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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4267

Senator COULTER —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. Does the minister accept as fact the claim made by many eminent biologists, such as emeritus Professor Charles Birch and eminent economists with the World Bank such as Professor Herman Daly, that 40 per cent of all photosynthetic activity—that is, the energy on which all life depends—is now being used either directly or indirectly by human beings? If not, what figure does the minister accept and what is the basis of his figure? How does he reconcile this large fraction being used by one species with the continual push by government for more growth, growth, growth, both of population and in per capita consumption? Does not the fundamental incompatibility between the inevitable constraints of biology and the basis of most government policy mean that it is time for government to re-emphasise its commitment to sustainability and to make this the basis on which it derives its economic and all other policies?

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Coulter had the courtesy to let Mrs Kelly and me know that he was going to ask this question. However, while we respect the eminence of the gentlemen Senator Coulter refers to and we certainly recognise the fundamental role of photosynthesis in supporting life on this planet, we are certainly in no position to accept or refute the figures that Senator Coulter quotes about human and photosynthetic activity. In fact, Senator Coulter may well have asked that question asked by all the readers of The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, to which the answer, as many honourable senators will know, is 42.

  After hearing the question and giving it some further reflection this afternoon, it seems to me the answer could be that we might ask Senator Coulter and honourable senators opposite to help out with this problem by not breathing for the next week. I suspect it would certainly help the government with the numbers in the Senate on a few issues.

  Of course, the government's sustainable ecological policies have been announced already. This government has a long history of supporting and promoting ecologically sustainable development, and that will continue. However, in view of Senator Coulter's interest in this particular question and his quoting of scientific percentages and overseas experts, Mrs Kelly and I indicate that we will seek further information and report back to the chamber. While we wait for that information we will see whether anybody on the other side stops breathing.