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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2239

Mr KILLEN (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - I address a question to the Prime Minister. Does his Government acknowledge the fact that difficulties arise insofar as the Commonwealth Parliament possesses no general head of power to legislate with respect to the environment, save that power which may derive from the use of external affairs power? Is this circumstance acknowledged by the Government? Does this mean that the Commonwealth Parliament's power with respect to environmental issues remains persuasive only? Can the right honourable gentleman give an assurance that, if confronted with indifference to environmental issues by those authorities which have the power to deal with them, this Government will display resolution on the matter even to the point of being accused of centralism?

Mr McMAHON - I think it is probably true that there is no constitutional head of power that permits us to legislate with regard to pollution. Nonetheless the honourable gentleman will know that, as a matter of practical experience, when the expenditure of funds or effort is required and it is in a good cause it would be highly improbable that anyone would challenge the appropriation of funds by the Commonwealth Government for antipollution purposes. I can mention, as an example, what was done in the case of the crown-of-thorns starfish. There we took action. No-one complained. I believe that we obtained an eminently sensible report and one that I think has been accepted without very much complaint from the House. Similarly, too, we have at the moment an inquiry taking place. A former Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales is inquiring into the problems of the Great Barrier Reef. I do not anticipate that we will strike any trouble, but if we do we will make those decisions that we regard as being in the best interests of this country even though we might have no constitutional head of power relating to pollution.

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