Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Federal Government introduces the Natural Heritage Trust Bill into Parliament; Bob Brown disagrees with the Government's environmental priorities

JOHN HIGHFIELD: The Federal Government today applied pressure to the minor parties in the State by introducing its $1 billion Natural Heritage Trust Bill. The Bill's programs to be funded by the one-third sale of Telstra, include restoration of the Murray-Darling Basin and coasts and clean seas initiative. But the conservation measures will be lost if the Telstra sale is blocked in the Senate, of course.

Tasmanian Green Senator-elect, Bob Brown, soon to become a player in the Senate numbers game, says he won't be trading support for the Telstra sale in return for some environmental gains, despite the optimism of Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill.

Dr Bob Brown has been telling PM's chief political correspondent, Fran Kelly, this afternoon, that the Government's environmental priorities are all wrong as evidenced by the news that they intend to lift the ceiling on woodchip exports.

BOB BROWN: If the Government is interested in good economics it will get interested in good environmental practice. And this repair program, which is only going to touch the edges of environmental repair in Australia, costing a billion dollars over the next three years, points to that. But they are in this crazy situation where, on the one hand, at the one time as they are saying, 'Well, we'll do a part-repair job on the past, which has been due as much as anything to government mismanagement and failure to address environmental problems, while on the other hand saying, 'But we're going to increase the damage and destruction to Australia's wild forests. We are going to throw open the flood-gates as far as export woodchipping is concerned.'

And remember, the damage being done in our forests at the moment to wildlife, to ancient eco-systems, to forests which are of national estate value as well as World Heritage significance, is at record levels, it's historic levels.

And what the Government, including the Minister for Environment, Senator Hill, are contemplating, is increasing that, because the woodchip companies have put further pressure on them so that our forests end up on the rubbish dumps of the northern hemisphere.

FRAN KELLY: What is it about the public ownership of Telstra that is so important to you that you think the .. at least even if it's just tinkering around the edges of this major degradation problems, can be put off?

BOB BROWN: Well, first of all jobs. There'll be thousands of jobs dumped out of Telstra if it goes into private hands. Secondly, a fair go for people in remote and areas of Australia who are being served well by Telstra. They won't be served as well by a private ownership of Telstra which is going to look at putting its money into the lucrative areas, in the business areas, in particular, and in the capital cities. And thirdly, a billion dollars a year coming into government coffers out of the profits of Telstra - they are not going to have that after they have sold Telstra. So there's three starting points which show that it is bad policy for the Howard Government to be selling Telstra out of the public domain, where it provides extraordinarily good service, into the hands of private interests, into the hands of the stock market.

FRAN KELLY: Well, the Government's announced it will send the Natural Heritage Trust Bill off to a committee where public submissions will be invited. If the public response is an overwhelming call for the sale of Telstra to form that trust, would you reconsider your position?

BOB BROWN: What's going to happen at the end of the day is that the public is going to say, 'Yes, we want the Natural Heritage Trust, we want the repair, but you, the Government, have a whole range of alternative ways of funding it. Don't sell off Telstra. Don't try to confine us to that option. Don't employ this green blackmail that arose on the run as part of an election strategy.' It's not good enough. Australia has better alternatives. The Government has a whole range of alternatives in terms of raising the money for that environmental fund. And one thing you musn't do is, under your own licence, increase the damage now so that further down the line you'll have to raise many more billions of dollars to undue that damage, to repair that damage. Surely, you can read the writing on the wall.

And it seems incongruous that we have a national Government pinning its green policies on a repair package and at the same time saying, 'But we're going to open the forests to open-slather woodchipping, we're going to open throw open the flood gates of uranium exports to the rest of the world, we are going to close down the Environmental Protection Authority and we are going to be delinquents on an international scale as far as greenhouse gases is concerned - something amiss in that.

The Government needs to get its environmental policies into reality for the 1990s and it needs to take the environment seriously, and it can't even get this package serious. It says, 'This package doesn't stand alone, it's not something that we see as nationally important. We won't employ it unless we can blackmail people who are of a different political persuasion into selling off Telstra.' That's not good enough. That shows it's not fair dinkum about the environment and it really shows it hasn't taken account of the fact that it has ample alternatives as far as funding that package is concerned. It doesn't have to sell off Telstra, it doesn't have to sell out the public interest as far as Telstra is concerned.

FRAN KELLY: Dr Brown, there were reports a week ago that conservationists were beginning to lobby you to back the sale and to trade your backing for some serious extra environmental gains. Have you been approached by anyone to consider that?

BOB BROWN: No, I have been asked what my point of view is as far as Telstra is concerned. And some environmental groups have been concerned that there may be some way of lobbying further concessions out of the Government. And, indeed, Senator Hill has indicated that it is open to look into alternatives, to look into further negotiating, although he has in no way indicated any sort of concessions that will be made.

FRAN KELLY: What do you mean when you say: 'Senator Hill has indicated'? When you met with Senator Hill, yesterday, did he make some reference to the fact that you might get some gains in return for some support on the Telstra Bill?

BOB BROWN: Yes, he's made reference to the fact that other gains could be looked at. Well, look, the environment is a serious matter; it needs treating on it's own merits. And my reply to Senator Hill and to the Howard Government is: About time you got fair dinkum on giving the environment the government determination it deserves.

And if we are going to get into years of saying, 'Well, we can only do something for the environment if we sell off something else', this country is in a bad way.

FRAN KELLY: What about, though, if the Federal Government offered you World Heritage listing for Lake Eyre or Cape York or they offered you much more money for the Natural Heritage Trust, would you be tempted to do a deal over Telstra?

BOB BROWN: I'd be tempted to tell the Government, 'Yes, you have a responsibility to give World Heritage listing to Lake Eyre. Not only a responsibility on the environmental merits, that extraordinarily important part of this nation, but because you are breaking international law if you have a property of World Heritage value and you fail to list it.'

FRAN KELLY: But would you do a deal?

BOB BROWN: There's no point in doing a deal on that, Fran, because once you get into that sort of dealing, once you get into saying, 'Well, we can only protect the environment if we cave in to government on social policy or economic policy'; there's no end to it.

FRAN KELLY: So you're not buyable on Telstra? Those people who go around saying, 'Well, Bob Brown does trade, he does do deals on things', you are not buyable on Telstra?

BOB BROWN: You've got it; I am not buyable.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Green Senator-elect, Dr Bob Brown, with Fran Kelly in Canberra.