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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2509


Mr HOWSON (Casey) (Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts) - 1 want to say first of all how interested I have been in listening to so many speakers address the House on this first time that the estimates of my Department have been the subject of debate here. It has been a most interesting time to see that all the facets of the Department - environment, Aborigines and the Arts - have come under scrutiny. I assure honourable members that I will take note of all the things that have been said. However, I have been asked to try to confine my remarks to a few minutes, so it will not be possible for me to deal with all the matters that have been raised. For instance, I will take note of the remarks of the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh). I am well aware of the matter he raised. There will be an opportunity to discuss some of these matters at greater length in the debate on the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill which is on the notice paper. I would prefer to save my remarks on the future of Aboriginal welfare until that later debate. 1 turn now to the matters raised on the subject of the environment. Let me deal first of all with those matters which were raised by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). I feel that I should dwell for a short time on the role as I see it of the Commonwealth in our environmental affairs. I have had an opportunity to study the way in which Federal and State systems relating to environmental matters have been adopted in places throughout the world, but I have not studied it in great depth because the time has not been available. In all the systems that I have looked at I have seen that, however the relationship of division of powers between the Federal government and the State government has been arranged, it has been found that there has to be co-ordination between State and Federal governments. In no case have I found it possible for the Federal Government to lay down policy and expect the States to carry it out unless there is co-operation. The remarks of the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) on the matter of soil conservation illustrate this point.

Wherever there is a federal system there has to be a policy department of the environment and these have to be administrative departments that carry out individual environmental procedures. As I have indicated to the House before and as the honourable member for Reid mentioned, there are seven or eight Commonwealth departments that administer various facets of environmental policy. Therefore, I believe that in environmental matters the role of the Commonwealth - exclusively; of its own responsibility - should be firstly to set an example within its own territories. What we have been doing, for instance, in establishing a land use advisory authority is an example of this. Secondly, it should see that the administrative departments carry out the task and realise how important environmental matters are at this time. In fact it should prod them into activity where that activity possibly needs to be accelerated. Thirdly, the Department of the Environment should co-ordinate the policies of the various administrative departments and generally see that the whole matter is co-ordinated at Common*wealth level.

We must also remember that at State level there remains the same need for coordination. For instance, I believe that in one State the Minister for the Environment has to co-ordinate 14 other administrative departments. To my mind it is therefore not possible to achieve complete coordination at both State and Federal levels until a similar organisation has been set up at State level to that set up at Commonwealth level. This is what we found at the first meeting of Ministers in September when we addressed ourselves to the problem. However, I have raised these matters with the State Ministers and they will be the subject of further discussion when we meet, again at the end of November. I have also raised with them the need for a national advisory council and as to whether the council should advise the Commonwealth only or whether it should advise the State Ministers as well. Some of the States have asked that they should have time to consider this before I proceed to establish a national advisory council. These are matters that again they have asked for further time to consider, and I think it is right in the light of these important - matters that they should be further considered by the States before we come to a final decision.

I have also asked them to advise me at the next meeting of Ministers on the attitude they want to take towards the Stockholm conference, a matter also raised by the honourable member for Reid. As I have only a few minutes left I want to turn quickly to the remarks made on the subject of the arts. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) has drawn attention to the form of the estimates and I will take this up with the Chairman of the Australian Council for the Arts and see that next year they conform more to the recommendations of the honourable member. I would agree generally with his views that my task should be to enhance Australian cultural development, and in a statement that will be made later today by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) 1 think that the honourable member will see what steps are being taken in that regard. Therefore 1 will not go into greater detail tonight on the subject of our general policy on the Arts.

During the course of this debate some matters have been raised concerning estimates and figures relating to the proposed film school. After answering a question from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), the Prime Minister has agreed to take this matter under notice himself and 1 will therefore not comment on it at this moment. However, on the subject of the film industry I want to make it clear that we believe that the film industry should be an efficient industry and an expanding industry but it should be a viable industry. Particularly in the way in which the Film Development Corporation is operating its procedures, it is out to see that films that are helped by the Corporation are viable and profitable. Some of these matters will be referred to in its annual report which 1 hope will be tabled within the next 2 to 3 weeks. On the subject of the school, let me say that the Government has made it clear that because of financial stringencies the decision to establish it had to be deferred. But during that period of deferral I have had a number of important recommendations and suggestions from the industry.

The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) asked me whether I had heard from the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. At the time when he was speaking to these estimates I had not, but since then I have received a letter from the Federation and I will be conveying its suggestions to the Interim Council for the Film and Television Training School so that it can take them into account because I believe that important above all things in the film industry is that there should be complete co-operation between the Film Development Corporation the Interim Council and the industry itself. If there are indications that there are ways in which that co-operation can be improved then I think that it is wise that we should take them into account at this stage and that I hope will be done quickly and effectively during the next few weeks.

Progress reported.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.







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