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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3011

Senator BROWN —I would like to add a word of welcome to Tasmania's new senator, Senator O'Brien. I ask the minister for the environment the following question. In the budget speech the Treasurer stated:

This budget provides an additional $158 million over four years for environmental related initiatives on top of the planned Natural Heritage Trust.

Treasury lists 12 programs costing $28.26 million for this financial year as part of that $158 million. However, minister, in your budget statement these same 12, including wilderness, World Heritage and anti-pollution measures in major cities, are listed as Natural Heritage Trust of Australia programs which depend on the sale of Telstra. Was the Treasurer's statement correct and yours wrong on budget night? Is the funding for all the programs which make up the $158 million referred to by the Treasurer additional to and in no way dependent on the sale of Telstra? (Time expired)

Senator HILL —I do not think there is any secret in this matter. I think I have answered similar questions before. We have not been able to bring forward all of the expenditure that we would have liked in the first year of our implementation of our Natural Heritage Trust principally because the opposition parties in this place say that they are not going to pass the funding base for that. Nevertheless, we have brought some of it forward because we remain optimistic. We trust that in the end the Labor Party, the Greens and the Australian Democrats will realise that this $1 billion investment in the Australian environment is very worthwhile and that it is wholly legitimate to sell part of one capital asset, a telecommunications company, and to re-invest part of that in another capital asset, our natural environment.

With regard to the balance of the environment budget, certainly there has had to be some savings—as there has across the range of portfolios—to meet the deficit reduction target that we undertook and which I said in answer to an earlier question today is, nevertheless, in the best interests of the Australian people. But that is a shared burden and we do not apologise for that. We inherited a deficit of nearly $10 billion and it was our responsibility to do something about it because, as Senator Brown might know, research will tell you that the Australian people want of us not only economic growth but also economic growth in an environmentally responsible way. In other words, they want us to create an economic situation in which we can achieve the economic goals that we would seek—in particular, job growth and rising living standards. On the other hand, they also want us to invest in the environment to ensure that that economic growth occurs in an environmentally responsible way.

We are seeking to meet those dual objectives and we will be greatly assisted in meeting those dual objectives if the opposition parties in this place would, firstly, pass our budget and, secondly, pass the bill that will enable us to sell one-third of Telstra and set up our natural heritage trust.

Senator BROWN —I ask a supplementary question. I am referring not to the programs predicated on the sale of Telstra, but those which are four-year programs and which the Treasurer cited. I ask you to confirm that these programs are not dependent on the sale of Telstra—namely, the Tasmanian water quality program and those for national vegetation, World Heritage areas management, air pollution in major cities, waste management awareness, a national system of reserves, endangered species, national feral animal control, national weeds strategy, national wetlands, funding for national landcare projects and Murray-Darling 2000.

Senator HILL —What I can tell you is that the following programs expired under Labor. We have been able to continue them, not without some difficulty, and they include ones that Senator Brown mentioned: national weeds strategy, we have put in $1.3 million; national wetlands program, $2.2 million; national reserve system, another million; national feral animal control, $2.9 million; national pollutant inventory, $1.4 million; Waterwatch, $800,000; national river health program, $500,000; corridors of green, $1 million; greenhouse research—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator HILL —There was no money put in your budget for greenhouse research and we have found $4 million for it! You should applaud it and Senator Brown should be applauding it as well.

Senator Brown —I asked specifically about 12 programs that are not mentioned.

The PRESIDENT —I think Senator Hill has sat down and that is the end of the question.