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Nick Greiner releases major statement on the environment

PETER THOMPSON: At home, Nick Greiner, the only non-Labor Premier in power in Australia, is re-casting his Government into a green mould. Mr Greiner has released what he terms a major statement to mark Earth Day. It says, and I quote: `To many people on the conservative side of politics still view environmental consciousness as some sort of left wing conspiracy. Amongst both the Liberal and National parties there is still an instinctive cringe when the environment is mentioned'. Well, Mr Greiner joins me now. Good morning Mr Greiner. Why have your colleagues in the Liberal and National parties been so wary about the environment?

NICK GREINER: I think it comes from the start of the debate, a bit like the women's lib debate of 20 years ago, Peter. These debates tend to start with people taking very extreme views of `burn the bra' view in that debate, until the pendulum swings back to a middle ground, mainstream view, and certainly some of the people who have been at the forefront of the environmental movement have come from a very distinct socialist ideology, from a view that economic growth development are intrinsically and of course that doesn't sit at all easily with the Liberal and National parties. I think that is the starting point of this sort of cringe factor, which has certainly been there.

PETER THOMPSON: It's been a terrible decade for the coalition parties in terms of electoral victories. Is being slow in the environment part of the reason?

NICK GREINER: I would've thought only a small part of it. I've got to say I think this is inevitably seen in terms of short term political pluses and minuses. I think this is a long term issue; I think the community generally sees the environment as not being a party political football. I think they recognise that you're talking about very long term issues with very long term solutions. So, whilst clearly in the last few elections there's been some evidence that the environmental issue has hurt the non-Labor parties, I don't think that's been the dominant factor of the 1980s. I think general perceptions of competence have probably been the main factor.

PETER THOMPSON: One of the interesting things you say is that there's a need to get away from what you call the narrow obsession with States' rights. Now that will be anathema to many of your colleagues.

NICK GREINER: I think that'll be one area where I'll have to do some hard talking. I think, nevertheless, it is inevitable that people have to recognise that if there is a global problem of holes in the ozone layer or of the general problems of air and water quality, the notion that we're going to suggest, there's going to be six different lots of standards in Australia, or six different greenhouse commissions, as my Labor opponent would suggest in New South Wales, is just crazy. It only needs to be stated for people to see that if we are genuine about solving the problem, then we have to have a national response as part of an international response and arbitrary lines on maps are no part of that exercise. So, we're just going to have to acknowledge that States' rights are not a good thing in themselves. They're good when they contribute to the overall quality of life for people, and in the case of some of these big environmental issues, that simply isn't the case.

PETER THOMPSON: Of course, one issue you face immediately in respect to States' rights is the New South Wales south coast forests where there's conflict between the Federal and State governments. Who wins then?

NICK GREINER: There's isn't conflict at the moment. There is, in fact, agreement, and a series of agreements. That is an example where we need to reconcile, rather than us getting in our corner and saying, `We're going to decide this', and the Commonwealth saying, `No, no, we've got the export licence'. What we need, and I say in the document, I think something along the line of the Resource Assessment Commission that Canberra is now starting, which would provide an objective database and some independent advice to what will ultimately have to be a political decision. But at least you've got to have a rational basis for making decisions, and in many cases, including the south coast forests, that rational base doesn't exist and it ought to.

PETER THOMPSON: Some of your Ministers, Mr Murray, Minister for State Development, and Mr Causley, Minister for Natural Resources, are really regarded as public enemies No. 1 by the green movement at the moment. Will that change?

NICK GREINER: I think that perception is there. In some parts it suits political opponents to build that up. I think if you actually look at what they're doing, I think their record speaks much more greenly, if you like. But yes, I think the National Party would be quite open about it. Mr Murray, in fact, has endorsed the document we put out. The National Party has to do some thinking about this. The notion that all farmers are anti-greenie or anti the environment has, of course, always been rubbish. People who work with the land in many cases are the most sensitive and understanding environmentalists. So I think the National Party is clearly part of this. It's not a change in Liberal attitude; it's a change in Liberal and national attitude to show that our traditional belief in free enterprise and democratic capitalism is in no way inconsistent with a sensitive environmental approach, and I've got no doubt that the National Party will be part of that rethinking on the non-Labor side of politics.

PETER THOMPSON: Thanks for joining me, Premier. To comment on what Mr Greiner has just said, we're joined now by the new Federal Shadow Minister for Environment, Fred Chaney, and to talk to him, Kate Wall.

KATE WALL: Fred Chaney, does the National Party have to do some thinking about this issue?

FRED CHANEY: I think everybody has to do some thinking about the issue, but I think the important thing is that there is now acceptance that this crosses political boundaries, that the broad community is concerned about environmental issues and I think all political parties have to react, the Liberals and Nationals, along with Labor.

KATE WALL: Is there still an instinctive cringe in the coalition parties when the environment is mentioned? Nick Greiner says that many still think it's a left wing conspiracy.

FRED CHANEY: I think that there are still some people who see it as a left issue. I think that's nonsense. My own experience is that some of the most conservative people I know are as deeply concerned about the environment as some of the most radical left people I know. So I would agree in the broad that some of our people have put this issue at the wrong part of the political spectrum.

KATE WALL: Why do you think that is?

FRED CHANEY: I think it's because the whole idea of activism - it's a bit like my being called Red Fred because I was sympathetic to Aboriginal causes. I saw that as mainstream Liberalism; other people saw it as a radical move to the left. That was nonsense then; it's nonsense now to see this as a left issue.

KATE WALL: All the major conflicts between the Commonwealth and the States over the environment in the past seem to have come down to questions of States' rights. Nick Greiner says fundamental values that relate to the environment should transcend what he says are the limitations of parochial party politics, that is, States' rights. Do you agree with that?

FRED CHANEY: I'm going to say two things about it. First of all, I think the public is totally fed up if you engage in jurisdictional squabbles, instead of dealing with the substance of environmental issues. So there's a complete, sort of political negative and a practical negative in getting caught up in jurisdictional squabbles instead of dealing with the substance. The second point I'd make, though, is that it is important that Nick Greiner, the only Liberal Premier in Australia, is the person making the running on this, because I do think that it's important not to underestimate the reality of the States. At the moment we've got a big squabble going on, a very public difference between Premier Goss in Queensland and the Labor Attorney-General in Canberra over the regulation of companies.

I make that point just to remind everybody that this is not just some left - this again, is not just a right wing issue. This is an issue which touches the whole question of the operation of governments in Australia, and on company law we're seeing left wing governments, if you like, Labor governments squabbling with the Labor Government in Canberra. So that's not an issue that you can confine one to the political spectrum either.

KATE WALL: But on the question of States' rights and the environment, should the Commonwealth be able to stop, say, a dam or a mine in one of the States?

FRED CHANEY: I think that's a question of whether it has national or international implications. I think Nick Greiner has correctly said many of the issues people are concerned about are not local issues. They are issues which touch the whole globe. Others are issues which touch the whole of Australia. I don't think that a Commonwealth Government can shrink from dealing with the issues which have either national or international implications.

KATE WALL: But isn't that the point that it's easy to say that there should be a national approach to things like the quality of air, but when it starts to get difficult it gets difficult when you start talking about things like mines and dams?

FRED CHANEY: I think it's very difficult to involve the Commonwealth Government, for example, in whether a new housing subdivision should be in location A or location B. That involves the Commonwealth Government making judgments about a whole lot of issues on which it has very little information and no administration to deal with it. So very much depends upon the sort of issue that's being raised. I think there's a great sense in the environmental movement that they want action locally. `Think globally, act locally' is one of the slogans that is much used. I happen to agree with it, and if you try to take all the decision making into national hands, then you're going to find that local groups who feel that they should have an influence on local decisions, are going to be ridden roughshod over. So there's a very nice balance to be found in all that.

KATE WALL: Mr Chaney, we'll leave it there. Thanks very much.