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Thursday, 28 September 1972
Page: 2218

Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - I hope the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) understood what he was telling us because I found great difficulty in doing so. I wonder who wrote the paper from which he was reading. We are discussing the estimates of a composite group of expenditures under the heading of one department and which . number among them the environmental aspect of our life. It is true that most of what is happening in the environmental sense is to be found in these estimates under the heading 'Administrative' which accounts for more than half of the total of over $40m to be appropriated. There are one or two areas of specific monetary grant where we can see the activities of the Department in operation. Perhaps the most notable is in relation to the Australian Conservation Foundation which has had its grant trebled from $50,000 to $1,50,000 for this financial year. Considering that the Conservation Foundation and various branches of that body are likely at any stage to be quite significant critics of any government which cannot be seen to be doing enough in the environmental sense, I think this is a significant contribution and it is a significant indication of the Government's intentions in the field.

If I may say so, as usual the honourable member for Reid finds himself in a state of internal disagreement because, whilst on many occasions he has spoken to us in this chamber of the need to preserve Bellbird Hill - or is it Bluebird Hill - and such places from the predatory bulldozer operators, he has spoken to us also on frequent occasions about the need to give away land at the periphery of our metropolitan areas. He has not got so far as to put 2 and 2 together and realise that this is absolutely the best means of achieving the reverse of his first objective* Perhaps some time he and the people who help him with these matters will put the whole thing together and decide whether they are going to go for balanced development so that the environment is seen in the perspective of economy and vice versa, or whether they are going to keep them absolutely separate and therefore almost totally meaningless.

One of the biggest problems that confronts this or any other government in doing something meaningful in the environmental area is to work with all the powers that be in the matter. We are well aware that the initial attempts of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) to enlist the cooperation of the States in a national intrusion, as it were, into this field were not universally acclaimed. However we may deprecate the parochialism or whatever that represents, the plain fact of the matter - something which is usually obscure to members of the Opposition - is that in a given constitution or governmental structure it is necessary to work with the other people who have some share in it. This is one of the prime aims of the Commonwealth in championing this cause. I suppose it is fair to say now that the much criticised, in some ways, impact statements are in fact a very considerable move in the direction of a national framework for environmental awareness and action. I would agree with those who would prefer to see any or all of these forthcoming impact statements to be made public property as soon as possible. I think there is very little case apart from the fact that from time to time they may be innately or inherently or inextricably tied to particular Cabinet submissions. Apart from that, I think these things should be available to all the critics and all the assessors of their worth.

I think people are aware that impact statements are designed to show what any given intended action may produce in the environmental sense, in particular what detrimental effects or what changes in the environment may be brought about by any direction of action. What we have to do, what the Minister has to do and what his Department has to do is to get into some reasonable sense of balance the kind of things we need to be done in the future in the environmental sense. It is one of the most complex areas we take upon ourselves governmentally. We have, in simple terms, the physical environment which involves things like air pollution, water pollution, perhaps the consequences of over-population, depletion of resources and matters of that kind. On the other hand, we have the social environment in which aesthetics, interpretations, perception and the quality of life in a general sense are more likely to be involved, although both these facets-the physical and the social - add up to the quality of life.

However inherently desirable or honourable or constructive moves may be to produce zero population growth, to produce wildernesses on every hand or to at least preserve them, what we have .to do is to see these where they fall. It is not much good transferring the problems of Lake Erie to Sydney Harbour without further investigation. It is not much good talking about the population problem of Hong Kong and transferring it to Melbourne without further investigation. While we need to be aware of international moves and international problems in this field, and, in particular I suppose, where the forces concerned are to some extent international mainly in the water and in the air, we do have to get the thing in perspective, preferably in national perspective and that is what I believe our Minister is about. I think we will see that it is not long before the Department of Environment, Aborigines and the Arts will be working towards national standards for a variety nf things. Again that will involve State cooperation. It will be reflected in the impact statements. It will involve research of a very positive kind, whether done directly by Commonwealth agencies or by others, or fostered by the Commonwealth. But none of these things will be meaningful unless we relate them to specific Australian conditions. We have seen some reference in recent weeks to the question of mercury content in fish. Its particular relationship to the population consuming the fish depends, as we have seen even in the Press, on a number of things, not the least of which is how much fish one eats. So, again, we have to make individual assessments related to international knowledge for our particular circumstances.

I believe that this is where environmental action and policy are beginning in our Commonwealth Department. I do not believe that the attempts to suggest that we are weak, in not having taken over the States in a week or two, are worthy. I think it is entirely proper that we should move on a national front and with the utmost co-operation with others who have their own State responsibilities. There may come a time when it will be necessary for the Commonwealth to impose a greater will in the face of some obvious reluctance on the part of a lesser authority to do the right thing either by its local population or for national reasons. In that case I would go along with that. But for the time being I think that we are doing the sort of thing we ought to be doing: We are. taking cognisance of land use. The debate which we have only just concluded, relating to urban and regional development, dealt with land use which is one of the most basic facets of this whole environmental business. If we continue to work in that direction I believe that the. expenditures which are at present reasonably small will be seen to grow, and to grow effectively.

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