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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2206

Senator COULTER —My question is also directed to Senator Richardson, in this case in his capacity as Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. As the person responsible for the Labor government's strategy of prime ministerial environmental statements designed to buy the green vote with big election promises, I ask: firstly, is the government seriously committed to fulfilling these pre-election green promises? Secondly, if so, why has the launch of the national pollutant inventory discussion paper—agreed with the states and territories and already printed—and community workshops, which have already been organised, been cancelled? Thirdly, is this to allow a new minister the opportunity to renege on these commitments or purely to stifle debate on this urgent issue? Finally, will the minister reconfirm his government's commitment to all the promises in the prime ministerial environment statements, and particularly to developing a strong national pollutant inventory with legislated community right-to-know provisions?

Senator RICHARDSON —I note the words contained in Senator Coulter's question: `As the person responsible for the Labor government's strategy of prime ministerial environment statements designed to buy the green vote with big election promises'. I was certainly not responsible for the last prime ministerial environment statement. I think I was responsible for the world's greatest environment statement back in about 1989—the WGES, as we called it at the time—but I have not been responsible for one since. Nonetheless, I can give an answer—

Senator Ian Macdonald —The Ravenshoe people don't think much of you.

Senator RICHARDSON —I am glad Senator Macdonald mentioned Ravenshoe. I have to say that one of the things I am going to remember most about my time here is the fact that people can now walk around and see the magnificent rainforests in North Queensland and know they are there forever. If Senator Macdonald had his way, they would be gone; they would be cut down and gone.

  Nonetheless, I think Senator Coulter's question about a national pollutant inventory needs an answer. The government is strongly committed to fulfilling its pre-election environmental promises. This includes developing an effective legislated national pollutant inventory with strong community right-to-know provisions. The active involvement of a wide range of interest groups is essential. The community has a right to information on the releases of chemicals and waste in the environment and there is currently no national database which collates this information. The NPI will fulfil this role.

  My department has advised that the delay in the release of the inventory discussion paper and postponements of the workshops were necessary to accommodate strong community concerns and to involve the new minister. It is worth noting that I did not pretend to anyone, including the Senate, that I was a long-term environment minister. I happened to know why at the time, but I did not share that with everybody.

  The delay does not in any way reduce the strength of the government's commitment and should not be interpreted as such, nor is it an opportunity for a new minister to renege on government commitments. We have developed extensive consultative processes with key interest groups and other levels of government. These include the release of a discussion paper seeking community views, a series of one-day workshops in capital cities, an inventory task force and an inventory reference group comprising stakeholders. These processes will give the community an excellent opportunity for direct involvement in developing the inventory.

  This is an issue which will be addressed quickly as a matter of very high priority by the new minister, given the need to meet the four-year timetable for developing the NPI which we announced in December 1992. I can assure Senator Coulter that the new minister will have this as his or her first item on the agenda. It will be addressed very quickly, and we will live up to all those promises.

Senator COULTER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of the ministerial announcement which the minister has said is now imminent, will he take this opportunity to share with the Senate any further information, either on this matter or on any other environmental matter, which is not otherwise for sale?

Senator RICHARDSON —I am not quite sure what it means when Senator Coulter says `otherwise for sale'. If I knew what he meant I would happily answer. If it is a reference to buying votes, I would hope that our commitments to environmental issues have nought to do with buying votes and everything to do with principle.