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Tuesday, 30 March 1971

Senator LAUCKE (South Australia) - The principle inherent in Senator Murphy's motion is that there must be a continuing and definite Government activity for the preservation of our environment. I agree completely with this attitude and 1 commend him for having introduced the proposal. Perhaps the honourable senator could have used verbage to make it a more definite reference of the whole matter, but I agree with the attitude and the intention behind the proposal. When Senator Henty proposed that there be set up 2 select committees, one to study the problem of air pollution and the other to study water pollution in Australia, I felt at the time that the proposal was rather premature. Bearing in mind the vast open spaces of Australia one would spontaneously react that it could not happen here, that the things that, we read about as happening in other parts of the world just could not happen in Australia. It was not very long after the formation of the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution, under the chairmanship of Senator Branson, that we realised from evidence that we had a problem in Australia far beyond that which could have been even remotely anticipated by anyone in this chamber or by the public at large.

Reference was made this evening by Senator Murphy to the presence of carbon monoxide at certain peak periods of traffic in Sydney. Frightening figures were revealed to us in evidence showing that at some peak traffic hours there were recordings as high as 80 parts per million of carbon monoxide in Sydney at certain locations. When one realises that that is within 20 parts per million of a toxic presence of CO, one realises that it is high time that we as a nation became interested in our environment and that what is happening here has not before been completely recognised. I feel that the activities of both the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution and the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution have led to a deep awareness in Australia of a problem of environment generally and that therein lies one of the greatest benefits of setting up these committees.

I have before me a feature article issued by the Information Service of the British High Commission in Australia on 25th March - 5 days ago. It states that environment is now more than a passing fashion. lt refers to the appreciation of the old countries of the world of the need for drastic action to remove a condition which was applying there to a degree which was most detrimental to the quality of life of the people. It mentions action that was taken in Great Britain. A year and a half ago, from the top of Australia House and looking over London, I was able to see what had been achieved in a few brief years to improve the atmosphere and obtain clearer air. I would have expected to see a rather smudgy, grim and smoky city. I had the delightful experience of seeing the effect of a proper approach by Government to ensure an improved environment in the City of London. For example, there had been the prohibition of coal grates in homes in certain areas where tremendous amounts of smoke had been exuded into the atmosphere, leaving behind a grime which in addition to the effects of industry had put over the city a ceiling through which the sun could not penetrate. Today the sun is penetrating through what was hitherto a ceiling over the old city of London. As a result the environment and the people's place of living has been vastly improved.

We can learn from the old, but we must realise also that we will have in Australia very similar problems unless we act. as Senator Murphy suggests, in a continuing role of persistence in ensuring that we maintain here an environment to which we would all ascribe. This article on environment issued by the Information Service of the British High Commission in Australia stated:

Sixth-form schoolchildren in Britain may later this year be studying the problems of the environment and pollution as part of their final examinations.

The proposed course - it has still to receive final sanction - would take in deforestation, soil erosion, noise and pollution in the towns.

The report goes on to state that since Londoners have taken an interest in improving the environment they have recorded that there are now 138 bird species in that city.

Senator Little - What sort of birds would they be?

Senator LAUCKE - These are plumed birds of bright colours. Also, 57 fish specimens are now available to anglers from the once barren River Thames. This is a great improvement. This next point relates to the important role to be taken by government. Under the sub-heading 'Change in Attitude' the article goes on to state:

News of the study course came in a week marked by the first report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution . set up by the British Government just over a year ago.

The report itself, and the course, underline a change in public attitude to enrivonmental dilemmas - the shouting is over, the work has begun.

I say again that Senator Murphy's proposal for the reference of these matters to the Standing Committee on Social Environment means that the games are over and it is now a serious business to ensure the retention of the Australian environment. We have to keep it as it has been in the past. Judging by the present trend of things and the concentration of pollution in certain areas, woe betide us unless we do become active.

While taking evidence during the inquiry by the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution I and my fellow Committee members were impressed with State activity to combat air pollution. Action taken in New South Wales impressed me particularly. According to evidence given to us, in the 7 years following the passage of the Clean Air Act in New South Wales pollution problems in the major industrial areas in that State had abated by 40 per cent. This was in spite of a doubling of the industrial capacity. This shows what can be done when there is a concerted effort on the part of a government and which is appreciated by the public. I would like to see greater activity by this Government in accordance with the recommendations of both the Select Committee on Air Pollution and the Select Committee on Water pollution. The No. 1 recommendation of the Committee on Air Pollution was that the Commonwealth should enact legislation immediately to control air pollution within its territories. Realising that environmental control basically is a State matter, it is incumbent upon the central authority to lead the way and thereafter to act jointly with the States to ensure a better approach generally and a common attitude to the problem.

Senator Branson - The Commonwealth should set the example.

Senator LAUCKE - That is it. The Commonwealth should set the pace and the example. There should be no undue intrusion by the Commonwealth but there should be helpful co-operation between the Stales and the Commonwealth by use of the bureau we proposed. I have no desire to speak at length on this matter. My point in rising was to commend the proposal to refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Social Environment. The Committee has been set up and now it must become active. In brief, I heartily support this proposal. The motion is timely and f look forward to interest being shown collectively by the Government and the people of Australia lo ensure that we retain for ourselves Australia as a place with lovely clean air, open spaces and a decent atmosphere. I support the motion.

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