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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 772

Senator BURNS (11.15 a.m.) —I will be very brief. Opposition senators constantly criticise the government for giving up our sovereignty by agreeing with and signing United Nations protocols. I assert very forcefully that the United Nations has done a tremendous job for this globe of ours in terms of peacekeeping and bringing people together; in putting forward sensible laws that operate internationally; and in bringing together people who have the resources to assist those in need. I hope that role continues. I hope the United Nations gathers in strength and continues to do the job it has been doing in the past, but even better.

  At the moment, as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs, I am involved in an inquiry into landcare. Of course, while desertification is not the focus of landcare, it is part of any consideration of this reference. Landcare funding, which was introduced some time ago by the government, has the support of the National Farmers Federation, the conservationists and the Greens. There is very little difference of opinion as to how we should look after the land or, in cases where the land has been degraded, how we should bring the land back. There is no doubt that, if one wants to look after the land, desertification becomes an issue, and we should support any proposal which prevents any further desertification in this country.

  Senator O'Chee said that it was a bad thing to tell property owners that they should stock their land at a certain rate because that was a commercial decision for them to make. However, it has been clearly proven—and it is there for anyone to see—that some people have farmed unsuitable land and, as a result, that land has become badly degraded. So it is arrant nonsense to say that individual landowners have the untrammelled right to degrade and destroy the land that they use.

  I am not suggesting that a good manager of rural land would do that but some people have done so. There are still people out there who are concerned only about getting the most they can out of a property over a period and then move on. The whole thrust is towards self-sufficiency on the land and everybody is concerned to see that the land is looked after.

  The purpose of the United Nations is to bring countries together. In the end, degradation of land affects the whole globe. Those matters have to be looked at internationally. The government has a responsibility to sign such documents that would place Australia at the forefront of countries which look after their land and make a contribution to global health.