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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 280

Senator JESSOP(6.13) —I am very pleased to support the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment in the presentation of the report on land use policy. As the Chairman said in his speech, it is a rather difficult matter to come to grips with because a lot of the matters canvassed in the report come largely under State and local government jurisdiction: In 1977, when the Committee presented a report on wood chips and the environment, we pointed out that there was a clear need for a national land use policy, with the Commonwealth Government primarily playing a co-ordinating and supportive role to the State and local governments. The Minister of the day, the Hon. Ian Wilson, did not agree entirely with the recommendations of the Committee. In the debate on the Government response to the Committee report I disagreed with the Minister, who said that the initial approach on national land use policy must come from the States. I disagreed because I believed that it was an area of great national concern in which the initiative could come from the Federal Government for discussion at the appropriate Commonwealth-State forum. I said a number of other things, but I pointed out quite clearly in conclusion that State governments must remain free to formulate their own policies and priorities within the general framework of an agreed national policy. I think that is the spirit in which we approached the inquiry with which we are dealing now.

The Committee fairly quickly recognised, as pointed out on page 5 of the report, that current policies, or lack of them, have led to wide scale land misuse and degradation. We have listed the adverse effects flowing from that. The first point concerns the soil erosion which has resulted from clearing, overgrazing, burning and cultivation. As Senator Jones quite properly pointed out, and I think Senator Mason also, our topsoil in Australia varies in depth from about four inches, in the old terminology, to a few feet. Once we remove that topsoil, which contains all the nutrients, there are great difficulties in regenerating the soil quality. We pointed to the degeneration of rivers and streams caused by pollution, including pesticides and turbidity; by cultivating watersheds and stream banks; salinity of land and water as a result of irrigation and flood irrigation in particular; and the replacement of native vegetation with introduced species. Of course, that is quite evident in the River Murray system, which is of great concern to South Australian senators. We are on the end of that drain-I often refer to it as an effluent drain-which emanates as far away as Queensland. Some 22 per cent of the River Murray water comes from Queensland. Of course, a lot of irrigation is done in New South Wales and Victoria and a lot of pollution finds its way into the river system.

Senator Lewis —Most of it comes from Queensland.

Senator JESSOP —Quite a lot could emanate from Queensland. It is an interesting point to make that water knows no State boundaries and therefore it is a national problem. I have said this for years, and I am glad to say that at least one State government-the Tonkin Liberal Government in South Australia-recognised that and advocated that a national approach ought to be adopted with the establishment of a national water resources policy. All of these things impinge one on the other and highlight the significant national interest the Committee has tried to bring into focus in this report.

In the report we went on to suggest that the removal of rainforests caused by clearing for agriculture is a problem in some areas. There is a loss of productive land as a result of erosion, salination and encroachment from urbanisation and hobby farming. We have tried to come to grips with the major problems, I think it is important that the Government pays due regard to our recommendations.

We also had some evidence from the Central Aboriginal Land Council at Alice Springs. Here again I think we have to ponder whether we are going the right way in respect of land use in Aboriginal areas. I was concerned that the Central Aboriginal Land Council consisted of about 75 members, represented about 54 tribal groups. There are 120 to 130 tribal groups in that area, which suggests to me that perhaps the views of all the Aborigines in that area are not being taken into account. I think it is important to see whether proper and adequate consultation is being effected.

We suggest that a way of bringing together the States, with the Commonwealth operating in a co-ordinating role, would be to draft a national land use policy statement. We have illustrated that suggestion in greater detail at page 32 of the report. The recommendation states:

To direct the joint Commonwealth-State effort to standardise and improve the accessibility of land-use information, as part of a national information network.

In this computer age it would be quite useful and important to have a central data base into which any people interested in land use matters could plug in and get the information, whether it be a local government matter, a State matter, or one involving a Commonwealth or State department. Senator Jones has highlighted that point in his questioning of witnesses throughout the inquiry. It seems to have met with general approval. The recommendations continue:

To consider the need for and possible composition of a permanent national land use co-ordinating council. The Standing Committee should report to the Australian Environmental Council on this within 12 months of the finalisation of the National Land Use Policy.

The final part of the recommendations reads:

To carry out analysis, interpretation and comment on matters of broad concern in relation to land management.

The Committee also pointed to the need to involve not only bureaucratic experts from the State and Commonwealth, but also the community and interested people from industry, the farming areas and so on, so that we can obtain a proper view expressed by all those who are interested in this important matter.

This is, I think, the eighteenth report that has been presented since about 1945, drawing attention in various ways to the need for a national approach to this problem. I believe that unless we do something in a constructive, sympathetic way with the States, Australia will face a crisis from the year 2000 onwards, because our water resources will be fully committed by then. We must look now to the solution to make sure that our natural resources, and our land management policies, are such that we can look forward to continued prosperity in the years to come.

Question resolved in the affirmative.