Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 1985


Senator GREENWOOD (VictoriaAttorneyGeneral) - Mr President, at an earlier stage today I sought leave to make a statement at a later hour this day on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson). The statement is entitled 'Australian Environment, Commonwealth Policy and Achievements'. In this report the Government responds to a number of recommendations made by the Senate Select Committees on Air Pollution and Water Pollution and for that reason it may be thought that the statement should be read to the Senate. I appreciate that it has been read in the other place and the fact that the time available in the remainder of this session is such that we want as much as possible for the passage of Bills. It may be that the Senate will agree to the statement being incorporated in Hansard. If any honourable senator objects and desires it to be read, the point may be taken. Objection by one honourable senator would mean that it would be read. 1 ask for leave for the statement to be incorporated in Hansard.


The PRESIDENT - Is any objection taken to that course?


Senator Georges - Yes, I am inclined to object. This is a very important statement and it should get wide coverage. Perhaps this is the best time for the statement to be read.


Senator Webster - We are anxious to listen to Senator Mulvihill, one of your colleagues.


Senator Georges - Yes, I accept that that is so and we ought not to deprive Senator Mulvihill of the opportunity to state his case.


The PRESIDENT -I do not want a debate on this subject. I put this proposal forward: Perhaps the Senate would agree to the Attorney-General's summarising the report and then tabling it.


Senator Georges - No. I suggest that he read it at a later stage tonight.


The PRESIDENT - I will not allow the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, which provides honourable senators with an opportunity to raise private matters, to be used as a vehicle for the discussion of Government Business or General Business. Make up your mind one way or the other as to whether you wish the report tabled.


Senator Georges - I do not think I should prejudice Senator Mulvihill's opportunity to speak at this time. Nevertheless, I think the Attorney-General ought to read the statement later tonight.


The PRESIDENT -I will consider that suggestion during the evening.


Senator GREENWOOD - I do seek leave to incorporate the statement in Hansard. I understand that an arrangement was made between the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Drake-Brockman) and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) for this course to be acceptable under the circumstances.


The PRESIDENT - That may well be so but this is Senate business. Is leave granted for the statement to be incorporated? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The statement read as follows):

In recent years there has been an increasing public awareness of the threat to our environment in Australia and the need to do something about it. My purpose, therefore, is to emphasise the Commonwealth Government's deep interest in the problems of the environment and our determination to do what we can, within our powers, to help solve those problems.

In Australia today we live in an affluent, liberal society where we are seeking standards of excellence in all things. Basic to this is a healthy environment in which we can develop a quality of life to satisfy our needs in all fields of human endeavour. It is essential, therefore, that we preserve the great gifts nature has given us and that we keep our environment as free from man-made contamination as human skills can devise. It is a fact of recent history that while the technological revolution of the sixties and the seventies has brought great benefits in material good living, in national progress and in economic well-being - it has also had by-products which are despoiling our land and polluting the air and the water around us.

As Galbraith has said: 'The greater the wealth the greater will be the dirt'.

THE CHALLENGE

The challenge before us alt, as a people, is very real and I am gratified, that, in additionto the concern of Governments, there has developed a lively public conscience on this imporant subject. Fortunately action is already being taken on several fronts to deal with pollution, waste disposal and the preservation of our natural environment with its unique flora and fauna. In short the challenge to protect the environment has been accepted. But much remains to be done. What I wish to do now is to identify the responsibilities of Government as we see them and to give some details of what is being done by the Commonwealth at the national and international level to protect our environment. The problem cannot be dealt with in isolation from other matters nor can Governments alone achieve success.

So far as the Commonwealth is concerned the question is one of devising a pattern of national development in which environmental objectives go hand in hand with economic, social and cultural goals. Our philosophy is directed to this end - to devising and developing such a pattern in cooperation with the States, with Local Government, with business and industry and the community as a whole. And therefore we have to consider the environment as a major factor in the planning and management of practically all forms of development from human settlements to engineering and industrial works.

A NATIONAL PROBLEM

At the outset 1 should point out, however, that the main responsibility for the environment over the greater part of the continent of Australia lies with the Slates. That is the constitutional position. Nevertheless, when there is a great problem of national pollution, the Commonwealth must coordinate and co-operate with the States.

I would identify the Commonwealth as having a national responsibility -

To give leadership in researching the problem.

To co-operate with others.

To act within its powers as necessary.

And to keep before the Australian people the dangers to their environment.

In various ways concern for the environment is national in character. There are, perhaps, three main reasons why this is so. The first is that pollution of the air, the rivers and the seas is not confined by State boundaries. The second is that various authorities, Government and otherwise, must act in harmony to avoid unhealthy interstate competition arising from different environmental standards. And the third is that national action may be needed to meet specific international situations. With these matters in mind, I turn now to what the Commonwealth is doing to discharge its responsibilities.

ACTION SO FAR

Our first consideration - having regard to the major role of the States - was to establish a system for close and continuing co-operation with them and make arrangements for the coordination of our various activities where this could be mutually beneficial.

I believe that we have made considerable progress. Both the Commonwealth and States have set up, or are setting up, administrative machinery to deal with environmental matters. All have a Minister with a specific responsibility for the environment. These Ministers are meeting together regularly for consultation as the Australian Environment Council. The Council has been constituted by agreement between the Commonwealth and the States and after this was ratified it held its first formal meeting in Sydney last month. The council is to draw up standards and guide-lines for its own use and it is hoped that these will have general recognition throughout the Commonwealth. The Council has already begun to study such important environmental problems as waste disposal and non-destructible, non-returnable, containers and packaging generally. The council has also noted the importance of decentralisation.

Here the Commonwealth itself has been actively participating over several years in the CommonwealthState Officials Committee on Decentralisation. This is all a beginning. And I feel sure Australians will recognise and accept the Australian Enrivonment Council as an important mechanism between the Commonwealth and the States on many matters affecting the environment. I should add that the council will also co-operate with other joint Commonwealth-State Ministerial Councils whose activities and responsibilities bear, in one way or another, on the environment.

I refer, in particular, to those councils responsible for health, water resources, shipping and transport, forestry, minerals, agriculture and fisheries. They have, for a long time, been active in specific areas of pollution and environmental control.

IMPACT STATEMENTS

In this context 1 wish to announce that the Government has decided to introduce a system of impact statements' designed to protect the environment. That is to say that when a Commonwealth Minister prepares a submission to the Cabinet on any proposal that has some relevance to the environment that submission must be accompanied by a statement setting out the impact the proposal is likely to make on the environment. This 'impact statement' will, I am sine, become an important element in decisionmaking. I might add that State projects for which Commonwealth financial assistance is sought will also need to be supported by assurances that all environmental factors have been considered and evaluated.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE

The second announcement I wish to make concerns the membership of the special advisory committee which is to be set up to advise the Commonwealth Government in its consideration of environmental problems.

This committee will consist of:

Professor R. J. Walsh, Professor of Human Genetics, University of New South Wales, who will be Chairman.

Mr L.W. Weickhardt, Chancellor of the University of Melbourne.

Mr K.W. Shugg, immediate past president of The Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

This committee will be free to suggest to me as the Minister for the Environment matters that it feels it could usefully examine.

There are, of course, several research programmes already in progress in Commonwealth Departments and scientific agencies of the Government. They range over a wide spectrum and include such activities as water treatment, the abatement of smoke pollution, the problem of pesticides, the rehabilitation of areas damaged by man's activities and guide-lines for the preservation of our flora and fauna.

Increasing importance is being attached to research in the medical and social sciences because of the emotional and medical factors that are inseparable from man's response to his environment.

LAND USE

Hand in hand with conservation, of course, goes land use. The Government has decided to set up a Land Use Advisory Council to advise it in circumstances where environmental considerations arise in the Commonwealth's jurisdiction which could arouse general concern. For example, when proposed industrial undertakings of national importance might appear to conflict with the preservation of such environmental assets as national parks in Commonwealth Territories the Government will be able to seek independent advice from this Council. Consequently, the Government will be able to refer to this council matters relating to any land under the Commonwealth's control within Australia. The members of the council and its charter will be announced in due course.

WHO SHOULD PAY?

In considering the general question of pollution, contamination and despoliation of the land the question inevitably arises' - Who pays'? It is not easy to make an exclusive identification of liability because environmental damage is the result of many things - of technological successes, of industrial activity and of social habit. A community responsibility has to be recognised. But I think it appropriate at this stage to say that the Government has aready decided that Australia should agree to the guiding principles so far developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, of which we recently became a member. This is only an agreement in principle at this stage because many matters still need to be settled between members of this international body. The guiding principles adopted by the OECD relate to the national and international aspects of environmental policies and their effect on economies and trade.

In brief they embrace the principle that the polluter pays' - that the costs of pollution control measures should be recognised as part of the total cost of production. They also provide for the principle of harmony - or similarity - of standards to avoid favouring one country - or State - against the other in terms of industrial and trade competition. I believe that the 'polluter pays' principle is likely to be adopted by nearly all the developed countries which are our main competitors. This will lead to some increased costs and may lead to some increase in prices. But I venture to say. at this stage, that so far as the Australian public is concerned increased product costs should be outweighed by the reduced social costs which the community is already bearing. New enterprises will be able, more readily than existing ones, to adopt non-pollutiong techniques - for example at the plant design stage. It is encouraging to know that already several of our big industrial enterprises are already taking their own initiatives to reduce pollution and protect the environment.

SPECIAL ACTIVITIES

May 1 now refer briefly to a number of other Commonwealth activities in environmental control with special reference to the pollution of the air, our water and our coastal seas.

I summarise them in this way:

First, the Department of Civil Aviation sought advice from a special committee of the Academy of Science in the effect on the upper atmosphere of supersonic aircraft, lt has relevance in view of the forthcoming visit of the supersonic Concord to Australia and the advent of the supersonic era. This report has now been circulated.

Second, a national plan for combating oil spillage at sca is being prepared. The Government has offered to set up for the states stockpiles of materials and equipment around the coast to deal with oil spillage from tankers and other ships. It will contribute $1 million towards the cost and will legislate to apply a single levy to the merchant shipping industry to recoup those costs not recovered from shipowners responsible for identifiable spillages.

Third, the National Health and Medical Research Council has been doing valuable work on detergents since 1968 and last year negotiated a voluntary agreement with the detergent industry which effectively controlled most domestic washing and cleaning compounds so that damage to the environment has been considerably reduced. It is continuing its investigations in other fields where detergents are used.

Fourth, the Australian Transport Advisory Council - comprising Commonwealth and State Ministers - has taken action to control carbon mono-oxide emissions from motor vehicles. The measures it has adopted are similar to those established by the Economic Commission for Europe. This council has also endorsed draft regulations to prohibit the emission of crank case gases and to limit smoke from diesel engines.

I am quoting these details because they are a reminder to everyone who drives on our roads today that action is being taken to cut down on exhaust fumes and keep the air cleaner.

SELECT COMMITTEES

I want now to refer to the reports of the Select Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives on various environmental topics.

These Parliamentary inquiries have been most useful in drawing public attention to some of our pollution problems in Australia. The Government has carefully examined the recommendations of the Senate Select Committees on Air and Water Pollution and I ask leave to incorporate in Hansard statements of the Government's observations on the recommendations made by those committees.

INTERNATIONAL ROLE

Now, in conclusion, may I mention our involvement in the international aspects of environmental control. The threat to man's environment is world-wide. It makes no distinctions. There is much to be gained therefore by Australia sharing its problems and the search for solutions with others. Wc do this primarily through the United Nations and more recently through the O.E.C.D. We take an active part in the work of the specialised agencies of the United Nations whose work has environmental overtones. The Commonwealth was an early adherent to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sca by Oil as far back as 19S4 and last year through the U.N. Agency in Maritime Affairs it secured provisions which will provide especially for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, lt has also contributed to recent Conventions directed towards securing adequate compensation for damage by oil pollution. This participation in international discussion and consultation is a continuing process.

We are prepared to use all the international machinery at our disposal to achieve the sort of co-operation required for global action and to protect our own interests in problems with environmental implications. Next month we will be represented at an important United Nations conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm.

The Australian delegation has already been announced and I need not repeat the details. Sufficient to say it will be a significant conference. We were among the first to support the Swedish initiative for the conference and we have been closely involved in the preparations since 1968. And while Australia will have much to learn I am sure we will also have something worthwhile to contribute. The protection of the environment is a task that has no end. As the inventive genius of man produces new benefits for us all. so, too, will the problems of protecting the environment multiply.

We cannot leave it all to Governments, lt is as much a challenge to the walker on a forest trail who drops litter as he goes as it is to the industrialist whose factories crowd the landscape. It is as much a challenge to the parent, the educator and the scientist as it is to the manager and the politician. It is a challenge the people of Australia have to take up as their own.

AIR POLLUTION IN AUSTRALIA

GOVERNMENT'S OBSERVATIONS ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE SENATE

SELECT COMMITTEE

Legislation within Commonwealth Territories (Recommendation1 )

That the Commonwealth should immediately enact legislation for the control of air pollution within its Territories'.

The Select Committee made this recommendation not 'because there is an urgent need for such legislation but because the Committee feels that the Commonwealth should take an immediate and active interest in air pollution matters'. The Committee also staled that the promulgation of Commonwealth legislation in this field could provide a model for future State action.

The Commonwealth does take an active interest in air pollution matters. Research into various topics of reievance to air pollution problems is carried out or sponsored by Commonwealth Departments and authorities, viz. -

Department of Air

Australian Atomic Energy Commission

Bureau of Meteorology (Department of the Interior)

Department of Civil Aviation

Commonwealth Meteorology Research Centre

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Department of Health

Department of National Development

Department of Shipping and Transport

Department of Supply

The Commonwealth is also actively involved in air pollution problems through the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Transport Advisory Council and now through the Australian Environment Council.

The global nature of man-made atmospheric pollution, first brought to light by the problems of airborne radioactive debris, led the Commonwealth to establish the National Radiation Advisory Committee in 1957. The Committee examines the effects of ionising radiation on the Australian community, including possible effects of fallout from nuclear weapons tests. The Committee's reports on the biological aspects of the fallout have been published. The NRAC assesses these effects after a study of the data supplied by the Commonwealth X-ray and Radium Laboratory and the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee. More recently there is an increasing concern with the wide dispersion of some chemical pollutants in the atmosphere arising from industrial and aircraft operations, and the possible climatic and other changes these might engender. Some of the Commonwealth agencies referred to above are active in investigating these problems. Monitoring is a key part of this activity and forms one of the important topics to be discussed at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.

So far as the Territories are concerned, the position remains much as the Committee found it in 1969, viz. no pressing air pollution problems have been revealed and the preparation of additional or comprehensive legislation is not of itself an urgent matter. However, in both Territories amendments have been made (as in the States) to the Motor Traffic Ordinance to provide additional controls over motor vehicle emissions.

The Commonwealth and the States are jointly examining problems relating to air pollution in such Commonwealth/State councils as the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Transport Advisory Council and the Australian Environment Council. It would appear more appropriate for such Councils to work towards uniform Commonwealth/State legislation if this proves practicable than for the Commonwealth to attempt to provide a theoretical model in the Territories where there are few, if any, specific problems at present requiring legislation.

Commonwealth/State Bureau of Air Pollution (Recommendations 2, 3 and 4)

That the Commonwealth Government initiate a conference between Commonwealth and Slate Governments to discuss the establishment of a Commonwealth/State Bureau of Air Pollution'.

Commonwealth/State consultation and coordination on air pollution matters is already effected through -

(a)   the National Health and Medical Research Council which, since 1937. has been concerned with all health aspects of environmental disturbance. In1970, the Council formally established the Environmental Health (Standing) Committee to which reports the Air Pollution Control (Reference) Sub-committee. Recommendations on the health aspects of air pollution are made through these committees:

(b)   the Australian Transport Advisory Council which has a Committee on motor vehicle emissions.

More recently, the Australian Environment Council has been formed to provide for consultation and co-ordination between the Commonwealth and States on appropriate environmental matters and, at its meeting on 7 April 1972, decided to establish a Committee to investigate and. where appropriate, make recommendations for notional emission standards and guides to environmental quality criteria.

The Government believes that these arrangements provide an appropriate framework for Commonwealth/State co-operation.

Air Pollution Research by CSIRO (Recommendation 5)

That a Division of Air Pollution be established within the CSIRO to undertake basic research into air pollution problems of particular relevance to Australia: to examine overseas studies and practices for application to the Australian situation; and to undertake studies recommended by the Bureau of Air Pollution'.

This matter has been examined by the Executive of CSIRO which is convinced that more would be gained by investigating different aspects of air pollution within the Organisation's general framework than by establishing an overall Air Pollution Division.

With the object of unifying CSIRO research in the important area of environmental physics the Organisation has recently formed the Environmental Physics Research Laboratories comprising the Division of Atomospheric Physics and the Division of Environmental Mechanics. An example of a specific air pollution problem more appropriately tackled elsewhere in the Organisation is the removal of fly ash from power station emissions which is dealt with in the Division of Mineral Chemistry. In the course of these studies, appropriate consideration is given by CSIRO to the results of overseas research where these are relevant to the Australian situation.

Aspects of air pollution research are also handled by a variety of other bodies, including the Commonwealth Departments and instrumentalities listed under the observations on Recommendation 1.

Role of Bureau of Meteorology (Recommendation 6)

That the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology be charged with the responsibility of establishing a national network of monitoring stationsfor the collection of meteorological data specifically for air pollution needs, the continuous measurement of air pollutants, and eventually of setting up a predictive service for the warning of potential air pollution hazards'.

The Bureau of Meteorology maintains a comprehensive data collection network which gathers information capable of some application to air pollution control. There is a continuing process of development of the network both as to the form of data collected and the extent of the general network. The monitoring of pollution is under examination by the Australian Environment Council and. in the world context, by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. The future role of the Bureau of Meteorology will emerge in the light of further developments in these areas. The Bureau is already providing a predictive service for the warning of potential air pollution hazards in Perth and Adelaide and the provision of a service in Sydney is under consideration.

Motor Vehicle Emissions (Recommendation 7)

That, in view of the special importance of emissions from motor vehicles in the overall air pollution problem, urgent consideration be given by the appropriate Commonwealth and State authorities to ways and means of bringing about the abatement and eventual control of those motor vehicle emissions which contribute to pollution of the air'.

The Australian Transport Advisory Council has a committee on Motor Vehicle Emissions continuously looking into this problem. The Council in February 1971 endorsed its recommendations on Design Rules to limit exhaust emissions. One of these rules has already been put into effect by the respective governments. It covers all passenger cars (including station wagons) manufactured after 1 January 1972. It specifies that the carbon monoxide content by volume of the exhaust gases emitted by motor vehicles with the engine idling must not exceed 4.5 per cent.

The second Design Rule is to apply to passenger cars (including station wagons) manufactured after 1 January 1974 and provides for tests under both idling and traffic conditions, and it lays down maximum levels for both hydro-carbons and carbon monoxide.

The Rules are regarded only as a first stage for petrol engined vehicles and work is continuing on the matter. Regarding diesel engined vehicles a draft regulation to control smoke emissions of diesel-powered vehicles has been endorsed by the Australian Transport Advisory Council (in February this year). This regulation provides for all 'on road diesel-powered vehicles not to emit exhaust smokes exceeding 70 Hartridge Units in opacity.

The problem of determining what further action is necessary to limit motor vehicle emissions is made difficult by the inadequacy of data on effects. Not only is there a need for continuous monitoringin key areas of ambient air but it is apparent there is also a need to monitor actual emissions from motor vehicles in order to determine as closely as possible the pollution attributable to the motor vehicle.

Financial Aspects (Recommendation 8)

That the Commonwealth Government give consideration to the granting of financial relief to industry and others involved in expenditure on air pollution control equipment and its maintenance by means of tax and duty concessions, with particular reference to the extension of the taxation allowance and to accelerated depreciation allowances'.

While the income tax law makes no reference to expenditure on air pollution control equipment, the full cost to business enterprises in installing, operating and maintaining such equipment would, as a general rule, he allowable as deductions either by way of depreciation allowances or as business outgoings. The proposition that extraordinary financial relief should he provided at the taxpayers' expense to those incurring these expenditures is difficult to reconcile with what has come to be known as the 'polluter pays principle'. Briefly stated, this principle holds that the real cost of pollution should be borne by those producers and users of goods and services whose production or consumption brought about that pollution.

That the taxation laws in respect to allowances for buildings and plant be reviewed, particularly in relation to the definition of chimneys.'

The general question of allowing income tax deductions in respect of the cost of buildings and other structures, including chimneys, used by manufacturers and other taxpayers, has been examined by the Government on a number of occasions. It has not so far been found practicble to introduce such allowances.

WATER POLLUTION IN AUSTRALIA

GOVERNMENT'S OBSERVATIONS ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE

National Policy: National Body (Recommendations1 and 2)

1.   A National Policy. Australia should adopt a National approach to the management of its water resources which sets out acceptable standards, co-ordinates the aims and aspirations of State and local government authorities, and creates the machinery to achieve them in balance with other national goals such as those for growth and development.

2.   A National Body. The Commonwealth should take urgent steps to establish a National Water Commission.

The functions of the Commission should include -

(a)   the formulation of a national policy on water resources management;

(b)   an assessment of water resources and quality;

(c)   programming for the conservation and orderly, development of water resources.

It should also be the administering authority for water resources within the Commonwealth's jurisdiction.'

The Government agrees with the view of the Australian Water Resources Council that the major objectives involved in a national approach to water quality can be achieved through the type of machinery and programme which is already in use.

The Australian Water Resources Council has as its major objective -

The provision of a comprehensive assessment on a continuing basis of Australia's water resources and the extension of measurement and research so that future planning can be carried out on a sound and scientific basis'. Its principal activities have been -

(a)   Promotion of an accelerated programme of water resources measurement in which the Commonwealth is providing financial assistance to the States. Total expenditure over the 9 years ending 30 June 1973 will be about $47.1 million, of which the Commonwealth contribution will be about $13.5 million. This programme covers underground as well as surface waters.

(b)   In addition to the acceleration of measurement programmes, Council has stimulated a marked improvement in the quality of this work, and the adoption of standard equipment and procedures where feasible.

(c)   Promotion and oversight of a water research programme in which direct funding is by the Commonwealth, and State authorities are assisting with the provision of data, services and facilities as appropriate. Commonwealth funds totalling $1.1 million will have been allocated over the 6 years ending 30 June 1974. Much of the work is being carried out by the Universities, with active support by State and Commonwealth agencies.

(d)   Publication of technical papers arising from the research programme, and from studies carried out by ad hoc expert panels. These publications are distributed widely, in Australia and overseas.

(e)   The arranging or sponsoring of training programmes for professional and subprofessional workers in various aspects of water resources studies.

In July 1970, the Australian Water Resources Council established a Technical Committee on Water quality with the following functions -

The preparation of information and advice on -

(a)   Equipment and methods for the measurement, collection, processing and presentation of water quality data, with a view to achieving uniform and adequate standards;

(b)   Programmes for assessment of quality of water resources of Australia;

(c)   Water quality management practices in Australia and overseas;

(d)   The compilation of criteria on water quality to serve as a guide for limits of quality permissible for various beneficial uses, particularly for public water supplies, agricultural requirements, recreation in inland waters, fish and wildlife culture and industrial purposes.

The membership of the Committee comprises representatives of Commonwealth and State Government Departments involved in development and control of water resources, both rural and urban, and also specialists in the disciplines of chemistry, agriculture, human health and fisheries and wildlife.

The main activities of the Technical Committee so far have been -

(a)   a survey of existing networks of stations for collection of data on water quality with a view to planning the national network considered necessary for adequate monitoring of water quality;

(b)   consideration of water quality criteria suitable for use in Australia;

(c)   consideration of the most urgent research requirements in the water quality field having regard to work already being carried out.

Within recent months, the Branch of the Department of National Development which provides the Secretariat for the Australian Water Resources Council, has been enlarged by the creation of five new positions. This will provide additional assistance to the Council in its work on water quality and water resources generally.

The National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Fisheries Council and the Australian Agricultural Council are also concerned with aspects of water quality, whilstthe recently formed Australian Environment Council, in its wider role, has decided to set up a specialist committee to investigate and, where appropriate, to make recommendations for national emission standards and guides to environmental quality criteria. Liaison with the other Councils will, of course, be essential.

The Government acknowledges the attitude of the States, as expressed in the Australian Water Resources Council, that while they would welcome increased Commonwealth activity in liaison, information, research and other services, they could not accept the concept of a Commonwealth agency having the responsibilities described for a National Water Commission in Recommendation 2.

A Comprehensive Approach (Recommendation 3)

The control of pollution should be undertaken by authorities representative of all interests.

The prevention and abatement of pollution requires a comprehensive approach involving land-use planning, sociological and ecological assessments and the application of specialist water pollution technology. This comprehensive approach should bethe objective at all levels of government. To achieve a co-ordinated, comprehensive approach, it is necessary, in the view of this Committee, that each State move towards the creation of its own central authority to coordinate State activities and to permit the most effective co-ordination between the Commonwealth and the States.'

Action on this Recommendation is a matter for the States. However, it can be said that in general co-ordinat ing machinery has been or is being set up to deal not only with water quality managementbut also with environmental quality generally.

Systematic Assessment (Recommendation 4)

Regional and State authorities should be encouraged to undertake, with the National Water Commission, a systematic quantitative assessment of water quality and to monitor regularly their waterways and any pollution that occurs in them. Pending the formation ofthe Commission, the Commonwealth should encourage the interchange of data and the discussion of acceptable criteria.'

The Technical Committee on Water Quality of the A.W.R.C. has taken as one of its first tasks a survey of existing networks of stations to monitor water quality, with a view to planning the national network considered necessary,. This network would provide the basis for a systematic assessment of water quality, on a continuing basis.

Financial and Technical Resources (Recommendation 5)

The financial and technical resources required to undertake an adequate programme of pollution abatement should be assessed. A financial aid programme in accord with the national policy should be considered. This should have particular regard to the major areas of sewerage, industry, and salinity. The Commonwealth should consider the practicability of making special loans or emergency grants to industry and to local government for works and research.

Prior to the formation of the National Water Commission, consideration should be given to the need for a coastal protection fund to meet the cost of damage arising from tanker mishaps and oil spillages from refineries. Funds for this purpose could come from appropriate oil industry levies."

The Government accepts the view of the A.W.R.C. that pollution abatement involves a major and continuing programme, the primary responsibility for which rests with the Stales.

Until the 1969 Civil Liability Convention and the 1971International Oil Pollution Fund Convention come into force, there is no legal basis on which the costs of oil pollution damage are recoverablebeyond what can be recovered under common law action. The 1971 Convention is yet to be considered by the Government. In the meantime, the position is adequately covered by theT anker Owners Voluntary Agreement Concerning Liability for Oil Pollution (TOVALOP) and the Contract Regarding an Interim Supplement to Tanker Liability for Oil Pollution (CRISTAL). Under these arrangements, tanker owners have contracted to make available compensation for pollution damage beyond the limits of liability presently available under existing legal regimes.

The Commonwealth formally approached the States in February 1972 with a national plan to combat oil spillages at sea under which -

(a)   the Commonwealth would set up stockpiles of dispersant material and application equipment, strategically, located around the coast;

(b)   the Commonwealth would legislate to apply a single levy to the merchant shipping industry to meet the cost of servicing capital and providing for unrecoverable operating costs.

Legislation and Control (Recommendation 6)

Urgent consideration should be given to the preparation of adequate legislation for the control of water pollution in Commonwealth Territories. Though the National Water Commission, the Commonwealth should encourage the standardisation of legislation and codes of practice in water pollution matters and should assist in the collating of existing legislation.' There is no suggestion in the Select Committee's report that legislation inthe Australian Capital Territory was inadequate. The Select Committee reported that -

(a)   Generally speaking the degree of cooperation between Departments and agencies involved with water quality control in the A.C.T. seemed to the Committee to be at a high level;

(b)   Because of the absence of industry, other than service and, to a very limited degree, light manufacturing, there is no industrial pollution problem of the kind that is so common in the States.

The Department of the Interior believes the existing legislation and administration procedures are adequate for the control of water pollution in the A.C.T.

In the Northern Territory the Mining Ordinance was amended in 1970 to make it a prior condition that before the Administrator granted a mining lease or exploration licence that he would consider the likely effect of these mining operations on the environment and impose suitable conditions. Similarly, special mineral leases which it is proposed to grant in the uranium provinces will contain a wide and detailed range of controls over environmental matters. The Government will also introduce amendments to the prevention of pollution of waters by oil ordinance so as to increase maximum penalties imposed on polluters from $2,000 to $50,000. Action to identify and, if necessary, strengthen other areas to meet existing and foreseeable situations, will continue.

The view of the Australian Water Resources Council is that maximum uniformity of principles and criteria in legislation seems desirable but some variations are considered inevitable having regard to the wide variation in conditions as between States. The general question of uniformity of legislation and standards is under examination by the Australian Environment Council.

Education (Recommendation7)

The Commonwealth Government should, as a matter of urgency, examine the facilities available for the education of professional and technical persons in water pollution matters so that the provision of adequate facilities will not be unduly delayed. Pending the establishment of the National Water Commission, the Commonwealth should use such instrumentalities as are available for the collection and dissemination of technical data.'

The Commonwealth is providing substantial financial support for the education of professional and technical persons generally and is assisting the States to expand their technical training facilities. In general, this support is not given in a way that permits the Commonwealth to identify readily the training facilities and programmes that are now available in the various institutions and which are relevant to specific fields of interest, such as water pollution control.

It is a matter for consideration as to whether educational institutions should seek to provide courses specifically in 'water pollution matters', or whether they should rely on general education in particular fields. The relevance of various training programmes and facilities now available in the various institutions will depend on how broadly the phrase 'water pollution matters', as used in Recommendation 7, is interpreted. This needs to be clarified to determine if any survey should be undertaken of facilities available for the education of professional and technical persons in water pollution matters. The Australian Universities Commission and the Australian Commission on Advanced Education and also the State authorities could then be invited to comment.

Research (Recommendation 8)

The Commonwealth should provide research and travel grants for qualified workers in those fields already identified as significant in water pollution abatement. Studies directed towards the controlled re-use of water should be encouraged.'

The Commonwealth is already supporting research by qualified workers in fields bearing directly upon water pollution abatement and the controlled re-use of water through the activities of a number of Commonwealth Departments and instrumentalities, including the Department of the Interior, CSIRO, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission Research Establishment and the Department of National Development, through the provision of funds for the water research programme administered by the Australian Water Resources Council.

Problems of water pollution must be viewed in the context of overall water use and management. It is therefore the Commonwealth commitment to water research overall that should be considered rather than its commitment to research in the narrower field of water pollution abatement. From this viewpoint, the Commonwealth contribution is clearly substantial, and, in addition, there is a considerable expenditure by the States on water research.

CSIRO - whose expenditure on water research is far greater than that of any other organisation in Australia - is carrying out, inter alia, research into some problems that relate to the detection and movement of pollutants in water and to the treatment of industrial waste effluents and urban sewage with the object of controlled re-use of water.

Provision is made for overseas travel in cases where this is appropriate.

A distinction should be made between research activities and the routine monitoring of pollutants and pollution levels. The Recommendation by the Select Committee is regarded as referring to fundamental and applied research activities while routine monitoring forms part of the continuing systematic assessment of water quality and is covered by the comments under Recommendation 4.

Public Education and Encouragement (Recommendation 9)

The Commonwealth should, through existing organisations, subsidise public education programmes on pollution and encourage a responsible attitude by all sectors of the community. Urgent attention should be given to measures relating to detergents, nutrients and industrial wastes. Financial inducements by way of subsidies should be considered.'

The Australian Environment Council at its meeting on 7 April recognised the need for a greater public awareness of matters concerning the environment and agreed that each Minister will take immediately appropriate steps to promote this awareness in his own sphere. It also instructed its Standing Committee to propose for its consideration at its next meeting ways and means of improving public knowledge of the needs of the environment.







Suggest corrections