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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1429

Senator COULTER (7.21 p.m.) —I wish to speak, if time permits, on three subjects tonight. First, two years ago the world community met at Rio de Janeiro to attend a summit on the future survival of the earth—the Earth Summit, as it was called. The summit was the largest gathering of heads of state in the world and was an unprecedented recognition that the earth faces a crisis of environmental security. There was a sense of urgency about the great issues to be discussed: climate change, biodiversity, desertification, population, urban environments and so on.

  The Australian Prime Minister (Mr Keating) was one of the few heads of state around the world who refused to attend the summit. Mr Keating's refusal is indicative of the Prime Minister's complete lack of regard, one could almost say contempt, for the environment. In the intervening two years Australia has gone backwards in terms of protecting our global and national environment. Far from the superlative record that the government likes to boast about, we are now facing a situation where Australia has done a complete backflip on the environment. Australia is increasingly standing out on a limb at international meetings on environmental issues. We are out of step with the European Community, the United States, Canada, Japan, and the G7.

  The Labor Party's reputation for being the party that captures the green vote is now in tatters. The Prime Minister himself has been labelled the `dirty man of the Pacific'. This label is not inaccurate. I have a document which provides an excellent summary of the government's extremely poor record by international standards on the environment. It is a statement by a number of environmental aid groups which was read out a recent meeting of the Non-government Organisations to the Consultative Forum on International Environmental Issues. I seek leave to table that document.

  Leave granted.

Senator COULTER —In the remaining time I wish to refer to a meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development that was recently held in New York. Japan suggested at the meeting that the commission had a real role to play in bringing about successful rule making with regard to trade and environment by providing active input to the World Trade Organisation. Honourable senators will recall how Senator Cook objected very much to any injection of the environment as a consideration in the GATT discussion and debate that occurred in this place.

  The United States, the EEC, the G7 and Japan all supported the need for further work on the impact of trade policies on the environment. NGO groups also strongly supported the Commission for Sustainable Development as the most appropriate body to oversee policy on trade and environment issues. Australia, on the other hand, stood isolated on the floor of the conference against the rest of the world, with the exception of China. Australia argued that the commission should not get involved in trade and environment issues. In its opening statement, the Australian delegation stated:

. . . it is not necessary for the CSD to engage in technical discussions on trade policy.

It also stated that the Commission should merely identify gaps in areas of policy development on trade and environment issues; in other words, making environment totally subservient to its view of the importance of trade.

  Of even more concern is that after a closed meeting the negotiated text on the issue of trade and environment was watered down. I can only point the finger at the Australian delegation. Some serious questions need to be asked about the direction of Australian policy on the trade and environment issue. What I want to stress in tabling this document tonight is that the Australian government is at odds with the vast majority of the rest of the world.

  It has become increasingly obvious that Australia's position on international environmental issues is being driven by industry interests—short-term industry interests at that. In the case of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the delegation argued a position that had not even been debated in the cabinet. The Prime Minister has to take responsibility for the reckless and deliberate disregard for environmental issues. He must bring Australia into line with other OECD countries and recognise that the environment is a serious mainstream and long-term issue.

  The second matter that I want to raise tonight concerns a statement which I made in the Senate on 5 May 1993 at a time when the then new Liberal government of Western Australia was attempting to undermine the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in that state, one Barry Carbon, and was taking advice from one Timothy Meagher. I described Timothy Meagher on that occasion as a known environmental destroyer. Now, 12 months later, Mr Timothy Meagher has written to me complaining—and I presume from his letter that he assumed that the reason I made that statement was that his company had been a consultant to one of the Alan Bond companies in relation to a development in Perth and that his company's environmental assessment of that proposed development had been rejected by the EPA, and that in some way I was criticising him on account of that assessment.

  But in fact what I was referring to, and I want to put it on the record, was that Timothy Meagher, who describes himself as an environmental consultant, was also at the time, which he did not reveal in his correspondence to me, a director of the company Palos Verdes Estates Ltd, which is a land development company. And what I was actually referring to was that this particular development company had owned land on the Nullaki peninsular near Denmark in Western Australia and that that land was evidently separated from the main road by an area of crown land which did not provide road access to the land owned by the Palos Verdes Estates. The Palos Verdes Estates Development Co. evidently went in and cleared that land without any permission.

  I understand that it was taken to court by the then Environment Protection Agency in Western Australia. The EPA won the case in the lower court but the matter was thrown out on a technicality in the upper court. It was that action by that company of which Mr Timothy Meagher was a director which caused me to describe him in those terms. So I just want to explain and amplify on that and get that into the record. I understand that the present Court government has now made Timothy Meagher the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

  The third matter that I want to raise very briefly concerns another environmental matter; that is, the matter that I have been prosecuting for some years, the protection of the bilby, an animal which existed in Australia in many millions not so many decades ago and which is now confined to a very small area in south western Queensland—and is a seriously threatened species. One of the programs to bring the plight of the bilby to the attention of Australia, particularly Australia's children, involved encouraging the replacement of the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby. Of course, that involved also the suggestion that chocolate bilbies be made available at Easter time rather than chocolate bunnies.

  I am very pleased to report to the Senate that that has been very successful in the last two years, and particularly successful in Port Adelaide. The Port Adelaide Central Mission has actually set up a company—Bring Them Back Chocolates—which has employed a number of formerly unemployed people, some of them long-term unemployed, making these Easter bilbies. I will read from a letter from the Port Adelaide Central Mission about the results. It states:

  . 12 unemployed people gained paid employment of some form and five of these have been employed full-time

  . All Bilbys produced were sold—

That was at Easter time—

  . Over 40,000 items were produced most of which were small Bilbys

  . Over $3,000 will be allocated to environmental groups who are raising awareness about Threatened Species, undertaking research or preserving habitat

  . A number of churches, schools and community groups used our products as opportunities to raise funds for their own purposes.

  We played a part in increasing community awareness of endangered species and of the need to develop industries that create work for unemployed people.

  We are now working to develop Bring Them Back Chocolates as a year round employment creating venture.

  At the moment we are preparing for Mothers Day—

This letter was written several weeks ago—

with "Mother and Child" Koala designs, one 20-25 gram and a large hollow design for that special gift. A card is also being produced, featuring a design by an Adelaide print maker.

Of course with each of these chocolate bilbies and chocolate koalas there was a little piece explaining the importance of the protection of these threatened species.

  I wish to put on record my strong appreciation of the work done by the Port Adelaide Mission and by the women down there in embarking on this venture, raising the awareness of threatened species and employing a number of long-term unemployed people.

(Time expired)