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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7285

Senator NETTLE (2:51 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill. Given that land clearing is a major cause of salinity and poor water quality and that Australia continues to clear 600,000 hectares each year nationwide, can the minister assure the Senate that this issue will be a top priority at tomorrow's COAG meeting? When can we expect an announcement detailing this government's commitment to end broadscale land clearing in Australia and by what specific target date?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Land management is, of course, regulated in Australia principally by the states. Most of the clearing referred to in the question is in Queensland, which is regrettably governed by a Labor government that was not willing to cooperate with us in seeking a significant reduction in the rate of land clearing. Through the Natural Heritage Trust and through some greenhouse funding we would have been prepared to financially support a significant reduction in the rate of land clearing in Queensland, but unfortunately Mr Beattie and his government were not prepared to come to the party. The Greens in their new enthusiasm, I would respectfully suggest, might put a bit of pressure on state governments for a change and then they could be doing something useful. The Commonwealth government is committed to better environmental outcomes. We do know the detrimental consequences from overclearing of land. We know the consequences in relation to salinity and we know other detrimental consequences as well, but to effect a satisfactory outcome in this area we will need the cooperation of the states and, unfortunately, under Labor that has not been forthcoming.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Can the minister detail the conditions under which the Commonwealth government would agree to provide funding to the Queensland government to end broadscale land clearing in that state? Can the minister advise what discussions have been undertaken to achieve this end between the Commonwealth and the Queensland governments on this issue and where those discussions are at at present? Can the minister also confirm whether it is true that no applications for land clearing have been refused under the EPBC Act?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Matters in relation to the environment portfolio I will refer to Mr Kemp to see whether I can get responses to the detailed issues you raised in that supplementary question.