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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21483

Mrs HULL (2:48 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Would the minister advise the House how the Howard government's Natural Heritage Trust is helping to combat salinity in my electorate of Riverina and across New South Wales?

Dr KEMP (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina for her question. I think it is generally recognised these days that the Howard government is providing the national leadership which is putting in place the largest environmental rescue plans in Australian history—in particular the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust, the $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and the $500 million national water initiative. Today the minister for agriculture and I are announcing that $266 million from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and $76 million from the Natural Heritage Trust are being provided to support major environmental and natural resource management reforms in New South Wales. Of this money, 50 per cent is being provided by the Commonwealth and 50 per cent by the state of New South Wales.

Let us call a spade a spade. For some time the New South Wales government has failed to put in place an adequate regional process for dealing with environmental repair and natural resource management in that state. The Howard government has been very concerned about the failure of the New South Wales government in this regard. In particular, in New South Wales there has been a very heavy domination of the regional process by the state bureaucracies in Sydney. Before the last New South Wales state election the Wentworth Group drew the attention of the state government to this problem. I drew the attention of the House to the fact that there was a need for much more autonomy in the regions of New South Wales when dealing with environmental and natural resource management before that election as well.

The Howard government believes that communities, regions and land-holders need to be fully involved in these issues of environmental repair. Today the Carr government announced that it is reforming its regional natural resource management arrangements to give much greater autonomy to regions in managing the process of environmental repair. Without endorsing every detail of this, I believe that, in general, the concept is a great victory for commonsense. It is certainly a great victory for the regional communities of New South Wales. These reforms, however, must not become an excuse for delaying the implementation of the natural resource management plans that have already been developed by these communities after a great deal of hard work.

Along with this announcement, I understand the state government has also set in place today new vegetation management targets, including an end in New South Wales to broadscale clearing of remnant native vegetation. Apart from the salinity, water quality and biodiversity benefits of proper vegetation management, the end to broadscale clearing of remnant vegetation in New South Wales will deliver a greenhouse gas abatement benefit of approximately seven million tonnes per annum. The Commonwealth is contributing some $45 million to ensuring that this process of vegetation management reform is fairly and properly managed and that land-holders are properly involved. I am very pleased to see today that the President of the New South Wales Farmers Association, Mr Mal Peters, has described the package as a great step forward for the farmers of New South Wales.

I have also been asked to comment on whether there are any alternative policies. In simple terms, there are no alternative policies. There has not been a question from the environment shadow minister to me for the last 10 months, while this government has been pushing ahead with environmental management in this country on an unprecedented scale.