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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 27

Senator BROWN (11:21 AM) —The problem is that the 1,700 projects the minister is talking about—which citizens put enormous work into and break their backs over—are no match for the extractive industries which are damaging the rivers. We are seeing overall serial degradation of the riverine systems in Australia. I have a sometimes residence on the Liffey River in Tasmania. The log trucks are ripping out the forests in that basin—under the aegis of the Prime Minister of Australia. When it rains you see the mud coming down the various streams into that river from the logging operations. But the Liffey river system is better off than many of the other river systems in Australia, where there is prodigious logging of old-growth forests and the destruction of natural habitat—there is no look in there for environmental sustainability—under the authority of the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. John Howard. We see the destruction of river systems and upper catchments while money is given to citizens' groups downstream to do what they can. There is no logic. There is no national environmental common sense coming out of the Prime Minister's office. The big money wins out and the environment suffers.

Citizens' groups very often are despairing and are driven to do what they can to pick up the pieces with a bit of largesse from the government, which is no match for the destruction the Howard government permits and encourages, day by day, to river systems across this country. Witness the failure of the Howard government to bring to an end land clearing in Queensland—a state government initiative. Witness the failure of the federal government to do anything about the disgrace of the Cubbie Station. Witness the failure of the minister and the Prime Minister to ever use—glory forsaken—the corporations power of the Constitution, which gives the government the power to stop all these destructive operations, even if compensation is involved. That power will not be used because the government is not of a mind to tackle the mighty and the powerful when it comes to the extractive industries, and the environment continues to suffer.

The Greens have devised a simple program for putting time lines into the urgent need for a return of water to the river. The Greens program falls far short of that recommended by the scientists in the suppressed February 2002 report labelled, `Independent report of the expert reference panel on environmental flows and water quality requirements for the River Murray system' which said that you will only get a higher probability of having a healthy working river Murray system if you return 4,000 gigalitres. The minister cannot even give us the date for returning a 10th of that—something that is not going to reverse the destruction of most of the river red gums, let alone the other species, or the Coorong, the internationally renowned wetlands at the end of the Murray system. As I have said in this place, I went there earlier this year and the local expert said, `Those curlews'—the shore feeding birds—`there were 40,000 in 1990 and today there are 2,000.' The responsibility for the destruction of that internationally recognised water bird and marine and riverine system lies, above all, with the Howard government. Inactivity is every bit as culpable as wrong activity when you have the power to stop the wrong that is being done to these river systems. We bring in a simple amendment which says, `Let's take the government's projected return of water to the river and put dates to it' and people say, `That's a fine sentiment, but we cannot vote for that.'

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Brown's) be agreed to.