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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2482

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! There is no substance in the point of order. This is a free ranging debate. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will probably come to his point and explain the connection.

Mr UREN - Might I give a lesson on environmental matters to the young Minister who has been in the Parliament 5 minutes yet seems to know everything? The fact is that the first principle in environmental matters is that everything is connected to everything else. Everything has to go somewhere. If the Minister does not understand the problem of the sewerage which has polluted our creeks, our rivers, our bays and our oceans it is about time that he started to get some education and understanding of the situation from the bureaucrats who sit behind him.

Honourable members should all be aware that liquid wastes, both human and industrial, are the major pollutants of our waterways, harbours and oceans. The Labor Government recognised this and took firm action to overcome this problem under the national sewerage program and associated works. We did not want to see Port Phillip Bay, the Georges River and the Parramatta River in Sydney and the Yarra River become turbid morasses, nor did we want to see our beaches become the final receptacle for tons of untreated human effluent. During our 3 years in office we made available to the States $259m through grants and loans to help overcome these problems. Of this amount 30 per cent was made available by way of non-repayable grants. Last financial year alone we made available $1 13m under this program. This Government has cut this amount back this year to $50m. If we look at the whole question of inflation again we see that that amount of $1 13m would have been $ 130m this year in money terms yet the Government has cut back this allocation to $S0m. As I said earlier, this whole matter is interconnected.

We had a broad view of the environment. We knew that to protect the environment, related and complementary programs were needed. All our urban and regional development programs complemented our environmental programs. The land commission program is an excellent example of this. While the object of that program was to provide residential land for young people at a price they could afford, it had other important elements. It could be used to ease the strain on existing infrastructure services and to improve the urban environment, both built and natural. The Labor Government, in co-operation with the State governments, used funds from this program to purchase open space in developing areas. Large areas of the Mornington Peninsula were acquired by this process. It was our intention to use this program to set aside large areas of the Dandenongs in Victoria and the Blue Mountains escarpment in New South Wales for the recreational and environmental purposes of our urban dwellers. Labor's initiatives have been destroyed by this Government. Everyone should demand to know what this Government's intentions are. Working in co-operation with the State governments, does it intend to protect the Dandenongs and the Blue Mountains escarpment from encroachment by developers? Does it intend to let our waterways die? Does it intend to degrade our living standards?

The duplicity of this Government's conduct of a public relations exercise, emphasising its commitment to the environment is further shown by this Bill. The nature of the amendment to the Bill is such that if a government were genuine in its intentions it could do a great deal. From a technical point of view, the amendments which allow the Australian Government's role in nature conservation to extend from mere land acquisition assistance to the States to co-operation in management activities should be supported. As the Minister said, the acquisition of the land in itself is only a step towards creating secure areas where flora and fauna can be protected and preserved. It is equally important that the management of the areas set aside for this protection and preservation should be supported by federal legislation. If this Government had a genuine commitment to the environment, this amendment would be commendable. But the Government, by introducing this amendment, is paying only lip service to the protection of the environment.

The Minister, in his second reading speech, said that his Government and the Victorian Government were co-operating in a program of acquiring land at Yellingbo on the eastern side of the Dandenongs to secure the habitat of the helmeted honey eater, one of the emblems of Victoria. I point out that this program was commenced under the Labor Government. This Government cannot claim the credit for protecting this endangered species. While I am pleased to see that this Government is prepared to continue our initiative on this project, the people of Australia will continue to question the Government's commitment to the leadbeater's possum, another Victorian State emblem and another endangered species threatened by the encroachment of developers. This species of possum, the only marsupial indigenous to Victoria, is now restricted to the Montane Ash forests in the East Gippsland district. Their continued survival is threatened directly by habitat destruction brought about by the Gippsland Paper Pulp Company's concessions in the central highlands. If the Australian Government and the Victorian Government want to protect this animal and retain the unique Montane Ash habitat, both governments must take immediate action to preserve large tracts in national parks and other reserves which exclude the integrated forestry industry and its clear cutting and short rotation management practices. To survive, the lead.beater's possum needs a minimum of 7000 hectares of Montane Ash forest. They need trees at least 100 years old- trees that have hollowed with time. The proposals to clear fell Montane Ash forests on a 60 year rotation basis will lead to the extinction of this possum. This Bill gives the Government the power in co-operation with the Victorian Government to take positive steps to protect this habitat. The Government should show its commitment by opening discussions immediately with the Victorian Government to ensure that a national park is declared which will guarantee the survival of the leadbeater's possum.

Last week the Prime Minister, (Mr Malcolm Fraser) released a series of endangered species leaflets. I question the Government's intentions. We should ask what positive action this Government has taken to protect those species. I ask the Minister now: What action has his Government taken? If the Government were genuine in its desire to protect these species, it would have commenced discussions already with the State governments concerned. I doubt whether it has done so. It was drawn to my attention recently that one of the last natural habitats of the ground parrot, one of these endangered species, in the Cooloola National Park in Queensland had been severely damaged. This occurred through the action of the Queensland Government in allowing its Forestry Department to burn off most of the park area.

This Government, by the amendment proposed in this Bill, now has the power to set up co-operative management proposals for State national parks. It should do this immediately in an effort to stop ignorant and heartless decisions being taken by government authorities and profit seekers throughout Australia. The latter are particularly inherent in those 2 conservative States of Queensland and Western Australia. I ask the Minister to open up discussion on this matter and institute educational programs to try to do something not only in those 2 States I have just mentioned but in other States as well. When the Government shows it is prepared to take real action to protect the environment and when it shows a genuine concern, it may be possible to reach a bipartisan approach. When it shows that it is prepared to implement the recommendations of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate, it will get support from this House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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