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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3296

Senator MARGETTS(4.24 p.m.) —By way of explanation, I think it is necessary to say that over time, and in very quick time, we are seeing that environmental legislation of many kinds—whether it be state or federal legislation or even local ordinances—is being overridden by the very fast march of competition policy. We see that competition policy has an overarching impact. When bodies, including Commonwealth bodies, are privatised, then much of what happens ends up in corporate law. The interests of the minor shareholders tend to override the interests of the community. It is hard to see any means by which public interest in any true sense of the word is actually being protected. In the past we had people going out from Australia—certainly from Western Australia—and saying, `We've got the world's best environmental legislation.' But if there is no way to enforce that environmental legislation, it is hardly worth the paper it is written on.

More and more the community are feeling that they ought to have some means of saying to government and government bodies—in this case we still have some government connection to the land in the federal airports—`If you've got these rules we should be able to require you to at least stick to them.' It seems that the environment tends to be given a short straw. Corporate laws can be enforced. As I say, the interests of minority shareholders can be enforced. Over time we will see Australian competition and consumer protection taking over regulatory functions more and more, so public interest will very much get a back seat—if any seat at all. It seems to me that, if we do not start providing this minimal protection, the environment and other human values will not get a guernsey at all.

If this is the wrong way to put this, I look forward to the future and to perhaps being able to work with the opposition and the government to see how this might be placed in legislation so that this protection is given and that eventually we see that such things as the environment are not just things that can be overridden by every other law. If consumer protection is such that a person can have a grievance and the world has not fallen apart by persons being granted such standing, then perhaps we ought to think of similar models for the environment. As I said, if this particular model that I have suggested does not work, I would be very happy to work with either of the parties who are represented here today to see what will work.

If, in the end, we move towards the fact that corporate profit is protected and there is some weird view that competition in an imperfect market is protected but other rights are not protected and there is no redress for rules to be enforced, then we are going to be in a very sad and sick society. I will look forward to the future and seeing other proposals coming up. We will, of course, be looking at other models which we will be glad to present in the future for your combined scrutiny.