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Monday, 14 October 1996
Page: 4063

Senator PATTERSON —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment. Last week you informed the Senate, Minister, of the establishment of an inquiry to examine solutions to Australia's growing urban air pollution problem. The community is not only increasingly concerned about air pollution; it is also concerned about other emissions into our environment. The public rightly believes that it has a right to know what substances are being emitted into the environment. Can you inform the Senate of what steps the government intends to take to ensure the public has access to information about pollutants?

Senator HILL —I can inform the Senate that the federal government has today taken a major step towards the establishment of a national pollutant inventory. Senator Patterson is correct to say that this is an issue of extreme importance to the public. Since assuming this responsibility for the environment portfolio, my office has had as much correspondence on the issue of air pollution and the solutions to air pollution as on any other environmental issue.

The national pollutant inventory will be an important step in guaranteeing the public's right to know what substances are being emitted into the environment. The inventory will provide publicly available annual summaries of hazardous chemicals released into the environment from nominated sources. The data is supplied by those who release substances into the air, land or water, including industry and other relevant government authorities.

I can inform the Senate that cabinet today has given the green light to a draft proposal for a national pollutant inventory, which will form the basis of negotiation with the states and territories under the National Environment Protection Council. When the council met for the first time in Perth earlier this year, we were able to gain the support of the states and territories for the NPI to be pursued by the Commonwealth as a measure under the NEPC proposal.

Although the previous government invested some $6 million of taxpayers' money into the development of an NPI, it was not even able to get up a first meeting of the NEPC let alone progress it further. We will now be able to take to the next meeting of the NEPC, which is to be held in late November in Brisbane, a draft of a measure which we hope will then be endorsed by the NEPC. It will come back for final approval and, hopefully, within the not too distant future will be put in place and therefore the Australian public will have the right to know the legislative basis which is the equivalent of that which has already been provided in many other developed countries.