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Tuesday, 18 June 1996
Page: 1677

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Minister, most Australians are well aware of the benefits to Australia in general terms of investment in this country but could you explain the vital importance of major capital investment in Australia's natural heritage? Have you noticed any growing support for the government's proposals in this area?

Senator HILL —I will deal with the second part of the question first. It is in fact pleasing to see more organisations coming out in support of the government's plan. That is not surprising because of the obvious merit. No doubt all honourable senators, in reading last weekend's Weekend Australian , would have noticed that the world's largest coastal environment group, the Surfrider Foundation, `demanded yesterday that Telstra be sold for the sake of the nation's environment'.

Very interestingly, the announcement was made by Mr Brad Farmer, head of the Australian arm of Surfrider and a former adviser to the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Cheryl Kernot. He said:

For 18 years they (the Democrats) have been asking exactly, virtually to a T, what the Liberal Government is offering, and to decline it on these grounds is less than honest, I think.

That is true because for so long the Democrats and the Greens have called for a greater investment in the natural heritage of Australia, and now they have the opportunity to support it of course they intend to block it. It was also interesting to note that the Environment Management Industry Association of Australia came out in support of our natural heritage bill, to be introduced into the parliament tomorrow. Dr Cole of that organisation said:

Money, not good intentions and high sounding rhetoric, is what is required to protect and improve our environmental resource.

That says exactly what the situation is. The former government, the Labor Party, no doubt would have liked to have done more in this area as well because everyone recognises the need to re-invest in our natural environment.

I remind the Senate that over five million hectares of native vegetation were cleared within only 10 years between 1983 and 1993. I could remind the Senate also of those animals and birds that have become extinct, those mammals and plant species that are currently declining. I could talk about the state of our rivers, our seas, our coast. Everyone recognises that what is now necessary is a major capital investment.

This parliament has before it the opportunity to endorse the government's process and re-invest $1 billion in this program. Mr President, I remind you what will come out of that investment. Some $318 million over five years would be invested in a national vegetation initiative both to retard further clearing and to fund a very major revegetation program. About $32 million would be invested in a land and water resource audit. Some $163 million would be used for the Murray-Darling project; $85 million would be for the national river care initiative to pick up other rivers that are not covered by the Murray-Darling initiative; and $100 million would be for the coast and clean seas initiative.

Everyone accepts that the time has come for us to pause and recognise the situation, and to reinvest a large capital sum in the natural environment. In so many ways it has been overworked, in so many ways it has been damaged—partly out of ignorance—and it can be rectified only by a large capital injection of funds.

We have the process to do that; we have the way to do it. All we need is for the Labor Party and the other minority parties to come on board and to recognise that this is an opportunity too good to miss, and to join with us in making this very major investment in Australia's natural heritage.