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Australian of the Year addresses the National Press Club.

Seven years ago my life was quite different.

I was racing a 60' yacht, designed by Ben Lexcen, single handed around the world.

I'd spent most of my life either building or sailing and in 1986 1 embarked on what I thought was the most dramatic challenge I would ever face.

I fronted up to the start line of the BOC challenge, the 27,000 nautical mile race with 24 other competitors from 11 nations.

The race took in every condition known in the world.......... From crossing the powerful Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic which can run up to 7 knots to the agony and frustration of the flat oily calms of the doldrums, to the savage hurricanes that roar out of the Caribbean into the Atlantic, to the power and majesty of the towering combers of the Southern Ocean that often reach heights in excess of 70'.

Contrast this with my life today.

Last week I was again on a towering mountain. But this time it was on Smokey Mountain in metro Manila in the Philippines.

The mountain is one million cubic metres of garbage....That garbage is produced basically by the wealthy consumers of this developing city.

25,000 scavengers live in shanty's on the mountain. They extract a meagre living from the refuse existing well below the poverty line.

They suffer, especially the children, from any number of pollution-related diseases and the hospitals I visited housed sad and depressing evidence of the inequality and pollution that is plaguing this earth.

I have become obsessed with garbage....Sewage....And the related waste issues.

I often ask myself, what was it that turned a knock about pretty ordinary bloke into a strange creature that is this garbophobiac?

Well it all started during the BOC race when I sailed into the Sargasso Sea.


The race showed me other elements of nature like the Southern Ocean - the home of some 360 million seabirds.

It took some gruelling preparation too for this magical adventure that changed my life.

(Story ... sailing to Hobart)

The solitude of sailing solo - of essentially becoming a marine creature...Even though this animal couldn't swim long distances or fly through the air....Gave me time to think.

It really changed me. It gave me new values.

The hardest part in the 156 days it took me to sail the race was to emerge from these remote but not desolate areas and to face the media. TV cameras, flash bulbs, mikes, and to try and answer what were often ridiculous questions....Like where did you sleep?, Did you miss your mother?, What did you eat? Was it exciting?

Of course it was exciting. But followed closely by the second most exciting thing that's happened in my life. In my life as a builder.

(Story - Leichardt Council).

But the real questions were starting to nag at me. The mid tide line of glass, styrene and generations of plastic on the beaches.

(Story - clean up Sydney Harbour in January 1989 with 40,000 volunteers; how the phone started to ring and the realisation that Australians right around the country cared and wanted to

do something; the formation of Clean Up Australia - in the first year in 1990 211 cities and towns were involved - in March this year the fifth national Clean Up Australia Day with 700 cities and towns and a campaign that has involved 2 million volunteers; to clean up the world - the export of the Australian initiative involving communities in 80 countries and more than 30 million volunteers in September 1993).

The campaigns have never set out to provide all the answers.

They are about starting somewhere. Right at grass roots level.

They are about empowering people to take action themselves.

They are about keeping the environment on the agenda....On the media agenda, the political agenda and very importantly on the corporate agenda.

We have trodden a moderate path quite deliberately. But the further I go down my selected environmental path the more concerned and the more radical I become.

Let me give you an example. Last week when I left the Philippines I travelled to Florida ...To a little town called Perry south of Tallahassee. We've been making a documentary with the ABC called 'Local Heroes' the people we interviewed are often described as radicals.

But there can be nothing more radical than what l'm going to tell you.

In this town, Proctor Gamble employ around 1,000 people working in the pulp paper mill making toilet paper and diapers.


PG take 55 million gallons of water out of the adjacent Fenholloway River every day.

They return 50 million gallons of heavily polluted water. The river is purple black, stinking and dead. This was a river that was previously lauded in verse and song prior to the 1950's.

The ground water, all of the wells, are now dead too and it may even reach as far as the nearby Sawanee River.

And the entire community now exists on bottled water.

To me, that is radical. Its also environmental piracy.

That river, like our own rivers here in Australia, belongs to everybody.

On Australia Day this year I said we need to stand strongly, we need to stand alone with pride in our history and a vision for the future. Today, I'm even more committed to that.

Before 1788 Australia was pristine. The Aboriginal people lived in harmony with the environment. Their philosophy was to tread lightly on the earth. We have a lot to learn from the Aboriginal community about protecting our environment.

So where does this all lead?

I would like to see Australia become the cleanest country in the world. To return it to a state closer to that which it enjoyed prior to European settlement.

It is in our reach to do this....How?

I think l'm pretty practical. Firstly, we know the Australian public are behind us. Every poll and study in recent years clearly demonstrates their concern for the environment. The recent Herald Saulwick poll even placed environmental protection ahead of economic growth as a community concern.

We have a small population and we're in the southern hemisphere - that's a good start. But we need more commitment from government and industry.

The cost of the environment report released back in February showed that Australia came a poor 18th among 21 OECD countries by only spending 0.9% of its GDP on pollution abatement and control. To me that demonstrates a distinct lack of commitment.

We need the authorities to realise that they have to embrace new technology.

We need incentives to encourage industry to apply more to research development.

We are perfectly poised to lead the world environmentally if only our governments would learn to work together better; if only they would adopt long term vision and planning (50 years) instead of election term planning; and if only these greater incentives were put in place - you would have industry solving environmental problems economically and profitably and then looking for the next environmental challenge as a business opportunity.

Today l'm calling on the Federal Minister for the Environment, John Faulkner, to increase those incentives for industry. I know of Australian environmental technology companies whose rd is being moved offshore because of lack of opportunity to apply their technologies in this country: it surely is an easily enacted solution.

I must say, I do support the call this week by the Leader of the Democrats, Cheryl Kernot for constitutional reform to embrace the environment. It is important that the Federal government has the power to set and enforce national environmental standards that affect our air and water.

So what can the community do?

Well, if they get involved with Clean Up Australia they can do plenty this year we are launching the Clean up Australia 2000 campaign which needs major funding - and that's where industry and government can help.

With the help of the community we plan to identify 2000 pollution problems across Australia and have them cleaned up by the year 2000. The first one of these is already underway at Taronga Zoo where we are building a state of the art waste water treatment and reuse plant that will be a world example of Australian environmental technology.

CUA 2000 is about repairing environmental assets and returning them to the community.

Another is our Olympic project which will encourage best available practice and best available technology in sydney for the year 2000. I am pleased to announce, that Ms Karla Bell who helped structure the green Olympic bid with Greenpeace is joining Clean Up Australia as a consultant to oversee this exciting project.

Being Australian of the Year is an incredible honour.

I have deep love for this country and think its good that we celebrate and take pride in Australian achievement -- but managing our environment to a better standard has to form part of that equation.

If Australia is to realise its potential we are all going to have to square up to the solid and sewage waste issues, air quality and resource management - it must form part of our daily lives.

With the export of the Clean Up Australia project through our clean up the world campaign we are seeing people in diverse communities across the developed and developing world taking personal and positive action to improve their health and quality of life.

I see us as one global community. We share the oceans, we share the air and increasingly we are sharing a common concern about our future.

In this big corner of the world - Australia - we have an opportunity to lead by example.

Let's not look back in 50 years as a nation and say, "We missed it".