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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2303

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I rise to support the Budget estimates for the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. The establishment of the Ministry for the Environment really had its beginning during the last Senate election campaign when the then Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), made the Government's intentions plainly known during that campaign. He said:

We therefore have taken the decision to set up a Commonwealth Office of the Environment under the control of the Prime Minister's Department.

This office will be responsible for advising the Commonwealth and recommending to us action that should be taken to prevent or reduce pollution arising out of the activities of any Commonwealth Department or Authority.

We shall also approach the States to seek the formation of a National Advisory Council to advise the Commonwealth, and the States, on action to be taken in areas where co-ordination can properly be achieved.

We know that the ministry was established and commenced operations in June of this year. In my view, this ministry is a very important one. It will develop in importance as the years go by. My colleagues and I are very delighted that this ministry has been created.

Every inhabitant of Australia can perceive today the disturbing signs of pollution and defacement of our environment and the serious threats which endanger it. The environment is being impaired as a result of the uncontrolled and indiscriminate use of space and irrational exploita tion of resources. In many places the soil is being eroded. The water is unfit for many of its uses. The air is dangerously polluted. Landscapes are spoilt while fauna and flora are in decline. Waste products of all kinds are building up at an increasing rate and biological equilibria are destroyed.

It is essential firstly, that rational use and management of the environment must have high priority in national government policy and must be adequately financed. Clear ministerial responsibility must be established for the planning and use of land and other natural resources and the conservation of nature. Secondly, policies should be strengthened or introduced to control pollution of air, water and soil, and Australia-wide agreed standards for those purposes should be devised as soon as possible. Thirdly, legislation and regulations introduced to safeguard the environment and its quality should be harmonised to the extent necessary at the Australian level.

Australians are only just beginning to observe the effects of pollution, and the Federal Government and the State governments are just beginning to give prominence to the subject by creating active ministries to control the environment and to eliminate the problems associated with air, water and soil pollution. I am pleased to see that most States have set up ministries of the environment and that they are co-operating with the Federal Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson). This will be to the benefit of all concerned, particularly the nation. Watching television tonight, I was pleased to note that the New South Wales Government has set up at Lidcombe an environmental control office with a staff of 36. This is a step in the right direction. I have no doubt that other States will be taking steps along these lines.

For some years past overseas countries have been active with preventive measures against pollution. When I was overseas this year with a Commonwealth parliamentary delegation I had the pleasure, along with colleagues, of visiting the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. We were able to see at first hand the prominence that European countries give to this very important subject of the environment. At its previous meeting the Council had spent 4 days discussing ways and means of assisting to improve the environment and in overcoming the pollution problem. When we arrived in England our party was taken by the parliamentarians of that nation to the environment station a few miles out of London. We saw the great anti-pollution station that has been established there. We were able to witness at first hand the methods which were being adopted to overcome sewerage pollution, air pollution, water pollution and pollution caused by disposal of waste. We saw fish in tanks of polluted water and noted at what stage of pollution the fish were affected. The man in charge of the station told us that research had progressed to such an extent that fish were coming back into the Thames because the disposal of effluent into that famous river had been prevented. At this pollution station we also saw the latest methods being used in Great Britain for the breaking up of oil slicks. The Government has co-operated with the oil companies, as we in this country will have to do, and they have devised ways and means of breaking up oil slicks on the sea. This matter is of great interest to this country because from time to time various tankers discharge oil along our coastline.

I was interested to see that the first meeting of State Ministers for the enviroment and the Federal Minister, who is at the table, was held in Canberra on 17th September. I note that they rejected the concept of completely uniform Australiawide laws on pollution. They decided only that there is a continuing need to combat pollution and that some uniformity of approach was desirable. The Ministers agreed to meet again, probably in Perth in November, for further discussions. They exchanged information on existing legislation and gave their views on environmental problems. There was no discussion on the report of the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution or on the report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution, or consideration of the suggestion of the Water Pollution Committee that a national water committee be established as a matter of urgency. It is interesting to note that there is co-operation between the Federal Government and the State governments. This is the only way in which we will get anywhere with environmental control in Australia.

It has also been very pleasing to note that the National Industry Council on Environment Quality Control has met in Canberra. It is dealing with the protection and restoration of environmental quality and industry's role in this immense task. It says that these are not issues which we can or shoud consider in any narrow, selfish or sectarian fashion. The Council will meet in Canberra regularly. It is also very interesting to note the great industries which are represented on the Council. They include the Australian Chemical Industry Council, the Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, the Australian Mining Industry Council, the Metal Trades Industry Association, the National Packaging Association of Australia, the Petroleum Industry Environment Conservation Committee, and the Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation of Australia. These organisations are taking a very active interest in dealing with this problem which comes under the control of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. Along with my colleagues, I very strongly support this Ministry which has been established and also the amounts which have been appropriated for it in the Budget.

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