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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 23902

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (1:44 PM) —I listened with great interest to what I thought was a rather curious speech from Senator Nettle representing the Greens political party. What a senator might choose to speak about in this chamber is a matter for that senator—it is a free country. What I am always curious about is that the Greens political party are voted into this chamber—and Senator Nettle certainly was—by appealing to environmentally conscious people, people I believe who are very often misled by the propaganda of the Greens political party. I make the point that if voters wanted to vote for a party that supported the left-wing, pro-Saddam, anti-American policies that you hear from Senators Brown and Nettle, then they would normally vote for the old Communist Party. I understand the old Communist Party still exists, although I suspect a lot of its members have gravitated to the Greens because most of the policies and philosophy that you hear from the Greens political party these days is the sort of social and political commentary that you used to get from communist parties in years gone by—communist parties, I might say, that have now lost favour even in Eastern Europe, even in the USSR. They seem to only retain their influence these days through the agency of such organisations as the Australian Greens, as represented by Senators Brown and Nettle.

I would have thought that if the Greens political party were true to their philosophy or their alleged philosophy—the philosophy they misrepresent to people—they would use every waking minute they have in this chamber to highlight the environment and the difficulties we sometimes face with the environment. I would very much have liked Senators Brown and Nettle to undertake the sort of journey I undertook last week, two days out of Townsville, looking at the issue of weeds in Australia, an issue which is very important for our environment and for our productive farming capacity as well. Last Wednesday I went to St Margaret's Creek, between Giru and Townsville, to launch a control manual on the lantana bush, a weed that is causing enormous problems along the east coast of Australia. It is a weed that was brought into Australia as a nursery plant and, curiously and quite amazingly, is still allowed to be sold in nurseries in Victoria, yet it is causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to Australia's productive farming lands along the east coast of Australia.

I was pleased to be able to launch the control manual. I was depressed at the extent of the lantana infestation along the coast but I overcame that depression when I saw the enthusiasm and determination of those farmers who attended at the property of Mr and Mrs Stan Haselton for the launch of that control manual. I get depressed, but I do get elated when I see the enormous effort being put in by well-meaning farmers who are out there making a real contribution, usually from their own resources. Most senators will know that weeds are matters for the attention of state and local governments. But the Howard government some time ago, recognising that weeds were a real problem, instituted our national weeds strategy and, as part of that, we have identified 20 weeds of national significance—`WONS', they are called. Lantana is one of those weeds. The Howard government have put a great deal of money into that program to help the states, local government and interested landowners to address that problem.

After launching the control manual for lantana I then journeyed to Charters Towers to visit Cardigan Station, a property owned by Mr and Mrs Colin Ferguson, where we launched a rubber vine control manual to assist landowners in that area with ways and means of controlling the spread of rubber vine. Rubber vine is an insidious plant brought to Australia many decades ago, originally as an ornamental bush and then actually promoted during the Second World War because apparently rubber could be made from the sap of the rubber vine, hence its name. But it now infests a great deal of the Gulf Country of Queensland and a lot of the east coast of Queensland and it turns productive grazing property into wasteland. The action being taken by all of the agencies now attacking the rubber vine is simply to control it, to make sure that does not spread across the Queensland border into the Northern Territory, which is a major problem. A lot of good research has been done by the Commonwealth and Queensland government agencies. There is now a rust that can attack it, and with a fire regime you can have some control over it, but it is a major problem and a very expensive one. I congratulate all of those around Charters Towers and elsewhere throughout Australia who are fighting the fight against rubber vine.

I then flew to Clermont in central western Queensland to launch a similar manual for the control of parthenium. Parthenium was introduced quite inadvertently from the United States as a seed in some grasses that were brought here. Parthenium is an insidious plant; not only does it attack productive farming land but it also attacks the mental and physical health of human beings. If people like those in the Greens political party who seem to have such great concern for the health and welfare of people were really genuine to their cause, perhaps they would be taking up the issue of weeds with greater enthusiasm. But I understand the Greens do not do that because there are not a lot of television cameras involved in weeds. The people in Sydney and Melbourne, where they get all of their votes, do not know about parthenium and they do not really care.

I really suggest that parthenium is a thing—obviously it is a weed—which should be of great concern to all members of the Australian public. If it were to escape from where it is at the moment—regrettably, I have heard reports that it has gone into northern New South Wales, Mr Acting Deputy President Sandy Macdonald, which would be causing you and the people that I know you associate with a great deal of concern, and I have heard there were some outbreaks of parthenium found in Far North Queensland, which is of great concern to me—it would be practically unstoppable. But if, for example, it were to get into the countryside around Sydney, where it would cause not only great danger to productive farming land but actually real danger to the health and welfare of human beings, then perhaps we might get a bit more attention to this weed. I repeat that the Australian government, although it is not our constitutional responsibility as it is a matter for state and local governments, is helping. The Queensland government and, I assume, the New South Wales government are also doing work to contain parthenium. Unfortunately, this weed does not have the sort of public focus that demands the attention of the majority of the Australian public. I would say, however, that it is an issue that should be an item of great concern to all Australian people. Again, I am filled with depression at the thought of how you contain this but that depression is overcome by elation when you see so many decent hardworking Australians committing their own time and money to work in groups to try to attack the parthenium problem.

I then moved further back up the coast of Queensland to Proserpine and was taken by Queensland government officials out to the Peter Faust dam, which supplies water to the Proserpine shire, where there is a problem with a weed called Mimosa pigra, a weed that regrettably is all too common in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territorians are trying to contain it but I believe the battle is almost too much for the Northern Territory and I am told that some of their containment measures are not appropriate. There has been this outbreak at the Peter Faust dam and the extent to which Queensland government departments and the officers that took me to the dam have gone to try to contain this weed is quite remarkable. It is a very dangerous weed and if it escapes from the dam it could cause enormous problems to the grazing lands in the Proserpine area—indeed, if it got down to the wetlands it would destroy many environmental RAMSAR wetlands, and it would destroy a lot of productive grazing country.

The Queensland government, with Commonwealth government assistance through the Natural Heritage Trust, has been trying to contain this very dangerous and quickly spreading weed. That is made more difficult by the fact that it is in inaccessible places and it does require major effort. There have been three washdown facilities put in at the dam site. It is like leaving a contaminated war zone: you really have to wash down before you leave and you have to wash your vehicles to make sure that any seeds of Mimosa pigra do not spread out from the Proserpine dam. It is a problem that causes me a great deal of concern, although the number and the commitment of the people who spend their working lives trying to control this evil is indeed encouraging. I want to use my speech here today to praise all of those who in the four instances that I particularly mention, but in other instances right throughout Australia, are fighting the real fight to protect Australia's environment and to protect Australia's farming land in the battle they undertake against these weeds. I do try, perhaps inadequately, to lift the attention given to these weeds, but I do call upon all Australians to take greater interest in these weeds of national significance and to be forever on guard to make sure that the weeds that we have in Australia are not dispersed and taken further away. I ask Australians, particularly those living in the cities, to do their bit to understand the importance of the danger of these weeds and to support actions to control them.

Finally, I return to the Greens political party, which is where I started. If that political party is a party that is interested in the environment, I urge it to get involved in things like weeds around our country. That is an issue on which I believe it would really make a contribution to Australia. The Greens political party members masquerade in this particular area. They never seem to be really interested in the real environmental issues. There are not too many television cameras around and there are not too many votes in real issues like weeds and that is why they are not interested in them. Perhaps those who sometimes have been inclined to vote for the Greens because of their mistaken belief in the Greens' interest in the environment might choose to think a second time at the next election and realise that a vote for the Greens is not a vote for the environment but simply a vote for ultra left-wing political and social philosophies.