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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 724

Senator COULTER (6.21 p.m.) —From listening to Senator Ian Macdonald I am reminded that Alexander the Great had a brilliant but very brief career. I further comment on his speech by saying that I am very concerned when I hear expressions from anybody in this chamber which suggest that we have second class citizens in Australia, people whose right to protest is going to be constrained by the fact that they might happen to be on some public benefit. Indeed, those people may be property developers who do not work nine to five. They may be share market speculators who in fact are competing with the skyrail and do not work nine to five. They may equally be leeches on the public purse in a different way. One would nonetheless not deny them the right to public protest if they felt strongly about it. If people are on public benefit, I believe that everybody in this chamber should defend their right, unfettered by that fact, to object to any matter which is of concern to them.

Senator Abetz —Unfettered?

Senator COULTER —Yes, unfettered in the sense that their happening to be without a job should not be cause for a constraint to be put on them. This bill is one which is indeed tidying up a number of loose ends and I do not wish to comment on most parts of it. I comment very briefly on the Endangered Species Protection Act which this bill seeks to amend. It seeks to amend the definition of `Commonwealth agency'. The act currently states:

(g)a person holding, or performing duties of, an office established by or under, or on appointment made under, a law of the Commonwealth, other than:

(i)a person who, by virtue of by holding that office, is the secretary of a department; or—

and this is the relevant section—

(ii)the Administrator of the Northern Territory or the Administrator of Norfolk Island.

In other words, the act already excludes those people from the operation of this act; however, the amendments seek to clarify that even further.

  In relation to `ecological community' the act states among other things that a community is one which meets the additional criteria as specified in the regulations made for the purposes of this definition and may anticipate the necessary making of regulations. The amendments seek to add the words `if any'—in other words, to allow the situation in which the definition is fully met without the making of any regulations at all. There are two other references to the advisory committee, and there is a section which wrongly refers to a section of the act and that is corrected.

  I comment again, as I did when this endangered species legislation was passed, that this is indeed very weak legislation. It requires—here I would pick up from a different direction the concern of Senator Ian Macdonald—complementary legislation of the states. The states are not necessarily given to looking after their endangered species and this legislation contains very little in the way of protecting endangered species in this country.

  It is within the province of the Commonwealth to pass much stronger legislation. As I have said many times, I believe the trade and commerce powers and corporations powers, which the Commonwealth has used, would do most of the things necessary to protect endangered species without involvement of the states. This is, after all, a national issue. It should not be left to the states. It is of equal concern to the people of South Australia if the beche-de-mer, to use the example used by Senator Ian Macdonald, are being overfished in the region of Cairns. It is of national concern and requires national legislation.

  The other point I briefly make is that, even with the legislation we have in relation to national parks, endangered species and various other things, there is far too little resource going into the protection of important areas in Australia. We have world heritage areas. We have, to quote another example in Queensland, the proposed Hinchinbrook development on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. I understand that we have one warden up there who is to supervise that very large area.

  I was recently in the northern part of South Australia, the Lake Eyre region, which, again, the federal government has said that it wants to consider for world heritage nomination. In that vast region we have one volunteer ranger who is provided with a vehicle and petrol for that vehicle and who supervises an enormous area in the north-eastern part of South Australia. The main supervision of that one ranger comes from Hawker, which is 500 kilometres to the south of Cooper Creek and the Coongie Lakes. That is one of the important areas being considered for world heritage nomination.

  Despite the weakness of the legislation, we are still not putting in the resources which will back it up. To that extent, I agree with the remarks made by Senator Ian Macdonald in that we need to put in a great deal more resource to ensure that the laws we do have are adequately policed to protect not only endangered species but also other species, to protect important ecological systems, and to protect in a sustainable way the Australian environment. As this bill is a tidying up bill—I am only using this as, in a sense, an excuse to speak of these things—we will certainly be supporting this legislation.