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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 345

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories) (11.40 a.m.) —The government will be opposing the amendment moved by Senator Ian Macdonald on behalf of the opposition. Presently, clause 3 follows the objects clause of the intergovernmental agreement on the environment. To amend it would be at odds with the terms of the agreement—which Senator Macdonald in previous contributions has set great store by—reached between the Commonwealth and the states.

  The proposed amendment to clause 3 could rule out national environment protection standards which are by their nature prescriptive and in many cases would be addressing human health concerns. The act already contains a degree of in-built flexibility. For example, only standards, by their nature, require strict uniformity. When developing NEPMs the council must have regard to whether a standard, a goal or a guideline is the most effective means of achieving the desired environmental outcome. Hence, the process for developing NEPMs already allows harmonisation as opposed to strict uniformity where appropriate.

  I did not make the speech that Senator Macdonald referred to in his contribution. That was a speech made by one of my predecessors, Mrs Kelly. In that particular contribution, Mrs Kelly was referring to the total package for development and implementation of national environment protection measures. This bill establishes the council responsible for determining measures. A separate bill will be introduced covering the implementation of measures.

  The states and territories are responsible for implementation within their jurisdiction and will implement measures within the framework of respective state environment legislation. That legislation does differ in detail and, as a result, uniformity may not be possible, hence the emphasis on harmonious approaches. Also, as we have debated previously in this committee stage, given regional environmental differences uniformity may not be sensible.

  I am aware of the letter that I sent not to premiers but to Mr Minson, the Minister for the Environment in Western Australia. I did that as a result of a booklet that was published by the Western Australian government containing arguments about the proposed NEPC and to apparently promote debate on federal environment issues. I am not aware that I have been responsible for making that letter to Mr Minson public; indeed, I believe I have not been. But, as it has been quoted by a number of senators in the second reading debate on this bill, it is worthwhile quoting in more detail part of what I said to Mr Minson, which I do not believe breaches any confidence. I said:

The objectives of the NEPC do not require identical measures in all parts of the country any more than state legislation requires identical measures across a state, nor would it be sensible or practical to seek to do so. Measures targeted to protect national parks and relatively pristine environments would, if applied universally, disrupt or prohibit economic activity. Conversely, measures targeted to stabilise environments degraded by economic activity would, if applied universally, fall far short of those required to protect environmentally sensitive areas.

  NEPC aims to achieve equivalent protection and is required to take into account regional environmental differences in the determination of national environment protection measures. This requires a balance between the interests of environmental diversity and the requirement for uniformity in critical areas affecting human health, eg, drinking water quality, air quality. Nor would it be possible to give effect to national measures through ANZEC, a ministerial council without executive authority. A national legislative scheme is required both to confer upon NEPC the executive authority to determine national environment protection measures and to ensure automatic and concurrent application on national measures as valid law in each jurisdiction. There is no practical alternative.

If we are going to talk about phrases that I might use, it is better to place it in a broader context.

  To agree to this particular amendment proposed by Senator Macdonald would clearly undermine the purpose of the act which aims for greater consistency of national environmental measures. I urge the committee to maintain the existing section 3 of the act which I believe is appropriate in these circumstances.