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Natural heritage 'disgusting shame'



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Senator Meg Lees Australian Democrats Deputy Leader and Environment Spokesperson

October 14,1996_______ MEDIA RELEASE _________ 96/656

NATURAL HERITAGE 'DISGUSTING SHAM' Telstra blackmail exposed in science journal

"A GIGANTIC and disgusting sham" and "lies and deception" - labels the Australian Democrats have always placed on the Natural Heritage Trust Fund - have now been backed up by quotes attributed to a senior Coalition Government adviser.

In Question Time today Environment Minister Robert Hill refused to address the damning criticism by the senior adviser, reported in the well regarded Science and Technology journal Scitec/7, instead resorting to the usual Natural Heritage Trust diatribe the article criticises.

Democrats Environment Spokesperson Senator Meg Lees asked for Senator Hill's reaction to two quotes, attributed to the senior Coalition adviser, from the adviser:

"The linkage to the environment is just a sop, designed to cloud the Telstra sale issue and to try to blackmail other parties and the general community into accepting it."

"A lot of the opponents of the Telstra sale have long suggested the Natural Heritage Trust was a cynical political invention and a blackmail device. Some have also suggested it was the creation of Mr Robb. They have always been correct on both counts, despite the Government's continual denials. It is time the community was told the truth - the Natural Heritage Trust is a gigantic and disgusting sham."

Senator Lees then asked for his reaction on other quotes from the adviser raised in the article, published today:

■ · the Telstra link is a gigantic and disgusting sham; • its a blatant blackmail device created by the Federal director of the Liberal Party Andrew Robb; • the plan was imposed upon former Opposition environment spokesman

Senator Rod Kemp and then on Senator Hill; • that senior Coalition MPs openly joked behind closed doors about the policy; • and that the deceit had sickened the adviser and a number of other

Coalition staffers who were genuinely concerned about the national environment for the sake of their children and the nation's longterm future.

The Minister did not address any of these serious issi^ ^ ^ j^ D sed in the article.

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Senator Meg Lees Australian Democrats Deputy Leader and Environment Spokesperson

October 14,1996_______ MEDIA RELEASE_____________ 96/656

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"The Democrats' long-held view that the Trust is a crude blackmail attempt has been confirmed by this article," Senator Lees said. "This has always been no more than one big Coalition con job.

"It is exceptionally distressing - but not surprising - that news of the deception finally is filtering through. Even Coalition advisers are recognising that their children will be the ones who inherit the dreadful results of this trickery.

"This senior adviser has said that Coalition MPs openly joked about a policy which will jeopardise the future of our natural environment. Is this really true?

"I challenge the Minister to answer the claims made in this article. I challenge him to own up to the Government's crude blackmail attempts in tying the environment to the sale of Telstra."

To arrange comment contact Kelly Westell on (06) 277 3765. Scitech's editor Denis Ringrose can be contacted on (02) 9555 7377 to verify article.

Attached: the 'Scitech' article from October 1996 edition

D em o c r a ts

Natural Heritage Trust a fraud: admits Coalition senior advisor The Howard Government's proposed Natural Heritage Trust is a "blatant and cynical political fraud", a senior Government advisor has admitted to Scitech.

He said the policy - the Coalition's claimed answer to rectifying Australia's enormous environmental problems - was "invented overnight" as a means of attempting to soften potential public reaction against the planned sale of one-third of Telstra.

The plan had been essentially devised - as a "purely political exercise" - by the Federal Director of the Liberal Party, Mr Andrew Robb, and had then been "imposed" on the former shadow Minister for the Environment, Senator Rod Kemp, and, subsequently, on the current Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill, he claimed.

The advisor said senior Coalition MPs openly joked behind closed doors about the policy and admitted to the fact that it could not possibly - in its current form or size - make any serious impact on the nation's massive problems of land degradation, ailing rivers, and loss of biodiversity.

He said the extent of the deceit had "sickened" him and a number of other Coalition staffers who were genuinely concerned about the national environment for the sake of their children and the nation's long-term future.

The admission is of major significance because of the Coalition's continuing efforts to directly link its Telstra sales legislation to the proposed Natural Heritage Trust. The Telstra Bill is one of two policies (the other being industrial relations reform) which the Howard Government has claimed as being crucial to its future

and that of the nation.

Both these areas have been widely mentioned by Government spokesmen as potential triggers for a double-dissolution election if their passage is blocked by the non-Govemment majority in the Senate.

"Lies and deception" Scitech was told: "We are appalled at the lies and the deception involved with this issue, it is an exercise based on just one thing - finding a way to sell-off Telstra. The linkage to the environment is just a sop, designed to cloud the Telstra sale issue and to try to blackmail other parties and the general community into accepting it.

"Anybody who looks at the figures can quickly see that the Natural Heritage Trust is a blatant and cynical political fraud. There is simply no way the interest from the $1 billion supposedly to be diverted from the Telstra sale could possibly pay to rectify the enorm ous environm ental problem s confronting Australia.

"And those who closely follow political debate in Australia will soon see the chasm between the proposed Trust funding and the Government's own admissions about the extent of those problems. Several senior ministers, including Senator Hill, have publicly declared that these problems are already costing us a minimum of $1.5 billion a year and are rapidly getting worse", he said.

"It is also obvious that the Government's expressed concern for the environment is not in any way matched by its actions in the recen t B udget,, w here funding for the environment was cut, and its flat refusal to consider anything other than the Telstra sale as a means of funding its supposedly crucial Natural Heritage Trust environment program.

"Blackmail device" "A lot of the opponents of the Telstra sale have long suggested the Natural Heritage Trust was a cynical political invention and a blackmail device. Some have also suggested it was the creation of Mr Robb. They have always been correct on both counts, despite the Government's continuing denials. It is time the community was told the truth - the Natural Heritage Trust is"a gigantic and disgusting sham", the advisor said.

For self-evident reasons he declined to be named in this article.

He predicted a furious onslaught of angry - but "fraudulent" - denials from senior M inisters following publication of his comments in Scitech.

The advisor said: "The Government feels it now has too much at stake to admit what it has been up to, so it will do what most politicians do when cornered - tell more lies. But the recent admission of the Minister for Communications, Senator Richard Alston, that the full sale of Telstra is the

Government's ultimate aim, goes a long way towards exposing what is really going on. So does the strong reaction of the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, to the fact that Senator Alston had let the cat out of the bag. The last thing the Government wants the people to realise is that the whole saga of the Telstra Bill is about ultimately selling all of Telstra and

the supposed environment package is just some window­ dressing to help achieve that end", he said.

Experts criticise Trust concept The comments of the advisor closely follow a public statement from a visiting environmental expert, Oxford University academic, Dr Norman Myers, that he had been told by senior

bureaucrats that the Natural Heritage Trust would not - and could not - resolve Australia’s underlying environmental problems.

Dr Myers said the officials had admitted to him that the problems were likely to get significantly worse in the near future, even if the Natural Heritage Trust was to be established. "They admitted the best they could hope for was that the Trust program would slow the rate of environmental degradation across Australia. It can't hope to rectify existing problems to any meaningful extent. The program appears to be some kind of political red herring", he said.

Scitech has already reported (Vol 16, No 7) criticism of the Trust concept from leading environmental scientist, Professor Henry Nix, Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University. He described the policy as a "political furphy" which would not begin to scratch the surface of the nation’s massive environmental problems.

The allocation of SI billion over five years for the Trust was grossly inadequate - it would take the full amount to be spent yearly for as long as 20 years to achieve significant environmental restoration, Professor Nix told Scitech.

A number of other prominent environment scientists have privately discussed the Trust proposal with Scitech and all have expressed the general view that, even if implemented, it is not of a sufficient scale to make any real change to the nation's extensive problems of land and water degradation. "It is just tinkering at the edges of the problem", was a commonly held view.

Telstra B-eperts sal© © < o > B M l @ m B i © d l

There are no valid social or economic grounds for the partial sale of Telstra, according to a majority report by a Senate Committee appointed to investigate the Howard

Government's proposed part-privatisation of the IT giant.

(A dissenting report from the Coalition representatives on the committee fully endorsed the Government's plans and attacked the findings of the majority report).

The majority report says: "This inquiry has found there is no empirical evidence to back up the Coalition Government's claims that the Australian economy and Australian consumers will benefit from the partial sale of Telstra. The decision to sell Telstra is not popular with the Australian people, and the Coalition Government has sought to sweeten its move to sell

by linking the sale of public assets to the funding of national programs of vital importance. In pursuit of short term financial benefits, the Coalition Government has attempted to sell to

the Australian public the idea that the sale of Telstra is necessary to secure funding for the environment, using the Natural Heritage Trust as the vehicle. The Committee is of the view that such vital environmental programs should be funded in their own right".

Major recommendations The Committee made a total of 37 recommendations - its three key recommendations are:

• that Telstra remain in full public ownership.

• that the Telstra (Dilution of Public Ownership) Bill be divided into two Bills: one concerning the proposed sale; the other concerning the Customer Service Guarantee.

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