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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1253

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) -The Australian Democratic Labor Party is particularly involved in this matter. The Bill which originally came before the Senate related to an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States in connection with softwood forestry and its purpose was to re-write an agreement lor the provision of money by the Commonwealth to the States to assist with reafforestation. Annexed to that Bill was the Agreement negotiated between the Commonwealth and the States, to be finally concluded by signature. The Democratic Labor Party was concerned that the Agreement contained no provision to the effect that the other parties to it, or the Commonwealth, should have regard to environmental factors when the Agreement was negotiated and when the money was being provided or that '.hat should be a condition precedent to the provision of the money.

For that reason, when the Bill was last before this chamber we moved an amendment to clause 9 of the Agreement by which we substituted a new clause 9 and added clause 9a. That amendment was adopted by this chamber. The Bill was returned to the House of Representatives. lt has been considered by that House, which has not seen its way clear to adopt the amendment as proposed and carried here. The Bill has now come back to this chamber with a proposed amendment which does one important thing. It does not go as far as our amendment would go, but it does write in a provision which was suggested by the Government and carried by the House of Representatives. Originally clause 9 of the Agreement read:

The State shall ensure that planting during each year is carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry and financial practices.

That has now been amended by the House of Representatives by the addition of the following words: and shall ensure that environmental factors relating to the planting have been considered.

In other words, the Agreement which is now contemplated for conclusion between the Commonwealth and the States requires that the States shall take environmental factors rft to consideration when afforestation with softwoods is being considered, natural areas are being interfered with and natural forests are being destroyed.

This is the first occasion, to my knowledge, on which the environmental factor has been introduced into legislation. As I have said, this is of particular concern to members of the Democratic Labor Party. It is very gratifying to us because, of all the parties in the Parliament, we were the first to introduce in a national policy speech a programme of national conservation. For a party of the dimensions of our Party compared with the major parties, that is somewhat of an achievement. Our contribution in this field has not been minor by any means. Senator Little, my colleague from Victoria, was a member of the Senate select committee that investigated the matter of air pollution. I had the pleasure of serving on the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution which was chaired by Senator Davidson. Our service on those committees, coupled with our national programme and policy on conservation, demonstrates that the Democratic Labor Party has been intimately associated with this new and very vital question which only now is receiving continuous national and international attention at the highest levels.

That is why, when this Bill came before this chamber originally, we proposed that environmental factors should be considered in the conclusion of the agreements. We hoped that the matter of whether or not the environmental factors were considered adequately by a State would go to an independent authority. The reasons that have been put forward as to why that would not be acceptable are valid and compelling, in our view, and that persuades us not to pursue the whole of our original proposition but to accept the amendment which is now before us and which is based on that proposition and does take into account the environmental factors.

The reasons that have prompted us to adopt this position are as follows: This is an agreement which is written, one might say, halfway through the currency of the existing agreement. Forestry is a type of project that has to be planned some time ahead. If we were now to write into this Agreement the proposition of an independent authority assessing the environmental consequences, it might interrupt the whole of the current planting and, because of the time that would be involved, might well require the displacement of labour and the interruption of certain forestry projects. I think that would be a completely undesirable and indefensible thing to precipitate. If we have the principle accepted, that environmental factors should be considered and that that shall be written into the next agreement as it begins to run which will be in 1976, we can claim that we have really been responsible for a major achievement.

I do not intend to pursue this matter at length. 1 merely reiterate the point that we have been responsible - we take great credit for this - for introducing the consider ation of environmental factors into Commonwealth legislation in this specific way for perhaps the first time. Those who were very interested in this matter and who originally were very anxious that we should put forward the proposition are satisfied that a great deal has been accomplished and that this will be the beginning of the consideration of environmental factors in many fields in the future.

Senator Webster - Your claim is a little drastic, is it not? Do you not think that the State Ministers would take some of those factors into account?

Senator BYRNE - Senator Webster'spoint is well made. 1 think that in some way the Slates have been somewhat in advance of the Commonwealth in their solicitude for environmental protection.

Senator Webster - I thought you were claiming the credit.

Senator BYRNE - I said that the Democratic Labor Party was the first party to put such a programme into a national policy speech and, to my knowledge, we were the first to introduce it legislatively in this Parliament. Where the States have done it - of course, they have - I do not take the credit away from them. I am disappointed in relation to the report of the Select Committee on Water Pollution, which contemplated the creation, in cooperation with the States, of a national body projecting the concept of cooperative federalism and not using the overriding powers that the Commonwealth might be able to aggregate under the various heads of power in the Constitution. To my knowledge, that proposal has not been implemented with the enthusiasm and at the level that we members of the Committee hoped it would be. We feel that, because of our strange constitutional situation, the protection of the environment is not a matter that can be handled without the closest co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States.

Senator Mulvihill - In your speech in the second reading debate you supported the Boyd Plateau issue, did you not?

Senator BYRNE - Yes.

Senator Mulvihill - Do you still support it?

Senator BYRNE - Yes. We do not change our positions. But that is not particularly germane now. That was a general proposition which I supported when I spoke to the Bill originally. We are now considering a specific amendment in Committee and it would be a digression to deal with matters of that kind. I am directing my remarks particularly to the adoption by the Government and the House of Representatives of a principle which initially was in a different form but which has been adopted substantially as we proposed it originally. That is extraordinarily gratifying to us. I know that the conservationists - of whom there are many associated with our Party, as there are associated with all political parties; it is a growing movement with developing enthusiasm - will be gratified to see the national recognition in this form and the fact that the Commonwealth has now insisted that, in an agreement between the Commonwealth and the Slates for the provision of money to the States for afforestation, there be a requirement that the environmental factors shall be taken into account. This will be regarded as a very great advance in the field of the conservation of the environment generally.

For those reasons the Democratic Labor Party supports the amendment as propounded in the House of Representatives, carried by that House and now presented to this chamber for confirmation. We do not pursue our original amendment which has been adopted substantially and in principle in the amendment we are now considering. We think that it will improve the Agreement. We know that the closest cooperation will be received from the States. We have every reason to expect that this form of words will not be regarded merely as such but that there will be due regard for environmental factors in terms of the amendment, under which the Agreement will provide that the States shall ensure that environmental factors relating to the planting have been considered. This will operate really as a condition precedent to the money being made available. The States will, in honour, regard it as such. Therefore, we can see a new future in the attitude to the protection of the environment consonant with national development. 1 make this final point: We must recognise that there must always be a coinci dence of the demands of national development and of the protection of the environment. One cannot be completely submerged to the domination of the other. Finding that balance, in prudence and wisdom, in the conservation and custody of our national heritage is of tremendous importance and is very difficult. It can be done with sufficient good will, wisdom and judgment. The Democratic Labor Party welcomes and supports the amendment now proposed to the Agreement.

Sitting suspended from S.4S to 8 p.m.

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