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Tuesday, 18 September 1973
Page: 1125

Mr WILSON (STURT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. In order to obviate the need for community action groups to fight rearguard actions to reverse land use decisions which were in their view wrong, how does the Minister propose to overcome the real problem, as identified by the head of his Department, of changing the way in which such decisions are made. How many environmental impact studies have been initiated by him or his Department? How many have been completed? How many of the completed studies have changed the decisions that would have been made but for the results of the studies? Is the Minister making progress in achieving an increased governmental concern in matters of the environment, or has his only progress been to the extent suggested by Harry Miller, that is, that of a cannibal learning to use a knife and fork?

Dr CASS (MARIBYRNONG, VICTORIA) (Minister for the Environment and Conservation) - As to the first part of the question, which in essence concerned land use, the honourable member knows quite well that that is not the Australian Government's responsibility. Unfortunately it is the prime responsibility of State and local government authorities. So, short of the States handing over the power to the Australian Government, there is very little we can do. We can influence only those projects that are the direct responsibility of the Government because it has commissioned them or those projects that are being undertaken by State authorities with finance provided by the Government. In the latter case we can in some ways influence whether or how a project should be undertaken.

I cannot give the honourable member specific answers to most of the other matters raised in the question he has asked. Quite frankly, I do not have the information at my fingertips. I will obtain a reply to them. I concede the point that at this stage the progress made has not been very dramatic. Most of the impact statements which have been ' prepared to date have been in the nature of rearguard actions, if you like. They have been in relation to projects commissioned by the previous Government. In the main the decisions taken in regard to them were finalised before the present Government came to power. But I am not crying about that.

Mr Lynch - What about making an environmental impact statement to the House? We have not had one yet in the House.

Dr CASS - I am sorry, but I do not quite know what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is getting at. Any environmental impact statement which is prepared is available to those who choose to read it. As far as I am aware, copies of the environmental impact statement on, for instance, the tower on Black Mountain have been available to members of the Parliament, as they have been available to members of the public. Many people have taken the opportunity to read it and to criticise it. It certainly had many defects; I am not denying that. We are learning the technique in the process of calling for these impact statements. As they are prepared and made available to the community, so they will be criticised and so we will learn from our mistakes, we will learn about the shortcomings and, we hope, we will evolve a reasonable technique.

I might add that nowhere in the world are people yet completely satisfied with the environmental impact statement technique. It is a technique that is still evolving. Whilst conceding our shortcomings here, I am not suggesting that we are necessarily a long way behind the rest of the world. It is a new concept. Developing this technique will not be up to this Government alone; it will depend largely on the community's perception of environmental needs. When the community is more stirred up and more aware of the conflict between conservation and development - the resolving of that conflict is not solely the responsibility of any government; it is the general ethos in the community that needs to be changed. When the community is aware of this, environmental impact statements will rectify more readily what many of us perceive to be errors in decision making in the country, not limited solely to the Government.

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