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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2299

Mr HAMER (Isaacs) - During the debate on the estimates, for the Parliament I pointed out that there .are many aspects of our national affairs that cannot usefully be dealt with by the confrontation procedure of a debate. They need to be inquired into, with witnesses and documents, rather than debated. In the past this chamber has ignored many such subjects, hoping that if it takes absolutely no notice of them, they will go away. But many of these problems will not go away so easily, and the environment is probably the most pressing of them. Australia is one of the few countries in the world with the opportunity to control pollution and retain its natural beauties, but that chance will not last much longer. In the control of pollution, our broad principle must be to impose on both industry and consumers the full cost of the pollution they create. But this will be complex and expensive, and we must realise that tackling the simple problems first is not necessarily the best long term solution and that hasty changes can have unacceptable long term effects. In short, we must keep cool and think first and, above all, we must have sound information on which to base decisions.

Effective pollution control will inevitably have substantial economic effects, because of the inevitable diversion of resources which will be entailed. We need a detailed analysis of the problems of pollution control in terms of. costs and benefits. There is, admittedly, no completely scientific and objective means of making such an analysis, but these difficulties must not prevent us from reaching decisions about the benefits of cleaner air and water, less noise and a pleasant countryside, compared with the benefits which might result in meeting claims on resources in such fields as housing, health and education.

Despite the special responsibilities of the States, the control of the environment is a national problem and should be concidered by the national Parliament. This is not only because the problem is in large measure an economic one, but also because environmental problems recognise no State boundaries. But although the responsibility for considering this problem rests with this Parliament, it would be futile to have a debate until a detailed inquiry into the whole problem has been held, and the results made available to members. I do not believe that this is an appropriate subject for a select committee of this House, for we lack the numbers and the expertise. 1 favour the solution adopted in Britain, of having a standing royal commission on the environment. We urgently need such a body here, for neither this House, nor the Department of the Environment, nor the State Parliaments, nor any voluntary bodies are capable of carrying out this important and urgent investigation. It is a most complex problem, part economic and part scientific, and the royal commission members will have to be skilled in one or preferably both of these fields.

I do not think it would be appropriate for the chairman of such a commission to be a judge, quite apart from the improbability of a judge being available to head a standing royal commission. As a nation we seem to have an extraordinary confidence in the ability of judges to make wise decisions on complex issues in which they have no expertise. Perhaps our respect stems from the fact that our early forebears had a particularly close acquaintance with the law. I hope that the Minister for the Environment (Mr Howson) will set up such a standing royal commission on the environment as a matter of urgency.

The other problem of our environment on which we are lamentably ill-informed, is in the need for outdoor recreation space. Our lack of investigation is so complete that some city planners are using British findings, although it would be difficult to find two countries more dissimilar than Britain and Australia in climate and population densities. Except in the Territories this is, of course, a State government problem. But this requirement is a national one, and this chamber could - and should - give a lead as it has with wild life conservation. An Australia-wide systematic survey of the available recreational open space has never been made, nor have reliable estimates ever been attempted of the nature and scope of future demands. There is not even a common nomenclature between the States - different States mean different things by the same words.

We need many types of recreation areas or parks. We need large national parks - large enough to preserve land and water and plant and animal life characteristic of the country, as well as unspoiled examples of its physical features and natural phenomena. We need smaller regional parks, and district parks, and local parks. But, I repeat, Mr Chairman, no systematic analysis of our requirements has ever been made. We need an Australian investigation of Australian conditions, and based on the recreation patterns of Australians. Although this is primarily a responsibility to the States, I do not think it is conceivable that the States will ever get together to carry out the necessary investigation on a national scale.

I therefore suggest that it would be an admirable subject for a select committee of this House. I am aware that there are severe limits on how many select committees this House can provide - in fact I think at present there is probably one too many. But two of these committees are coming to the end of their work and I should like to see them replaced by a select committee on national outdoor recreational requirements. I commend this proposal, together with the other one on the establishment of a standing royal commission on the environment. I commend them to the Minister. His portfolio, above all others, is one in which information on which to base policies is lacking, and I believe that the collection of this information, through public hearings by committees of investigation, and the introduction of firm and far sighted policies, in which the Federal Government must give the lead, are vital to the future of Australia and its people.

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