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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 23002

Senator BARTLETT (9:43 PM) —The Democrats are also pleased to support the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement Bill 2001. In looking at this issue and the various aspects of it, I have had a look at the Hansard record on this particular issue and, in many ways, I was not surprised to discover that the Democrats have raised the matter of the management of the Lake Eyre Basin on very many occasions over the last 20 years or so. In particular, former Democrat Senator John Coulter had a particular interest in the management of the Lake Eyre Basin and had spent a lot of time in that area himself, along with other people over a long period of time, gathering information to support the Democrats' views that the area should be better managed and, indeed, supporting the nomination of the area for world heritage listing, a proposal that was announced by the Keating government during the 1993 election campaign.

It is notable that the legislation that we are debating tonight reflects the conclusions drawn by the Democrats back in the early 1990s, that the management process needs to include all the various stakeholders and be primarily a bottom-up approach, if it is to be a success. It is probably worth reflecting on the words of the minister in the second reading speech, in terms of the importance of that approach, which is basically the need for a comprehensive management approach to the Lake Eyre Basin:

Ensuring that the Basin's values are protected for present and future generations requires an ongoing partnership involving governments, industry and the community. This Bill and the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement will strengthen and build upon the regional catchment management frame-work already established by the Basin community ... as part of the Lake Eyre Basin Regional Initiative.

Those words of the minister indicate that this is a partnership and that it is more of a bottom-up approach, which involves better management of the area. That it is such an important area and has various stakeholders who have been involved in aspects of it for a long period of time highlight why it is so important to have people involved in it from all those different perspectives. Land-holders in the region do have a vast repository of knowledge in relation to land management, and that can be databased and accessed for future generations. Quite a bit of progress has been made in recent years, and repair of some damaged and degraded land has come along quite well after the exclusion of non-native animals.

There are proposals to export organic beef from the region—a proposal that, as a vegetarian, does not necessarily appeal to me personally. But, if the raising of meat for human consumption is to be undertaken, it may as well be conducted in a manner that minimises the effect of harmful agricultural practices on the environment. The development of markets such as those does attract a premium. Again, if we are going to pursue such methods that are value adding, it is beneficial to ensure that it is done in a way that does minimise environmental damage. If the region is to develop as an organic production zone and, more importantly, realise its tourism potential, as well as preserve the biodiversity and other important environmental aspects of the region, it is crucial to minimise the effects of various human activities on the environment. In particular, I think it is crucial to look at other agricultural operations in the area, such as proposals to grow cotton in parts of the region, in terms of what the impact of that on the environment may mean—and particularly in terms of water usage.

There is still a long way to go in terms of how the area is best managed. But I think this particular bill does provide some opportunity for better future management and for ensuring that at least we are on a forward path. I think there are still some more issues to be addressed, some of which have been raised before by the Democrats many times over quite a number of years. That will be something that we will be continuing to look at. But, as with any issue that at least moves us in a forward direction, we are happy to support this legislation. We will always point to what other things need to be done, but we will not stand in the way of ensuring that things move in a positive direction.