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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1322

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(8.21) —Although I have had a lot of experience dealing with dirt over the last two years, this is the first time in my parliamentary career I have found myself dealing with the subject of soil conservation. Being the sort of person who normally goes to pieces once I get out of sight of telephone poles and paving, it is perhaps not altogether appropriate that I should be speaking here tonight in substitution for the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh). Nonetheless, given the unanimity of support there is for this measure around the chamber, I guess there is not terribly much I can do to muck it up at this stage.

The legislation basically provides a statutory basis for Commonwealth participation in combating one of the major problems facing this nation in the natural resources area. It is gratifying to have the bipartisan support of the Senate on this most important initiative of the Government. I nearly fell over backwards to hear Senator MacGibbon actually commending the Government for this initiative, which made me immediately suspicious that there must be something the matter with it, but I do suspect, having heard him and Senator Watson in the last few minutes, that there is genuine warmth of support for this measure and I repeat that we are duly grateful for that.

The legislation will reinforce the current efforts of the Government through the national soil conservation program to provide a stimulus to the national soil conservation effort to act as a catalyst in attracting increased funding from the States and a greater awareness of the problem on the part of individual land holders. It should be made clear in that respect that the Government does not intend taking over the constitutional responsibilities of the Senate in this area or centralising all soil conservation activity and administration in Canberra. The States will continue to utilise the experience and knowledge they have acquired over the years in this area and the Commonwealth will promote co-ordination and co-operation for the national good. I think in this respect I should say that it is not appropriate, in our view, for the Commonwealth to include in the Soil Conservation (Financial Assistance) Bill a fixed allocation each year for soil conservation, as some honourable members have perhaps understandably urged. Flexibility will be required to meet demands as they arise and it is neither possible nor desirable in our view for the Commonwealth to attempt to shoulder the entire responsibility for soil conservation.

During the debate honourable senators have covered a number of quite wide-ranging issues concerned with the soil and its preservation. I do not intend to comment on all the matters that have been raised, even if I were competent to do so. However, perhaps I should say on behalf of the Government just a couple of words on the question of the membership of the Soil Conservation Advisory Committee, which did attract some comment. It is our view that adequate allowance has been made in the Bill to convene a group of people with practical, technical and professional knowledge of the problems of soil erosion and land degradation. We do not think it would be desirable or appropriate to exclude from membership, right from the outset, any particular sectors of the community and identify, as some honourable senators would appear to have liked us to do, their inappropriateness for that representative role. I simply say that I have sufficient faith in the wisdom, competence, judgment and the sensitivity of my colleague the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, to believe that the best people for the job will be appointed.

Finally, the conservation of the soil is clearly in the interests of present day farmers in maintaining their productivity. It is in the interests, moveover, of future generations of agriculturalists and the community at large both in ensuring the nation's continued economic prosperity and of course, in, conserving the environment for future generations. This Bill is concrete evidence of the Government's commitment in this area and its determination to tackle effectively this problem which, as honourable senators have correctly recognised, is one of the most pressing facing the nation today. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.