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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 277

Senator JONES(5.55) —The report on land use policy in Australia brought down by the Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment, was presented to the President of the Senate in accordance with the resolution of the Senate of 18 October 1984, together with the transcript of evidence. The following is an extract from the letter which I presented to the President at that time:

The evidence taken during the Committee's inquiry revealed a far from satisfying state of affairs in the development and conservation of Australia's land resources.

There is unquestionably a need for policies on land use to be co-ordinated nationally by State, Commonwealth, Territory and local governments.

The Committee, on taking up the inquiry into a national land use policy, noted the recommendations of the previous Committee in 1977 in its report entitled 'Woodchips and the Environment'. The evidence taken at that inquiry showed very clearly that there was a real need for a national land use policy. Because of the involvement of the Committee in bringing down that original report this Committee decided to hold a further inquiry into land use in Australia and to bring down the report which I presented to the President on behalf of the Committee on 23 January 1985.

The Committee found that little action had been taken by the previous Government on the recommendation of the original report that a national land use policy should be established. Because of this lack of action the Committee felt that, after looking at the evidence before it, it should list specific issues in relation to a national land use policy, and we tried to develop in the report a proposition that could be put before the Government with some hope that it would be acted upon it in a realistic way by the government of the day. That report is now before the Government and it is with a great deal of confidence that I, as Chairman, and I am sure the other members of the Committee, including yourself, Mr Acting Deputy President, are waiting to see what the Government's response will be.

When the Committee began taking evidence at public hearings one of the problems it faced was that evidence tended to deal with specific issues in relation to rainforests, conservation, mining or some particular land use. That emphasised to the members of the Committee that we really needed to look at the problem more in a national context, and that is what we tried to do. We tried to bring down a proposition and a recommendation that would allow the Government to set up the machinery to bring about a national land use policy.

Another problem the Committee faced was the constitutional right of the States to handle land matters within their boundaries. The Committee took a great deal of notice of the fact that the Commonwealth can be only an advisory body in relation to what happens in the States. I think that proposition was recognised by the States. They recognised that the Commonwealth could only advise on setting up a national body. The co-operation and cohesion between the States, as well as the submissions given, allowed the Committee to draw up its recommendations to put before the Government. Because of the good will shown by the States and the Commonwealth towards the Committee, I believe that the material in the report will go a long way towards the setting-up of the national land use policy that members of the Committee believe we need in Australia. Land is probably one of the greatest assets that this country has and it should be looked at from a national point of view.

One of the other propositions the Committee looked at was that the Commonwealth, through the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, should set an example to the States. It is not good enough for the Commonwealth to say that action should be taken by the States and not take action itself when it has the power to do so. We believe that if the Commonwealth acts clearly in demonstrating to the States what should be done and if it is willing to undertake certain things within its Territories, it is reasonable to ask the States, acting in a spirit of co-operation, to do something within their own boundaries.

I think it is worth mentioning also at this stage the details in relation to submissions the Committee had before it. The report of the Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment on land use policy has finally been brought down. We actually began the inquiry on 5 June 1981. Of course it is now 1985; so it has been a long, hard inquiry by the Committee. I must at this stage thank the members of the Committee-Senator Townley, who is the Acting Deputy President at the moment, Senator Jessop, who was the Deputy Chairman, Senator Mason, Senator Reynolds and Senator Foreman. I believe that the exacting work of the Committee, the dedication shown by the Committee members and the non-political way in which we looked at the issue before us allowed us to bring down a very firm, solid and reasonable report to which I believe the Government should respond.

That being said, I think one would have to acknowledge the work undertaken by the Secretary of the Committee and the other members of the Staff. I thank Robert King, who is the Secretary of the Committee, and Peter Roberts, who was the Secretary of the Committee during the Thirty-second Parliament. I thank also the former and present research officers, Derek Synnot, Lyn Willson, Max Lane and Judy Middlebrook, and the Committee's steno-secretaries, June Fallick and Ms Maureen Rockey. Our thanks go to all those people for the way in which they provided the Committee with services and allowed us to undertake the number of public hearings we undertook and to receive the amount of submissions we received during the course of the inquiry.

The Committee received in the vicinity of 240 written submissions. In addition, we received evidence on these matters at public hearings in Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Alice Springs, Darwin, Hobart and Canberra. Over 3,400 pages of evidence were taken from the witnesses. Altogether the Committee heard evidence from 145 witnesses. These include technical experts, State Governments, Commonwealth departments, environmental organisations, farming and commercial organisations, legal experts and representatives of several other interests. As a result of these inquiries the Committee recommended in the report the establishment of a Standing Committee on Land Use by the Australian Environment Council. Other relevant ministerial councils, the National Conservation Strategy for Australia Task Force and the Australian Survey Office should be represented on this Standing Committee.

The Committee has suggested some areas of concern. I will not cover all the areas but I am sure other members of the Committee wish to elaborate on the Committee's report. These areas included the drafting of a national land use policy statement following the guidelines outlined in the report; the necessity of a land use co-ordinating council to give effect to a national land use policy; land use management issues; and the compilation of a manual and central registry of land use information, including an inventory of Commonwealth land. I think that last point is worth mentioning again. It seems that a lot of information in Australia is available to various departments, various State governments and the Commonwealth in relation to land use in Australia. But there also seems to be a scattered amount of information. There is no one central point where we can gather that information and very quickly make an assessment of land or land use. I think the Committee to be set up together with the government and a central information centre will go a long way to help develop the national land use policy in the future. I recommend the report to the Senate. We wait with a great deal of expectation for the Government to respond to the report.