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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 267

Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (6.34 p.m.) —I do not intend to speak for long in summing up the second reading debate on the National Environment Protection Council Bill. I thank Senator Crane and other speakers for cooperating and not speaking at undue length on this legislation. The basic approach of the opposition, I have to say, was largely uninformed. I think we can best summarise its position as that of not having read the bill.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Don't be so supercilious. You didn't even listen to the debate.

Senator SHERRY —How does Senator Macdonald know whether I was listening to the debate? I have been sitting here for the last hour listening to the debate, and it was a pretty tedious contribution that we heard from the opposition.

  Senator Bolkus, who has responsibility for the legislation, will be rebutting during the committee stage the contributions made by the opposition. The government is not prone to wasting time in the Senate.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Well sit down, then.

Senator SHERRY —That is exactly what I intend to do in a moment. I will not be repetitive in terms of some of the spurious contributions we heard from those opposite during the second reading debate. Senator Bolkus will deal very adequately with the specific and absurd complaints and some of the debating points that the opposition raised.

  This legislation seeks to establish the National Environment Protection Council. This council will consist of a nominated minister from each participating jurisdiction. There has been very widespread consultation with the respective state governments on this matter. Is it not interesting that when we go to the states and try to develop a common position, we have so-called representatives of the states in this place—Senator Crane amongst them—whingeing about what is agreed? We attempt cooperative federalism; we attempt to have discussions in an amicable way; then we have the representatives of some of the states in this place complaining about the agreements that are reached. It is a great pity.

Senator Crane —That is reasonable.

Senator SHERRY —It is not reasonable when great efforts are gone to to reach accommodations. It is a federal system that we live in. Senator Crane should not complain, as he usually does, that the federal government has to override the states in some areas of jurisdiction. Senator Faulkner, one of our most impressive new ministers—

Senator Crane —Why has he backed away?

Senator SHERRY —He has not backed away. Again, it is the spirit of cooperative federalism and the spirit of a minister who recognises a substantial argument, who is willing to listen.

Senator Crane —Indeed; I acknowledged that and pointed it out to you. You didn't know about it.

Senator SHERRY —Yes, I did know about it. Senator Faulkner is a minister who listens. In his new portfolio responsibilities, on the couple of occasions on which I have had dealings with him on environmental issues, I would have to say that he is a minister who listens. That concludes my remarks on the process. I think it is important to note that a decision of the council that is being established must be supported by the votes of at least two-thirds of its members. We have had complaints from the opposition about a two-thirds vote.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Don't be silly. We supported that. Read my speech.

Senator SHERRY —Senator Macdonald is silly. We heard his speech but his colleagues are still critical of this two-thirds vote. With regard to Senator Crane, everything has to come back to the lowest common denominator—Western Australia. That is his approach on some of these issues.

Senator Crane —Let me tell you that Senator Crane never mentioned the two-thirds vote.

Senator SHERRY —I am referring to Senator Crane's general approach on the right of veto for the Western Australian government. Almost every matter on which he has made a contribution in the Senate has come back to this lowest common denominator—Western Australia must have the right of veto. We have heard it in so many of his contributions in this place.

  I do not want to talk for any longer on this matter. Senator Bolkus will take up, with his usual gusto and policy analysis, the particular issues that have been raised and which will be raised during the committee stage. I thank other speakers for their level of cooperation in ensuring a reasonably quick debate and hope that the legislation receives the speedy consideration that it deserves.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time.