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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3078

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I certainly will not take up too much time. As has been acknowledged, this Bill is an interesting one. It opens an area of contemplation that is very important to Australia and the people of this country. I want to summarise the financial aspects of the Government's approach to environmental matters. Although I do not regard the Bill as a major controversy for the House, I must say that quite consistent with the inability of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) to sustain expenditure in other areas for which he is responsible, there has been this heavy decline in funding of environmental activities. I refer especially to special grants which have been cut back very significantly indeed. The grants for conservation organisations in the last three budgets have been $450,000, $391,500 and $300,000. In three years they have come down from $450,000 to $300,000. 1 am told that there have been no curtailments at all to grants in aid generally if they apply to boy scouts, girl guides or surf life saving clubs. The curtailment in grants to conservation organisations has been of very serious proportions.

I refer now to the grants to the environmental centres. The Labor Government of course made available direct grants, not matching grants. In recent times this Government has introduced the principle of matching grants- a $2 for $ 1 subsidy arrangement for 1976, and the $1 for $1 subsidy arrangement for 1977. We are told that some centres will be closing as a result of this arrangement. One can imagine the mining people and those industrial people with vandalistic tendencies rubbing their hands together with glee when the policemen- the people who alert the country and the governments to environmental destructionare put out of business. I think that is a very sad thing to happen.

Let me mention briefly the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. I am told that no inquiry has been conducted under that Act since 1975. Of course there were issues which could have justified inquiries- the Concorde coming to Australia, the wood chip industry on the South Coast of New South Wales, the nuclear powered warship or submarine coining to Australian waters and the Omega base in Victoria. None of these matters has been the subject of any inquiry under that Act. The Environmental impact allocation for public hearings is down from $694,300 in 1975-76, to $507,268 in 1976-77, to $65,000 in 1977-78. That is a drop of $629,000 in three years. That is in regard to environmental impact statements. I know that we were promised an inquiry in respect of the Concorde aircraft, but the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) apparently took unilateral action.

He made bis own decision. The aircraft came flying in. The Act was totally disregarded. The Government promised in its election policy on environment and conservation a public inquiry on the wood chip industry. That promise has been dishonoured.

The air pollution monitoring program has been cut from $275,000 in 1975-76 to $75,000 in 1977-78. 1 think a matter of concern is that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has allowed his Department to be whittled away. The staff ceilings have affected the environmental area quite considerably. We hope that the next Minister responsible for these matters will fight and will be more successful in trying to maintain adequate staff for the purpose. I probably should pack up at that point. I am being very co-operative because of the time restraint, as I understand it.

I think a lot more could be done about marine pollution. I would have liked to have said quite a bit about this subject. It is a very serious matter. In New South Wales waters alone there have been more than 40 incidents involving oil pollution from ships in the last 12 months. There has been no reduction in the number of spillages in the last 12 months. It is as plain as a pikestaff that greater resources and greater effort must be put into this. I am grateful for the opportunity to have spoken. I feel tempted to say a little more. I am getting the nod from the Government Whip that I have had a fair crack of the whip so I am prepared to leave it at that and convey my ap- preciation for the attentive audience that I have ad. I wish all my parliamentary opponents a vigorous fight in the forthcoming election. I can assure them that when the Labor Government is elected we will certainly be giving to environmental matters the kind of attention that they would like to see given.

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