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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 339

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories) (11.06 a.m.) —I want to comment on the contributions of Senator Coulter and Senator Chamarette and on the amendment to the preamble that has been moved by Senator Coulter. I appreciate the point that Senator Coulter made about the subsequent amendments to other clauses of the bill being consequential to the fate of his amendment in relation to the preamble. I assume that in fact is also the case for the amendments foreshadowed by Senator Chamarette, so it seems appropriate if I—

Senator Chamarette —Not entirely. I would like to move them but not to speak to them.

Senator FAULKNER —I understand and appreciate that, but they are dealing with the issue of deletion of the requirement to conduct impact statements in the preparation of national environment protection measures. In relation to the substance of the points raised by Senator Coulter, I believe the amendment moved by him is ill-conceived. I think he fundamentally made three points. I will address those in the order that he dealt with them in his contribution.

  In relation to the reference to regional environmental differences in Australia as an essential plank in the legislation and the recognition—this is very important—of the diversity of Australian environments, what needs to be pointed out to Senator Coulter is that `regional' in this context does not refer to states. In all states there are some relatively pristine environments as well as, as all senators would be aware, some significantly degraded environments. These factors need to be taken into account in the setting of sensible national measures.

  Senator Coulter also raised the issue of the role of non-government organisations and their representation on the NEPC committee. It is worth my drawing to Senator Coulter's attention clause 21(2)(b) which requires the council to report to this parliament on submissions received from NGOs and also on their responses to those submissions. It needs to be remembered that this legislation gives effect to an intergovernmental agreement—the point that Senator Coulter has stressed in his contribution. The protocol for consultation by the NEPC, endorsed by COAG, requires that in addition to the references in clause 16 of this legislation, the council will initiate discussions with all relevant NGOs at an early stage and will seek input into the development of the measure. I think the government has been sensitive to the needs and requirements of NGOs as we have looked at the development of this legislation.

  The final point that Senator Coulter canvassed in his contribution related to the issue of states being penalised for withdrawal from the agreement. That ignores the reality that Australia is a federation. This bill simply gives effect to the intergovernmental agreement on the environment, which is an agreement developed by consensus with state governments and endorsed, as senators would be aware, by COAG. Those are the substantive points that Senator Coulter made in his contribution. He indicated that they are the fundamental basis for his determination to amend the preamble and the other consequential amendments that flow from that course of action.

  In relation to the general thrust of the arguments that Senator Chamarette presented to the Senate, the preparation of impact statements in developing national environmental protection measures is consistent with the IGAE, which sets out principles of environmental policy. It is important to say that the principles include ecologically sustainable development.

  In the preparation of the NEPC bill, peak NGOs were consulted on the contents of the draft bill and the provisions requiring preparation of impact statements were endorsed by all non-government organisations—industry and environmental NGOs. Accordingly, I can say to Senator Coulter that the government will not be supporting the amendment that Senator Coulter has proposed to the preamble or the consequential amendments that flow nor, as I have indicated—and I believe that Senator Bolkus indicated that to Senator Coulter yesterday—will the government support the other amendments that stand in the name of Senator Coulter on behalf of the Australian Democrats.