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Tuesday, 9 November 1976


Mr FISHER (Mallee) -In October 1972 a select committee of the House of Representatives established by the LiberalNational Country Party Government of that time reported on the broad subject of wildlife conservation. It recommended that the Commonwealth Government initiate a national policy aimed at acquiring land in the form of national parks and reserves for the protection of habitat sites and that a program of grants to the States under section 96 of the Constitution be instituted to enable the States to acquire areas of wildlife habitat that are of national importance. As the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) stated in his second reading speech, in 1974 the Parliament legislated to make it possible for the Commonwealth to provide financial assistance to the States for purposes connected with nature conservation. The relevant Act makes provision for the Minister to agree with an appropriate Minister of a State upon programs of land acquisition for nature conservation and for payments of financial assistance to be made to the States in accordance with the approved progams

The amending Bill which we are debating tonight, the States Grants (Nature Conservation) Bill, is designed to provide flexibility in programs for nature conservation developed with the States. It is part of this Government's clear and stated overall policy of co-operation in State programs of management. This Bill deals specifically with conservation of Australian wildlife. Over the past decade, debate and concern about environmental and conservation matters have been widespread, particularly as they relate to our natural environment. This has been a most encouraging development and many creditable groups have acted in a responsible manner and have stirred public and government apathy. What concerns me, however, is that not all groups supposedly interested in promoting conservation and environmental issues do so with balance or honesty. In many instances some groups are quite irrational and, in fact, are doing the conservation cause immense harm.

It is a natural tendency at our stage of developmenta transition from pioneering in both the agricultural and industrial stages into rationalisation and stabilisation- that issues of conservation and protection of our environment become prominent. Over the next few months this Parliament will be making important decisions closely tied to environmental issues and the preservation of our national heritage. They are closely tied to our responsibility to future generations. The Parliament will be charged with protecting many areas of unique environmental significance. We will be charged with protecting as well the economic livelihood of people, with improving their standard of living while retaining the uniqueness and importance of our national heritage. The world is becoming increasingly doubtful of our materialistic culture. We indicate a desire to live a simpler preindustrialised, pre-scientific day. That cannot be done. Science has created problems but it also has the means, as has been shown in the past, of being able to solve those problems. We cannot abandon agriculture or industrialisation. Our responsibility to a starving world depends on our food supply.

Urban decay and an energy crisis will be solved by technology, not by returning to a simpler way of life. Industrialisation and modern agriculture have pushed the world's population to 4000 million. These people can be supported only by further advances in scientific knowledge and practice. My constituency, the Mallee electorate in north-west Victoria, contains some of Australia's most significant wetlands. They are significant as breeding grounds and as a natural resource. They are also significant in complementing the agriculture of these areas. As the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation clearly states: . . . waterfowl are declining in numbers as a result of the encroachment of agriculture and the resultant drainage of swamp land, the damming of rivers, flood mitigation programs and the trampling by stock and feral animals of nesting cover on the edge of lagoons. The flow of most rivers has been reduced by water conservation and flood mitigation schemes. Many of the most productive (in wildlife terms) swamps have been drained.

Many of these measures have been carried out in ignorance, but more usually they have been earned out for the world's demand for productive and economic viability. The value of waterfowl, unfortunately, has rarely if ever been given consideration when water reclamation and conservation schemes have been implemented. In the inland areas many of the common game ducks have breeding seasons which are directly related to water level changes in swamps and billabongs. Although some breeding occurs each year, extensive breeding takes place only when lagoons and billabongs are replenished or when water spreads across the plains. The whole trend of water conservation on the inland river systems is to diminish or to prevent this flooding. This restricts waterfowl breeding. This Act is an instrument developed to maintain coastal refuges and to replenish adequate inland swamps and billabongs. This will go far towards ensuring the survival of all waterfowl.

Unfortunately, many wildlife conservationists regard protection as the main obligation to native fauna. They cannot accept the idea of conservation for hunting. Perhaps the most viable and effective groups in my area in relation to the conservation of our unique fauna and wildlife are our field and game naturalist groups. It is my view that waterfowl conservation is justified, both because of its value as a game species and as a natural resource. As the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) pointed out, the recent tabling of the report on the protection of our flora and fauna in Australia recognises that habitat destruction is by far the most important threat to our wildlife population. We have made some very drastic and important recommendations which, when initiated by this Government, will assist in protecting some of our unique and rare fauna species. I do not wish to delay the passage of this Bill much longer. There have been increased demands for significant areas of national park development over recent years. Some of these parks are most desirable and wanted. In other situations I believe some of the demands have been totally unjustified.

It is important for all our governments and groups, particularly conservation groups, to recognise that increased public lands require more than the simple proclamation of an Act. They need increased expenditure in many fields other than acquisition. They need increased expenditure in management and in controlling noxious weeds and vermin. I recently did a bit of research in regard to Victoria. It shows quite clearly that spending in relation to the control of such vermin and noxious weeds receives a very low priority. In fact, one man is employed within the service to look after some 3000 hectares of land, an impossible job and one which means that in our State and in most other States, because of its low priority, our public lands are becoming the prime means by which vermin and noxious weeds are being spread throughout the rest of the area in agriculture and through our national parks. As well, we must have increased expenditure on management and in controlling the various weeds and vermin which are one of the very real problems which we face when we increase our areas of public land.

I believe that this Bill will provide the flexibility for States to carry out more appropriate measures in this way. I feel that one reason for local and public opposition to many conservation proposals has been a past unwillingness by many governments to effectively manage public land with the same enthusiasm and effectiveness which they expect from private land owners. I support the amendments moved to the Bill. I believe the Bill will provide in the future the vehicle by which environmental protection and conservation of our natural resources can all be achieved in balance with our needs for productivity and for the nation's economic welfare.







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