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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 23001

Senator BOLKUS (9:37 PM) —The Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement Bill 2000—which has, as we know, been brought on very late tonight—is important legislation, in one sense, in that it symbolises a very important statement of direction by the Australian parliament in respect of the Lake Eyre Basin. In some other respects, it is legislation which in essence reflects the force of protection already available to the Lake Eyre Basin. I do not need to speak at length on this legislation, other than to say that the bill gives legislative approval to the Lake Eyre intergovernmental agreement which was signed on 21 October 2000 between the Commonwealth and the states of Queensland and South Australia. It is an agreement which was overwhelmingly welcomed by the communities concerned. An important aspect of this agreement is that this was a community driven process; one which was quite successful in this particular instance, resulting in the agreement being signed by the relevant governments.

The agreement in fact comes into force when it has been approved in legislation by the Queensland and South Australian parliaments. Though technically there may not be a requirement in the agreement for the federal government to introduce legislation, I think the decision to do so is an important one. It does confirm not only the government's commitment but the parliament's commitment to a sustainable management future for the Lake Eyre Basin. When we talk about the Lake Eyre Basin we are talking about a monumental area of Australia, encompassing enormous portions of Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory, with a touch of New South Wales.

It is important for this parliament to approve such legislation at a time when the issue of sustainability is an increasingly pressing one in the minds of an increasing number of Australians. That is increasingly important, because I think there is a realisation that the way that we are using our resources in this country is not sustainable. That is of enormous concern not just to the environment movement, a movement which has for a long time had primary interest in and concern for these sorts of issues, but also for another part of the community, which in some respects may not have been as vocal or as strident in terms of its actions but has been just as caring and concerned and just as effective in lobbying as the environment movement has been, that is, the broader community: those who use the resources, particularly the farming community, the rural community, and communities living in their vicinity. There are a lot of people who are concerned about a sustainable future for our resource base, our land base; and that concern has been reflected in the way that the community has driven the outcome for this particular basin, for the protection of the basin.

Basically, this legislation confirms a commitment to the future sustainable management of the Lake Eyre Basin and to the protection of dependent environmental and heritage values. Anyone who has spent some time there, as I have done—particularly last year but also over the years—could appreciate the enormously impressive characteristics of this basin. One only has to go to, for instance, the Georgina-Diamantina catchment area, the Cooper Creek catchment area, to see that there we have an enormous degree of ecological life—wildlife, bird life and natural habitat—that is probably one of the most underestimated, underpromoted and underappreciated parts of Australia, but one that has nestling within it an enormous degree of diversity of natural life and habitat.

So, firstly, protection is important; secondly, understanding of the characteristics is important; thirdly, promotion is important; and, fourthly, protection in its promotion is an important aspect of this area. I have been to Kakadu quite a number of times. I have been to the Cooper Basin a few times. I must admit that the extensiveness of the wildlife in that Cooper Creek catchment area is something which I think needs to be appreciated by an increasing number of Australians. We do not appreciate this area as much as we should. Although technically this bill may not have any real legal enforceability, it is an important statement by this parliament and an important reflection and endorsement of the community driven process that has led to this outcome, and the opposition supports it.