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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1447

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Opposition does not oppose the motion as amended for the appointment of a

Joint Committee on the Environment and Conservation. The question of the environment involves difficulties, and the more inquiry there can be in a central way, the more information that is given to members of Parliament and the more experience gained from listening to experts that we have, the better it will be. When I was Minister for Education and Science I took up this whole question with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. At that time it had about 38 divisions with a chief at the head of each division. At that time 25 of the divisions were separately concerned with particular matters affecting the environment. My first thought was that it might be a good idea to combine them all in one central organisation, all of them working to the same end.

I met some difficulties because the people dealing with particular problems in the Wildlife Division were working amongst people who had the same disciplines and expertise that they had. The people working in the marine science field were working with those who had expertise and experience in the marine science field. There was no point in taking one man from each group, putting them together and expecting that they would necessarily produce a better result than if they proceeded initially in their separate ways. Even to this time they are proceeding in their own disciplines. However, overall direction is necessary. We perhaps have something to learn from the experience in the United States of America and Canada in this matter. I recall talking to the chairman of the council of advisers to the President on this subject, Mr Russell Train, who is backed up by a first class scientist, Dr McDonald, in Washington. He looked at all federal submissions to see their effect on the environment and in effect made an impact statement. In addition to that they were then setting up something that we do not have here, a department of protection of the environment under a Mr Ruckelshaus, who was taken from the Attorney-General's Department. He was a young lawyer in his thirties who was setting up this department with about 16,000 officers to police the enforcement of all environmental laws throughout America. Prime Minister Trudeau also had similar types of advisers.

Our own problems, of course, are somewhat different from theirs, but there is no question about the need for a national approach as well as a local approach to these problems. The major responsibility up to the present time has rested with the State governments. I have had particularly close association with the New South Wales Government in relation to the environment in my own electorate, particularly as it affects the Parramatta River. Some members of the House may recall that at one stage the City of Parramatta was larger than the City of Sydney at the time of early settlement. The people of Parramatta used to refer to Sydney as their port, and of course they used to travel up the Parramatta by ship. But it is getting a bit thick towards the western end of the Parramatta River and I had been endeavouring to persuade scientists to come in and and do a test and make recommendations. But in point of fact, the Minister for the Environment in New South Wales, Mr Beale, and the Minister for Health, Mr Jago, both of whom have responsibilities in this area, had in fact done considerable studies on the river and they received the co-operation of business to a considerable degree. Millions of dollars have been spent in re-cycling water so that it does not go back into the river. This money has been spent at the Shell plant and other plants along the river, the fish are gradually coming back to the west of the Ryde Bridge. This is just one problem. I see another honourable member sitting opposite who has almost equally great problems in his electorate.

The Opposition will co-operate with this committee. I make only one comment on the form of it. It is a comment I have made before about committees. I notice that paragraph 6 of the motion provides that the Prime Minister will nominate one of the Government members as Chairman of the Committee. Naturally we do not object to the Government side having a majority on this Committee, but we think that House committees and joint committees should appoint their own chairmen; they should not even appear to be appointed by the Executive. It may produce the same result, but it is a matter of form that this House and all of us in the House of Representatives and in the Senate ought to insist on. I would ask again that in bringing forward joint committees the procedure be followed of eliminating the provision contained in paragraph 6 of this motion and providing for the appointment of the chairman by the committee itself.

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