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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20143

Mr PEARCE (3:12 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Would the minister update the House on the benefits to Australia's environment provided by the Natural Heritage Trust? Are there any alternative policies?

Dr KEMP (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank the member for Aston for his question. Members of the House will be aware that no government in Australia's history has shown a greater commitment to the economic and environmental sustainability of the Australian landscape and its biodiversity than the Howard government. At the centre of this remarkable effort is the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust, which is without question the largest environmental protection and rescue effort in Australian history.

One reason why the trust is having such a huge impact is that it has empowered hundreds of thousands of Australians to restore the environment in their communities. Almost 420,000 Australians have worked on some 14,000 on-ground projects to clear up beaches, reduce erosion, build up the productivity of our agricultural land and restore the environment in their communities. After the January bushfires in the Australian Capital Territory, for example, the trust provided money for a project to re-establish fences along the stream banks and to protect stream banks from erosion.

Overall the trust has funded some13,000 kilometres of fencing to protect waterways. A typical project is the money provided to revegetate and protect degraded lands on Leigh Creek in South Australia. The trust has funded the planting of over 31 million trees and the replanting and protection of 789,000 hectares of native vegetation and has established agreements or covenants protecting another 727,500 hectares.

The trust has come to the rescue of the Australian landscape and Australian biodiversity and has provided some $32 million to implement 146 recovery plans for 180 nationally listed species and 10 ecological communities. Members may be aware that last Saturday the trust helped to bring back 20 Tamar wallabies, which are extinct in Australia, from Kawau Island in New Zealand to South Australia. Through the trust, the national reserve system has increased by almost one-third under this government, or 18 million hectares, through the expenditure of some $76 million from the trust.

The trust has empowered Landcare, has established Coastcare and is providing over $350 million to improve water quality around the nation. This country has an enormous environmental opportunity as the only nation occupying an entire continent. We have a wonderful opportunity to restore the environment of a whole continent and put it on a sustainable basis, and the Howard government's Natural Heritage Trust is a very powerful commitment to do just that.

I am asked about alternative policies. It is to the lasting shame of the Labor Party that it has opposed the Natural Heritage Trust and refused to acknowledge the achievements of this remarkable program. We hear nothing about the environment from the Australian Labor Party these days. I have not had a question from the member for Wills as spokesman on the environment for nine months. That shows the policy vacuum that exists on the other side of the House. We see the member for Wills less frequently than we see Brigadoon these days—there has not been a single question in nine months.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for McMillan!

Dr KEMP —We have a policy lazy opposition which has done nothing to restore or protect the environment. It has fought the Howard government every step of the way on the environment—as it does in all other programs. The Australian people well understand that the Labor Party has no credibility, under its current weak leadership, on the environment or anything else.