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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5475

Senator CHAMARETTE (2.10 a.m.) —It is important at the outset to state that this Bill is integral to the overall approach to facilitating an ecologically sustainable agricultural industry in Australia. The Natural Resources Management (Financial Assistance) Bill, whilst undoubtedly a move in the right direction, has some shortcomings which require attention. The very definition of ecological sustainability is crucial in this regard, as Senator Bell has already mentioned.

  In the context of an agricultural system, the major determinants for ecological sustainability, according to Dr John Cameron and Jane Elix from the Australian Conservation Foundation, are dependent on the system generating its own nutrients; having a high degree of species diversity; having high comparative energy efficiency; not being dependent upon fossil fuel energy sources; having internal mechanisms for control of pests and weeds; and being resilient, meaning it can return to its original productivity after a major external shock or a period of stress. Whilst these criteria are not always able to be met they are, nonetheless, an ideal that we should work to achieve. Unfortunately, this approach is not accepted in some circles where a more short term, economically based approach is favoured.

  It is this difference in approach to ecologically sustainable development that points to the shortcoming in the drafting of the legislation. The Bill states that one of its objects is to facilitate natural resources management in Australia `consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development'. The phrase `ecologically sustainable development' is, however, not defined in the Bill and this could lead to either misunderstanding or manipulation by vested interests.

  In most other respects, the Natural Resources Management Bill appears to be a positive step towards better management of our natural resources. In particular, it is pleasing to see at last that a more integrated and holistic approach is being adopted in government policy. We cannot continue to follow the reductionist approach that has dominated government policy making to date, in which the interconnectedness of ecological systems has been neglected or ignored. This approach should be reflected in all government legislation that relates to the environment in which we live because, after all, the environment represents our own life support system.

  There is however a long way to go before we can truly claim to be on the path to sustainability. As Professor William Rees from the University of British Columbia in Canada stated in an article entitled `The Ecology of Sustainable Development':

Most discussion of sustainable development in the socio-political mainstream emphasises the need to sustain economic growth and assumes that we can `account for' the environment through greater efficiency of resource use, improved technology, better pollution control and wider use of environmental assessment. Such incrementalism may constitute a necessary first step but by itself would result in little more than a somewhat better dressed version of the growth-bound status quo, requiring a minimum of adjustment to either industry or individuals.

The evidence suggests, however, that we may be fast approaching absolute limits to material economic growth. We no longer have the luxury of `trading off' ecological damage for economic benefits if we hope to have a sustainable future. The maintenance of global ecological integrity necessarily becomes our highest priority and must be taken into account in every local and regional development decision.

Finally, from a personal perspective, it was invaluable for me to attend the Winning back the West conference in Fitzroy Crossing earlier this year. The conference initially examined the history of the pastoral industry in the Kimberleys and the devastating impact that that free ranging cattle grazing often had on the ecology of the region. We were then informed about the many initiatives in the area to minimise the impact of cattle grazing on the rivers and land. In the context of this Bill, it is important to note that the role of the local Landcare groups has been crucial in these developments.

  It was also interesting to note at this conference that the local Aboriginal population is also contributing to these efforts, and this collaboration is perhaps beginning to assist in developing some common sense of care for the land that we all share. The sentiments expressed by Pat Dodson, from the National Reconciliation Council, and local Aboriginal representatives, during a wonderful meeting on the banks of a dry river bed on Louisa Downs Station were both inspirational and consistent with this belief.

  The potential for different groups working together and having Aboriginal representation on the advisory committee is also exciting. As I said at the outset, I believe that this Bill, in establishing the National Landcare Advisory Committee and providing arrangements for financial assistance to the States for natural resources management projects, is a step in a positive direction. The Democrats amendments are further helpful additions because of the spelling out of ecologically sustainable development principles and improving experienced community representation on the advisory committee. I indicate my support for the Democrat amendments and for this Bill.