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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1032


Senator SANDERS(9.28) —The Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Amendment Bill could be an important Bill. Unfortunately in its present form it is not particularly significant. In latter years the environment has not received the attention that it should. A tidal wave of environmental awareness took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s and a number of Bills were passed around the world in those years which actually did have teeth and which gave implemented methods of looking after the environment. Since those days expediency, and perhaps greed, has taken precedence and much of the legislation has been altered and amended, making it inoperable. This is unfortunate because more and more we find that the world as we know it and our environment are under great threat. It seems that the human race has been an evolutionary experiment which has failed. We do not seem to be able properly to handle our technology in such a way as to preserve our environment. I could go through a list of horrors but I think honourable senators would be aware of the great dangers facing our world. Unfortunately, they feel that other issues are more important. They claim that the real world is a world of economics and political in-fighting. Unfortunately for them and for us all the real world is the environment which supports us.

The ozone layer is being depleted by the propellants in spray cans and the fluorocarbons which are being issued into the atmosphere. When the ozone layer is depleted it will no longer be able to filter out ultra violet light, which will have grave consequences for us. The build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is having a green-house effect, a warming effect, which will not only increase the warmth of the agricultural areas round the world, making some areas perhaps marginally profitable, but also melt the polar ice-caps, which will cause the sea levels around the world to rise. These are very profound effects, yet nobody really worries about them. They are outside the normal time frame of politicians. Politicians think in terms of perhaps three years, or less in some instances. Nobody really worries about these things, but they are with us.

As an environmentalist I am not really worried about the environment per se. The environment has been around for about 4.5 billion years, give or take a few, and the environment-an environment-will survive. Unfortunately, the environment that does survive will not support human life. Really, I am a humanist. Most environmentalists are. The environment is, after all, a life support system. In all of our legislation and in our thinking about the environment we need to shift the burden of proof. At the moment the burden of proof is on the environmentalists to show that some operation will be hazardous to the environment. The burden should be on the other foot; it should be on the polluter, the developer, to show that whatever he intends to do will not have any effect on the environment. This Bill addresses none of these issues.

Another thing that is urgently needed in Australia is a mechanism whereby people who are not economically affected by a project can still appeal against it and protest on behalf of the environment in the courts. We need standing to sue so that environmental groups or concerned citizens can carry these actions. At the moment it is necessary to find someone whose economic interests are affected. It would have been attractive to try to amend this Bill by inserting a standing to sue clause but we knew that it would be absolutely impossible to get such a thing through.

Sometimes developers talk about balance and weighing the environment against the economic situation. The scales now are so far on the economic side that any real balance would cause great screams on behalf of the miners, the woodchippers and developers in general. There is a saying in the United States, my former home where baseball is a game of great popularity, that mother nature always bats last, which means that mother nature or the environment will have the last say. With all our technology, all our skills and all our science, once we have so extended and stretched the system it will not come back. It will no longer be able to support us and we will be simply shrugged off this planet. An excellent television series was shown on the BBC, and later on the ABC, called Edge of Darkness. It was based on the gaia principle that the earth is a living organism which maintains its own climate and environmental systems and which will reject anything which interferes with them. At the moment the human race is having a great impact on the environment.

I foreshadow several amendments to this legislation which falls into two basic categories. One amendment will make it possible for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment to have control over the environmental impact statements which are required. The present situation is that the so-called `action' Minister, who is the Minister in charge of the area-in the case of woodchipping it is the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin)-has control over the EIS. The Australian Democrats feel that the EIS should be under the control of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Environment, who will then operate in consultation, perhaps, with the action Minister.

The other thing we would like to see is impact statements being prepared by the Government, rather than by the developers. In the case of the Tasmanian woodchip situation we had the Tasmanian Forestry Commission and the woodchip companies preparing their own EIS which was later evaluated by the Government. This is like letting the fox draw plans for the chicken coop. It simply does not allow a balanced presentation about environmental damage. In order to fund the preparation of environmental impact statements we propose that the developers pay the Government for the cost of preparing the EIS. Therefore, if a developer wished to go into an area and alter the environment he would put a proposal to the Government, the Government would prepare an EIS which would be evaluated and the charges would be assessed to the developing organisation. We will discuss these proposals more fully when we get to the Committee stage.

We will be supporting the legislation. We would like to see it much stronger. We would like to see the entire commitment to environmental matters given a higher status in the Parliament and in the country. However, at the moment all we can do is deal with the legislation which has come before us. We urge the Government to take a good look at our amendments and urge all honourable senators to support them.