the Chinese that without that process the people of that city would starve. Our situation in Australia is only an extension of the situation in China. Just because we can manage for the moment does not mean that in the future we can go on with the same sort of crass and stupid situation. We in this planet live in a state of symbiosis between living and growing things. The gross indecency or stupidity is that those people with so-called finer feelings say that the sewage ought to be piped out to sea, thereby dumping out to sea every year probably thousands of tonnes of our top soil, because that is what it amounts to, instead of having a decent and reasonable conservation of this kind of asset, as most other civilised communities do.

For years people in New South Wales have been offended by the fact that the present sewerage outfall is simply dumping raw sewage back on to our beaches. The people of Manly, Bondi and those who live right along the coast know this. It is something which we have learned to live with. This situation is stupid. It is even more stupid to try to solve the problem by spending literally herculean sums of money to run further pipes further out to sea and, by doing so, offending against one of the prime natural laws of our habitation of this earth. Sooner or later we must return to the earth what we take from it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.