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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2479

Mr UREN (Reid) -If we believed that the Fraser Government had a genuine commitment to the protection of the environment the Labor Party would applaud the amendment proposed by this Bill. The amendment to the States Grants (Nature Conservation) Act 1974 contained in this Bill while simple could in the hands of a committed government ensure the protection of many of our endangered species and our threatened wilderness areas and provide much needed recreational and national parks. While the Government amends this Act in what could be a meaningful way it has, by its actions in the related areas that measure a government's commitment to the environment, shown a lack of awareness. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) went to great pains in his second reading speech to demonstrate his Government's commitment to the environment. I dispute this.

The Australian environment is under attack. It is under attack because of this Government's desire for uncontrolled growth- growth in migration, growth in mining, growth in woodchip and wood pulping, and growth in the lack of awareness of people who little understand the delicate nature and fabric of our environment. The installation of the Fraser Government last November meant a return to growth for growth's sake and the bulldozer mentality which highlighted the 23 years of the previous conservative governments. It meant a return to the philosophy which led the Hope Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate in its report to the Whitlam Labor Government to say:

The Australian Government has inherited a National Estate which has been downgraded, disregarded and neglected. All previous priorities accepted at various levels of government and authority have been directed by a concept that uncontrolled development, economic growth, and 'progress', and the encouragement of private as against pub- he interest in land use, use of waters, and indeed in every part of the National Estate was paramount.

This report confirmed that the Whitlam Labor Government was the first government to make a genuine commitment to the charting of the National Estate and conserving our environment for the Australians of the future. We acted on these recommendations. We were not a government with a bulldozer mentality. Our 1972 election policy proved this, as did our actions in government. We had a mandate to protect the environment. We set out to do that. We established the Hope Committee. We enacted complementary and supplementary pieces of legislation and we appropriated funds all to protect the environment.

The highlight of our environmental legislation was the Australian Heritage Commission Act. This Act embodied the major recommendations of the Hope Committee report. It supplemented the working of other Acts of the Labor Government including the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, the Great Barrier

Reef Marine Park Act and the States Grants (Nature Conservation) Act. All of these Acts complemented the Urban and Regional Development (Financial Assistance) Act which set out the broad framework into which many of the Labor Government's programs fitted. All of these legislative commitments were supported by action- action in appropriating funds for projects worthy of our environmental goals.

Unlike this Government we gave a high priority to the matters that affect the environment. Despite the claims of this Government to the contrary, nobody believes that it is genuinely committed to the protection of the environment. This Government asked us all to believe that it is giving the environment a high priority because it has made appointments to the Australian Heritage Commission, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Government may have made appointments, but concerned Australians are not comforted by this. They know that those bodies can function only in an administrative sense. They know that the Government has provided no funds or taken no action to allow these bodies to function properly. The people know that no new projects are being funded under the National Estate program. They know that only projects commenced under Labor and not completed are being funded. The people now know that no action has been taken to proclaim Kakadu and Gudgenby as national parks. The people know that no action has been taken to protect the marine environment. The people know that this Government is not committed to the protection of the environment. The Government has taken no action to introduce the Environment Protection (Marine) Bill drawn up by the Labor Government. This should be done as a matter of urgency.

The Australian Government controls all seas and submerged lands surrounding Australia. It has a duty to protect them from pollution and exploitation, yet it refuses to take positive action. This is just one more example of its lack of environmental commitment. It is further seen in the Government's stated intention to give the States the administration of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) legislation, its lack of commitment to the built environment, its refusal to fund nature conservation organisations on a non-matching grants basis if funded at all and its abolition of the public environment awareness program. The Government's lack of commitment to the environment protection legislation has been highlighted in several ways. The first was the unilateral announcement by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) of the approval for Concorde flights to and from Australia. Not only was this decision a clear breach of the legislation, but also it shows a complete disregard that powerful elements of the current Government have for environmental considerations.

The same elements in the Government have been trying to exempt all the mining and woodchip proposals from the operation of the legislation. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is continuing his efforts to have woodchip proposals exempted from the operations of the environment protection legislation. The Harris-Daishowa company's exemption for extension of their export licence and operations at Eden is just one example. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) ignored the requirements of this legislation when he decided to proceed with an enlarged immigration program for this financial year. Another and more important example is the statement of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development immediately after the Fox report became public that the green light had been given for uranium mining to take place in this country. As the Minister responsible he should have been more concerned. The Minister based his statement on only the first 2 recommendations of the report- he ignored the other 14 recommendations. His colleague, the Minister for Transport, in his capacity as Acting Minister for National Resources, did exactly the same thing only last Thursday when he stated that uranium mining could now proceed. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his weekly broadcast on Sunday 7 November said:

As to the uranium question, there has already been many opportunities for all interested groups within the community to put their views . . .

But the best measure of the Government's commitment is the future of the environment protection legislation. The Minister has stated in this House that the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) legislation is under review. He said that this Government feels that legislation of this nature is more properly a role for State governments. It is not considered an appropriate role for a Federal government. In saying this, the Government is ignoring the fact that no State government in Australia has adequate legislation designed to protect the environment. Honourable members opposite ignore the fact that the

State governments, unlike the Federal Government, have a basic conflict in regard to the protection of the environment. Of course, I am referring here to the conflict which the States, particularly the less populous States, have in regard to development and the protection of the environment.

The position becomes obvious that this conflict is of the utmost importance when we look at the situation in Queensland and Western Australia. In Queensland there are only 6 people employed in the Co-ordinator General's Department with the responsibility under the State administrative arrangements to look at environmental questions arising from the development proposal. These people never get the chance to comment upon mining proposals because the Queensland Government feels that the environmental issues concerned can be looked after properly in Mining Warden's Courts. Officials of this court are not qualified to consider environmental matters. The situation is no different in Western Australia. In reality, none of the States are much better. The expertise of multi-disciplinary teams available to the Federal Government puts it in a much better situation than the States to conduct an impartial inquiry into the protection of the environment. I do not want to be elitist about this issue. I am just dealing with the facts of the issue which are that the Federal Government is better equipped and will look at the position in a much more impartial way. In addition, the Australian Government does not face the basic conflict that the' State governments face on the issues of development as opposed to the protection of the environment. The Federal Government can take a more unbiased view than the States on this matter.

These are national questions. All Australians are affected by the decisions of this nature made in any of the Australian States. That the national government controls mineral export licensing through trade powers under the Constitution gives recognition of this pre-eminent national interest. Nobody should deny that. Honourable members opposite should not wash their hands of that responsibility. This function cannot be transferred. The Australian Government is the only government that can constitutionally prohibit exports. Apart from projects funded by federal funds or needing Federal Government approval, environmental impact statements can be sought only when application is made to obtain a licence to export prohibited products. Are we going to give this power to the States? Are we going to wash our hands of our responsibility? We should ask ourselves: Are we going to give responsibility to men like Joh Belke-Petersen the Premier of Queensland or Charlie Court, the Premier of Western Australia? These are enormous powers. These men have no real feeling for environmental questions. They are of the same political background and same political colour as these men who sit opposite.

A further illustration of this Government's lack of commitment to the protection of the environment concerns the nature of their grants to conservation organisations. In the past these grants have been non-repayable and nonmatching. They were used for research and technical, administrative and information functions provided by various environmental action groups of this country. The Labor Government provided these grants in recognition of and support for the valuable work being done by the community action groups in defence of our environment. The Labor Government believed that the protection and improvement of the environment were issues which directly affected everyday life. We thought it appropriate and encouraging that so many voluntary groups were active. This action was considered appropriate by Labor because the Australian Government is prevented from acting on many aspects of the environment by constitutional limitations and by the reluctance and in some cases the refusal of our State counterparts to co-operate with us in these matters. I have mentioned 2 States in particularWestern Australia and Queenslandwhich have been very guilty in this regard. By making grants of this nature, the Labor Government sought to establish a permanent and growing network of action and information groups capable of influencing governmental and commercial impacts on the environment. We considered community participation in environmental decisions as essential. Broad based community participation in the fundamental decisions that affect all Australians is the basis of the Labor Party's philosophy.

However, this Government has seen fit to abolish payments for research and technical assistance altogether and to provide funds only for conservation organisations on a matching basis- $2 from the Australian Government for every $1 raised by the conservation organisations. The Government claims that it has done this after consideration of advice received from the Australian Heritage Commission. It may have considered the advice but it did not accept the Heritage Commission's recommendations. In fact, the Government's proposals on this matter are the complete opposite to the Heritage Commission 's recommendations. In total, the

Government has made available $391,500 to the various groups. This might appear generous but, in fact, it is less than the $450,000 appropriated last year. We have to bear in mind that we are dealing with at least a 12 per cent increase in costs this year due to inflation. Therefore, the organisations are in a much worse position than those figures reveal.

We regarded our grants as essential for public awareness and for gathering information and helping local groups to present informed opinions. These grants were intended to encourage community group action and not to control these conservation groups. We regarded the grants as pioneering grants or seed money given to help the growth of community concern and activity for the protection of our environment. We would not have introduced matching grants for many years to come. Even then, some would have been matching grants and some would have been given free of strings to certain conservation groups. In many cases, we would not have introduced matching grants. We would never have forced environmental centres to close as this Government will force the environmental centres of certain areas to close. We must realise that matching grants favour the establishment. This Government is a great one for supporting establishments. The development of new groups will be limited by the matching grants approach. In effect, this provision prevents the emergence and development of new community movements.

On the one hand, this Government gives extremely generous taxation concessions to the mining companies, concessions never paralleled in the history of this nation. On the other hand they are freezing the opposition, the only people who can put the people's point of view and who make the real effort in regard to the exploitation undertaken by these mining companies. That is the action of this Government. It is a case of supporting the very wealthy but keeping help away from those people who we should really involve and encourage. The Government is not encouraging people's participation in this delicate area of our people 's environment. This is our environment. It is nobody else's. An area of particular concern to me is the lack of this Government's commitment to the protection and enhancement of the built environment. We have seen this Government break down the programs introduced by the Labor Government which were intended to improve the quality of life and enhance the environment in our urban centres. The 2 most obvious examples are the Government 's virtual destruction of the Area

Improvement Program and the decimation of the national sewerage program.

Mr Newman - What has that got to do with it?

Mr UREN -The Minister asks what the national sewerage program has to do with the matter. I wish that the Minister's officials in the corner would give him a little education on environmental questions. Of course the national sewerage program is important in this environmental question. I have said a lot in this Parliament in recent times about the Area Improvement Program and assistance to local government.

Mr Newman - Mr Deputy Speaker,I rise to order. I am beginning to feel sorry for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Isthe Minister raising a point of order?

Mr Newman - My point of order is that I thought we were addressing this debate to the States Grants (Nature Conservation) Amendment Bill and I ask what in Heaven's name a sewerage program has to do with this debate.

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