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New Shadow Minister for Environment expresses his views on environmental issues; acknowledges that his appointment may not be welcomed by some environmentalists

MONICA ATTARD: The new Shadow Environment Minister is Ian McLachlan, as you heard a short while ago. The South Australian grazier and former President of the National Farmers' Federation, Mr McLachlan, has often declared that the environment is one of his major interests, and he's a keen landscape photographer. Curiously, he's acknowledged this afternoon that some environmental groups may view his appointment with some hesitation. Mr McLachlan is talking here to Peter Rapp.

PETER RAPP: Well, Mr McLachlan, did you ask for this position?

IAN McLACHLAN: Well, I didn't as matter of fact directly, but I think both Alexander and Peter Costello have known for a long time that's one of my major areas of interest.

PETER RAPP: So you're really looking forward to it?

IAN McLACHLAN: Oh yes, I can hardly wait.

PETER RAPP: Do you acknowledge that the Opposition has got to make up a lot of ground in this area, that the Government has virtually cornered the environmental vote in recent years?

IAN McLACHLAN: Yes, I understand that. I mean, I think the Government has thrown a whole lot of dollars and promises at things that they haven't been able to deliver. I mean, programs like the billion trees program sounded terrific, but of course whether we're losing more trees than we're getting at the moment is a moot point.

But I mean, my thrust will be to try and make sure that we actually succeed in some of these areas. And we've got a good chance in Australia because we haven't done as much damage as they have in the northern hemisphere to themselves.

PETER RAPP: Do you see yourself as being the advocate of the environmental constituency when it comes, say, to debate with resources people, the development lobby?

IAN McLACHLAN: No, I think what we've got .. the secret of developing Australia is to develop it in a way whereby we don't damage the environment and, at the same time, put back some of the damage that we've done. Now that's not impossible. We've got the technology to do some of those things. And you will have noticed that the mining industry has changed immeasurably in the last few years, and up the road here at Roxby Downs is a wonderful example of how to do it.

PETER RAPP: What do you think of the sustainable development concept ? - conserving resources, perhaps in a nutshell.

IAN McLACHLAN: It's a good concept. I think conservation is exactly the right word. Conservation is the connotation of development with total responsibility, if you like. Whereas, sometimes preservation has been, you know, just something .. leaving it there for the sake of leaving it there. The problem we have, of course, is that there are going to be more people in the world, and we have to learn how to look after their needs without irrevocably damaging the environment. And as I said before, we have a great opportunity to put a lot of it back.

PETER RAPP: Why do you say that you think some environmental groups will be hesitant in welcoming you to the portfolio?

IAN McLACHLAN: I've been told so, already.

PETER RAPP: But why? I mean, are there some ratbag greenies that you'll have no time for?

IAN McLACHLAN: No, I'll be .. I'm going out to listen to all of those people. I just think that some people have preconceived ideas of what you ought to be like before they've even talked to you.

PETER RAPP: Why do you think they think that about Ian McLachlan?

IAN McLACHLAN: Well, they've said so; so there you are.

PETER RAPP: What - former President of the National Farmers' Federation? That sort of a connection, or what?

IAN McLACHLAN: Well, it's been put to me that there is a sort of an opposition between farmers and greenies. Well, I think that that couldn't possibly be so if we are to succeed, because, after all, the farmers own the land and a lot of the problems stem from the damage that we've done, not only from over-clearing, but, if you like, also from the damage we've done to the land in the regional areas. And so many of those farmers want to fix it, but they haven't either got the money or the technical know-how to do it. And so, in fact, what we ought to be doing - and is happening in some areas .. is happening in some areas - that those people who want to fix the environment because they're dark green, if you like, and those people who own the environment, ought to be put together. And I am pleased to see that happening, but the practical accomplishment, if you like, the re-vegetating of some large areas of southern Australia which has been over-cleared, which the farmers would want to do and do want to do, can't be done because of lack of money and, therefore, the interests of those two groups are the same.

MONICA ATTARD: And the Coalition's new spokesperson on the environment, Ian McLachlan, was speaking there to Peter Rapp.