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Tuesday, 9 November 1976
Page: 2484

Mr HODGES (Petrie) -The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) is well able to defend himself. But, as I have the call, I believe I should express my strong resentment at some of the statements that were made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren). To castigate the Minister, as he has done in relation to sewerage programs, is most unfair. I have discussed the sewerage program with the Minister. There is no denying that the amount allocated in this area has dropped from $ 130m last financial year to about $S0m this financial year. But the Labor Government, of course, always spent money that it did not have- and plenty of it.

The Government recognises that there are many areas of need. Indeed, the Government has had to show restraint in an endeavour to restore economic stability to Australia. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition talked about taxation concessions to the mining companies. I can assure him that the taxation concessions that are permitted are allowed for a specific purpose, that is, to provide more employment in this nation. If the Opposition likes to tell the nation that it is not interested in reducing the rate of unemployment, I am sure that it will sink even further than the depths to which it sank in December 1975.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also spoke in a derogatory way about the Queensland Government. Let me come to the defence of the Queensland Government in relation to the establishment of national parks and wildlife reserves. I have no doubt that the honourable member is well intentioned. He indulged in spending moneys that he did not have, and that the Government of the day, of which he was a Minister, did not have. He came forward, as did the former Government, with a multitude of grandiose schemes that were pursued with great vigour to the economic detriment of this nation. I think that he has missed the point because the Minister, in his second reading speech, made specific mention of the fact that it was an overriding objective of the Government this year to return economic stability to this nation. There lies the Government's strategy in restraint in spending in this area.

This Bill amends the States Grants (Nature Conservation) Act 1974 and should be welcomed by all State governments. In particular it should be welcomed by Ministers, responsible for the acquisition of land for national parks, from the point of view of their responsibility for the control and management of these national parks under their national parks and wildlife services. The principal amendment is contained in clause 2 (b) of the Bill. In essence it provides that, in addition to land acquisition, the Commonwealth can agree with a State on programs of management and the provision of facilities in parks and reserves in connection with nature conservation. This is a major breakthrough for the States in the area of nature conservation. It gives them the flexibility that we so often hear them claim that they require. If a State decides that it has adequate tracts of land set aside for nature conservation purposes, it can select its priority by saying to the Commonwealth that it wishes to apportion its share of the Commonwealth funds to the management and control of those parks. It is one thing to acquire the land; it is another to be able to provide adequate rangers and supervision to ensure that those parks are not lost to vandals and to people who would plunder the flora and fauna therein.

It was interesting to note in the Second Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation into

Trafficking of Fauna in Australia which was recently completed and tabled in this House by myself that the view was expressed on numerous occasions by senior officers of the national parks and wildlife services in the States that, whilst this acquisition was essential, they were having difficulty in providing adequate funds for management and control. Of course, these recurring costs are not inconsiderable and are rising each year. In the case of, I think, South Australia large tracts of land had been set aside for national park purposes. The officers in that State were concerned for the safety and the running of these parks in relation, in particular, to bush fires and the fact that there were unscrupulous people who were prepared to go into those parks, destroy them and plunder the flora and fauna.

This Bill gives the State governments the right to be able to set their priorities. If one looks at the State government budgets one sees that Ministers go before their own Cabinets and find, when it comes to consideration of the amount they have submitted in the preliminary stage, that invariably the amount is reduced. So it will be of great benefit to the States to be able to exercise the flexibility that the amendment to this Act provides. I want to make it clear to the House that although this Act came into force in December 1974 the States of course had been pursuing active programs of acquisition of land and establishment of national parks. I do not want anyone to gain the impression that it was the Commonwealth which initiated these programs. In other words, the States have done a commendable job in this area.

I want to offer praise also to the dedication of the officers of the national parks and wildlife services that I have met in the various States as a result of my association first as a member and then as Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. This Act was enacted in 1974 following the report of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation which reported in October 1972. Incidentally, that Committee was set up under a LiberalCountry Party Government. I think that some priase ought to be given to the previous LiberalCountry Party Government for its foresight in setting up that Committee on Wildlife Conservation which was established in May 1970 and reported 2Vi years later.

The recommendations in its report contained a suggestion that a national policy should be established to acquire land for national parks and reserves to preserve flora and fauna in their natural state. It was also recommended that assistance be given to the States by way of section 96 grants to enable the States to acquire areas of land. An amount of $3.3m has been provided in this year's Budget for this purpose. The Minister made particular reference to an amount of $75,000 to be made available to the Tasmanian Government to establish a south-west national park. I want to make it quite clear that this Government is committed to a program of protection of our environment. I want to refute some of the misleading statements that were made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. In my opinion, his criticisms were in large part unwarranted. This Government is genuine in its approach towards the protection of our natural environment and towards the uplifting of our built or social environment.

The Government has matched its words with actions and the appropriation of moneys in a time of national restraint. It recognises the needs for, and the Minister has stated and restated that the Government will uphold the principles of, the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. The Australian Heritage Commission, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the National Parks and Wildlife Service have been provided with moneys by this Government and appointments have been made to these bodies. These bodies enjoy an important place in the operation of this Government and, more particularly, in the Ministry of Environment, Housing and Community Development.

I assure the Minister that I for one am most appreciative of the service and the attention he has given to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. Through him, I also offer my appreciation to his staff who have been most attentive and helpful to the needs of the Committee. I feel I should inform the House of the pursuance of a vigorous program by the Committee to which I have just referred. There are 2 sub-committee inquiries currently being conducted- one into off-road vehicles and another into the Avers Rock and Mount Olga areas. There is also a full Committee inquiry dealing with the urban environment.

I want to dispel the thoughts of the pessimists, particularly those on the Opposition benches, and to assure Australians that this Government is deeply committed to the preservation of the environment and the conservation of Australia's flora and fauna. In particular, I commend to the House and the nation the leaflets that have just been produced by the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development.

These leaflets, which are on Australian endangered species, have been produced by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They are the first of a series. They are colourful, informative and educational. I hope that the production of these leaflets continues. They should be placed in libraries and schools right throughout this nation. I hope that they will be reproduced eventually in a booklet form. The Department is to be highly commended for the production of that series of leaflets.

I turn to the report on trafficking in fauna in Australia to which I referred earlier in my speech. I refer the House in particular to recommendations (x) to (xiv) inclusive. Recommendations (x) to (xiii) deal with habitat preservation and research. Recommendation (x) deals with the habitat of rare and endangered fauna and with requiring environmental impact statements on proposed Commonwealth Government financed or controlled development. Recommendation (xi) deals with the Commonwealth taking account- this is what this piece of legislation is all about- of the financial capacity of the States to promote a program of land purchases and other measures for fauna conservation. The words 'and other measures for fauna conservation' are what the principal amendments to this Act are all about.

The next recommendation in this report deals with the promotion of a large scale, intensive education program to encourage land holders to establish or retain wilderness areas on their properties. Many of the larger graziers, farmers and land holders in this country are now observing the very thing that is outlined in this recommendation of this report. Recommendation (xiii) deals with the biological resources survey which is involved in the obtaining of data. So little is known of some of the natural species in this country. We have paid so little attention to this matter over the years that it is often difficult to ascertain whether a particular species is rare and endangered or common. Therefore extra assistance and encouragement has to be given to the biological resources survey to ensure that we do know what populations are available in this country.

Finally, I refer to the recommendation under the heading 'Wildlife Services' that the Commonwealth Government should take account of the financial capacity of the States to expand their wildlife services. This, of course, is being attended to in this legislation. The 2 bodies concerned insofar as this report on trafficking in fauna in Australia is concerned- the Department of Environment, Housing and Community

Development and the Bureau of Customs- have shown a deep interest in the report and I am hopeful of some of the recommendations therein being implemented in the near future.

Finally, I refer to the various areas of land contained in this continent. I believe that it would be an interesting survey if we were to go into those areas that have been completely cleared for farming and grazing purposes and to compare them with the areas that have been despoiled through mining operations. I venture to say that if we were able to count up the countless thousands of hectares that have been cleared for farming- that is, the complete destruction of the natural environment- and to add to that the countless thousands of hectares of partly cleared land that is used for grazing purposes and were to compare that land with the area that has been despoiled by the mining companies we would all be in for a shock. It is true that there are certain areas that were mined in the past and left in an appalling state, but the fact of the matter is that, with the stringent conditions that are placed today on, comparatively speaking, a very minute area of the surface of this continent insofar as the operations of the mining companies are concerned, we are finding in most instances that the rehabilitation and the restoration of the areas mined is of a particularly high standard. The mining companies are required to contour the land, to plant a surface crop- a covering cropand then to go in and plant native trees that are found in the area.

I had the experience recently of visiting the Utah company's operations in central Queensland. There is no doubt that a tremendous amount of money is being spent and that a conscious effort is being made on the part of the company to ensure that the land that it leaves after the open cut mining is completed is left in a first class condition. So I will be extremely interrested in finding out whether those figures are available. Farm land is virtually lost forever to our flora and fauna. When one looks at the lack of criticism so far as the farmers and graziers are concerned and compare it with the mass of criticism that flows to the miners one must surely question the motives of some of the environmentalists and conservationists.

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