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Wednesday, 4 December 1996
Page: 6658

Senator FERRIS —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. Australians can be justifiably proud of our nation's diverse wildlife, but there is widespread concern about threats to several of our most unique native animals. Could the minister please inform the Senate of recent actions taken by the government to address these threats?

Senator HILL —Certainly, this issue may—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HILL —This issue may be of no interest to the Labor Party, but I can tell you it is of interest to many thousands of Australians. Those many thousands of Australians are pleased with the initiatives we are taking to protect some of our unique wildlife, and this question gives me the opportunity to bring the Senate up to date in relation to some of those initiatives.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are far too many interjections from the opposition.

Senator HILL —The fact they want to ridicule this issue shows just how out of touch they have become, Madam President. In relation to the protection of the dugong, you will remember, Madam President, that I indicated I had taken steps to prohibit all forms of gill netting in Shoalwater Bay in Queensland.

I am pleased to say that we took a step further last weekend at the ministerial council meeting for the Great Barrier Reef when at my request the council considered a package of possible measures designed to further protect the dugong. The council agreed to list nine interim dugong protection areas to form the basis of a sanctuary system. These areas include the Hinchinbrook area, Cleveland Bay, Upstart and Inch bays, the Newry region and Hervey Bay. In addition, two further regions are being considered. Furthermore, on the basis of good science, we have been told to consider that there should be such a dugong protection area at least every 200 kilometres up the Queensland coast.

The full details of exactly what protection regime will be put in place for each of those sanctuary areas is to be determined over the next couple of months. Queensland also agreed to legislate as soon as possible to require attendance at all offshore set fishing nets which is a very good major reform. Furthermore, we agreed to a realignment of patrols to focus on high risk areas to the dugong. We have also required agencies to report by the end of February on other threats to the dugong of shark netting, habitat loss and indigenous take. Madam President, you will see from that our commitment to protect this now very endangered animal. You will recall I said that over some 1,200 kilometres of Queensland coastline it is believed there are only 1,700 animals remaining alive. So the matter is urgent and this government is acting.

The second matter I wanted to bring to your attention related to koalas, Madam President. As you will know, koala numbers have reduced very substantially and over much of Australia is, in fact, in real terms, endangered, although, at the same time, there are areas of overpopulation.

Senator Sherry —This is Kangaroo Island.

Senator HILL —In particular, we have addressed the issue of Kangaroo Island where there is an overpopulation. In cooperation with the South Australian government, we have agreed to a program which will include fertility control, translocation of koalas and revegetation of habitat as an urgent project to help overcome that problem with a much more satisfactory outcome than that which was being advocated by some and that was a culling of koalas, which of course is unacceptable to the vast majority of Australians.

The community is also invited to contribute financial support to that in the same way as the Commonwealth is committed to contribute $150,000. That strategy adopted for koala conservation on Kangaroo Island is consistent with the national strategy for conservation adopted last weekend. The real issue though is the loss of habitat, the importance to restore habitat and there is no better way that the Senate can help in doing that than to pass our natural heritage trust bill to give us the funding finally for some revegetation of Australia and to protect native habitat.(Time expired)

Senator FERRIS —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister please explain how these actions reflect the government's commitment to protecting our natural environment.

Senator HILL —The supplementary gives me a chance to say a little bit more about the importance of the Natural Heritage Trust. As Senator Faulkner knows, the major problem faced by Australian native wildlife is the loss of habitat and the loss of native vegetation. Under the natural heritage trust bill, $380 million will be invested in that revegetation over a period of—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are far too many interjections for anybody to properly hear the answer.

Senator HILL —five years for restoring Australia's natural vegetation, reinvesting in our streams and waterways, helping with the problems of salinity and all the other major environment problems that Australia faces. It is an investment in the future that will be applauded by all Australians.

There is an opportunity now coming up quick for the Senate to join together and commend the government for its initiative by saying we want to be part of this national project.(Time expired)

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Hill! Your time has expired for answering the question.

Senator Hill —I am sorry, I cannot hear because of the rabble.

The PRESIDENT —I can understand—there is so much noise from the opposition. I was trying to tell you, Senator Hill, that the time for answering the question had expired.