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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5635

Mr GARRETT (Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts) (11:35 AM) —I thank the member for Leichhardt for his contribution, and I will happily come back and address some of those issues in a moment. I refer more generally to the issues that he raised about air quality, particularly in the Upper Hunter, and I recognise that that is a serious issue. The majority of the regulatory role on air quality and all that goes with the activities undertaken there belongs, as he would know, to the state government. But I think the member for Leichhardt’s contribution is relevant inasmuch as the potential impacts on communities—since we will see increased greenhouse gas emissions over time—needs to be considered not only by the regulators but also by policymakers generally.

I very much agree with the tenor of his remarks about the provision of support for Indigenous communities in regional New South Wales and other states. It is the case that we sometimes focus on remote regional areas, particularly those where there has been a great deal of media attention and also those where the opportunities for delivering programmes, particularly in the national research management area on-country, are fairly substantial. Notwithstanding that, we are committed to ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, wherever they may be, are given the opportunity not only to have access to and potentially be supported by our programs but also to be assisted and provided with opportunities to come away from the provision of automatic welfare over time into something which provides them with the opportunity to use hands-on skills in the work they do. That is why the Indigenous ranger program is particularly important.

I make the point to the member that it is also important to look at the declaration of Indigenous protected areas. We are now seeing declarations take place in other states, including in New South Wales. Here is an opportunity for traditional owners or people who are in the midst of the resolution of issues around native title to get support for an Indigenous protected area from the Commonwealth and, in receiving that support, to build additional skills-based resources for things such as fencing, feral animal and weed control and the like. I really do commend that not only to the member but to the House. It has been particularly important, because when the government was elected it recognised that adding substantially to the national reserve system was the most important thing any government could do to protect biodiversity—this year is the International Year of Biodiversity—and to provide the opportunity for our native plants and animals, the habitat and the biodiversity of Australia itself to be resilient in the face of the kinds of pressures they face, particularly from climate change.

I know that coastal erosion has been a matter that the member has pursued vigorously in the House. He has a keen interest in it, as do a number of his constituents. The government is aware of that. It is also clearly aware of the matters that have been raised in the report that he refers to, and the government will respond in due course.

I would just quickly add to that: the government has made provision for Coastcare. The member may be aware that, I think next week—though regrettably I will be absent, at the International Whaling Commission meeting—the Coastcare community awards will be held here in the parliament. There will be many opportunities for those who do that Coastcare work, and this government provided additional support for Coastcare communities. And I want to commend those who work in that capacity—volunteers who are provided with the opportunity, right up and down the coastline, right around Australia, to be able to go out, roll up their sleeves and take some of those measures necessary, particularly rehabilitating dune areas and the like. That has been a very successful program—well supported, incidentally, by the government—and one that I am very proud of.

Finally, I want to refer to the member for Leichhardt’s contribution and to say how much I am aware of the hard work he does in the region and how good it is to work with him, particularly given that we have provided additional support to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, particularly for Reef HQ Aquarium, which is located in Townsville, but in addition for GBRMPA, to provide it with the capacity to take up those issues that were identified in the outlook report. And this comes on top of the significant commitment, the highest ever, to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef through the Reef Rescue program. Again, I was in Cairns quite recently, speaking to natural resource management groups there, strongly committed to the government’s program and strongly committed to protecting the reef.