Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Senator Faulkner receives support for his first major environment policy statement

MONICA ATTARD: Federal Environment Minister, John Faulkner, has received broad support from green groups, the Democrats and even the timber industry for his first major policy statement. Today, he launched the 'State of the environment reporting framework for Australia'. It's a clumsy name but it documents plans to establish a set of national indicators to measure just how clean our air and water is and just how fast we're using up our natural resources.

Senator Faulkner also spelled out his commitment to improving Australia's performance on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ending woodchip exports by the year 2000, and he's promised to take on the States on environmental issues if the co-operative approach doesn't work. As Katie Cronin reports, Senator Faulkner is saying all the right things but the Cabinet Room is a thorny place when it comes to pushing conservation issues.

KATIE CRONIN: In his speech this morning, Senator Faulkner admitted that it's sometimes forgotten just how critical a healthy environment is to Australia's future -forgotten indeed. For months, environment groups have been complaining about Australia's performance on greenhouse, that little has been done to meet the Government's target of reducing emissions substantially by the year 2005. Senator Faulkner says he's asked his department to prepare a list of options, including a carbon tax which will go into the budget process next year. He's considering extensions to World Heritage areas, including land that the forestry industry currently logs in Tasmania; and he's repeated a commitment to end woodchip exports by the year 2000.

But Senator Faulkner has already had a run-in with a fellow Minister over that. David Beddall, the Minister for Resources, recently approved an application from a Tasmanian firm to increase its woodchip exports by 200,000 tonnes, and he did it without consulting Senator Faulkner. Not only does that appear to push the woodchip policy backwards, but it also goes against a Cabinet agreement that decisions on woodchip licences can't be made without formal advice from the Environment Minister to the Resources Minister. It was a deal struck when Ros Kelly had the environment portfolio and she certainly had a tough time in Cabinet.

The Australian Democrats environment spokesmen, Senator John Coulter, says Faulkner will do a much better job than Kelly, but says he'll still be pushing his barrow uphill.

JOHN COULTER: Oh, Ros Kelly didn't understand the environmental issues nearly as well as John Faulkner has understood them, and I think he already has in place a much better program for tackling them and I think he'll probably be much tougher. But again, he's faced with a Prime Minister who seems to have little commitment to the environment. In fact, he's walked away from the ESD process; he's walked away from greenhouse commitments; he has to deal with Senator Cook who seems to be quite a powerful Minister who quite deliberately turned his back on any environmental considerations in relation to the GATT negotiations. And I think, for all those reasons, Senator Faulkner is going to have a very, very hard job ahead of him.

KATIE CRONIN: Looking at what you've identified, I think, as his most immediate challenge, at least in the short term, and that's the commitment to the phasing out of woodchip exports by the year 2000, Resources Minister, David Beddall, has just approved an application from a Tasmanian firm to increase its woodchip exports by about 200,000 tonnes, and that actually flies straight in the face of that environment policy, doesn't it?

JOHN COULTER: Not only that, but we believe that that permission was probably given illegally, that Minister Beddall has actually acted against his own legislation. We're looking very, very closely at that to see whether some action can be taken against him.

KATIE CRONIN: What do you mean?

JOHN COULTER: Well, I think Ministers must administer the legislation which comes under their supervision, and I think there are certain requirements which are placed on Minister Beddall before he increases those licences, and he seems to have not followed that procedure. So I think an appeal can be - well, possibly - can be mounted against that decision.

KATIE CRONIN: On another issue - greenhouse gas emissions - the Minister says he's asked his department to put together a list of options of economic instruments that can be included in budget discussions next year, and those economic instruments would have the aim of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. And I understand that list could, in fact, include a carbon tax. Now, you would support that, wouldn't you - a carbon tax?

JOHN COULTER: Yes, but I think, in qualification, I would say that contrary to some of the rather stupid studies that have been carried out by organisations like the Tasman Institute and others, a carbon tax really needs to be only quite a small tax provided - and this is the proviso - provided that the money raised in that tax is then used to address the problem of greenhouse by encouraging energy efficiency, putting in place energy efficient alternatives, and building the alternative energy processes - the renewable energy processes - and I think quite a small carbon tax will produce absolutely amazing results. So it doesn't have to be a draconian and very large tax.

KATIE CRONIN: The Democrats spokesman on the environment, Senator John Coulter.