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Wednesday, 11 October 1972
Page: 1425

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - The Bill now before the Committee has been returned to this chamber as a result of an amendment moved by me on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labor Party being approved by the Senate and the Bill in the amended form then being returned to the House of Representatives. Of course, the whole object of the exercise was to indicate the concern of the Federal Government and of the national Parliament on the question of conservation and the preservation of our natural environment. This was to be done by an amendment to this Bill, which provided that if the Commonwealth were to provide moneys, it should be a condition precedent to the availability of those moneys that the environmental factors should be considered. The amendment propounded by the Democratic Labor Party when the Bill was originally before this chamber purported to amend the Schedule by deleting clause 9 and inserting the following clauses:

9.   - The State shall ensure that planting during each year is carried out efficiently and in conformity with sound forestry, environmental and financial practices. 9a. - The State shall ensure that natural forests shall not be cleared for planting softwoods unless the particular proposed clearing has beforehand been the subject of an environmental impact study made by an independent expert on behalf of the

Australian Forestry Council and that the Council after considering the report of the said study has approved the particular clearing'.

That matter was considered by the Minister for National Development (Sir Reginald Swartz) and by the Government, and subsequently by the House of Representatives. Certain important factors were presented for consideration as to whether the amendment in that form was acceptable. Discussions took place between Senator Cotton and myself - he representing Sir Reginald Swartz - in which it was pointed out, I think in quite compelling and convincing terms, that if we were to insert the requirement as was proposed and was executed in the amendment requiring an environmental study by an independent expert before a reafforestation programme should proceed in terms of the pending agreement, it would involve a number of things. It would involve the interruption of the existing planting programmes, because they are planned 2 years ahead, and it would involve the displacement of labour. Those were very serious consequences which inevitably would have emerged, on the advice which the Minister was good enough to pass on to me, if the original amendment had been persisted with. In addition, the States expressed perhaps legitimate concern that this was a trespass not only on their sovereignty but also on their real solicitude and concern for the protection of the environment and consideration of the environment in any reafforestation programme. I accept, on behalf of my Party, those propositions as having a very high measure of validity.

Senator Mulvihillexpressed concern that the States, while they may manifest a solicitude, may have a different interpretation of how that solicitude should be exercised. He pointed to what he regards as specific failures by one of the States to have that regard for the environment and the preservation of natural forest which he would always try to engender. I think we must accept the fact that the States are as conscious of the protection of the environment as is this Parliament; and that they already have taken very many steps in their own field on questions relating to water pollution, and conservation of the environment in many areas and in many forms. I think we can accept that this will be done. However, I think it was not inappropriate that, following the presentation of this Bill and the consideration of it, the Senate should express its insistence and its concern to put on record that it should be a condition precedent to the availability of this money, in terms of the agreement, that the environmental factor, as a matter of agreement and of law, should be considered by State governments which plan to proceed with forestry plantings with money made available under this legislation. Therefore 1 think the proposition is valid on both sides. I can accept the position of the States and their protestations. At the same time I think we are quite right in re-presenting our proposition.

The amendment which has now come forward from the House of Representatives is in a form which substantially embodies the proposed replacement of clause 9 of the Schedule as carried in this place. It merely puts it in other words, namely: arid shall ensure that environmental factors relating to the planting have been considered.

That will impose on the States the obligation, if this money is to be made available and utilised, that in terms of the agreement they shall be able to assure the Commonwealth that in their forward planning they have considered the environmental factor. Possibly there is no more we could do, accepting the goodwill of the States, which I do without any reservation whatsoever. 1 think an important point has been made in the progress of the debate on this Bill through the 2 Houses of the Parliament. The Commonwealth Government, perhaps for the first time, has taken a strong legislative stand in relation to insistence on respect for and observance of the protection of the environment. In legislation this is possibly one of the strongest steps that have been taken. I think it is to the credit of this chamber that this step was taken at its instance. As I pointed out when speaking originally to this Bill, we members of the Democratic Labor Party have been in the very forefront of the programme for environmental concern. We included it - perhaps we were the first and only party to do so - in a national policy speech some years ago. It is a matter which remains of considerable concern to our Party. It is one in which some of our members are intensely and personally interested because they serve on various national and State committees dealing with environmental protection.

For those reasons the Democratic Labor Party supports the amendment which has emerged from the House of Representatives and which substantially embodies one part of the amendment originally propounded in this place by our Party. It underlines the principle which we wanted to project and embodies it in the new agreement. I have little doubt that it will be observed in completely good faith by the States when they utilise this money for the purposes for which it is provided. In those circumstances we support the amendment presented by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton). I take this opportunity of thanking him personally for his concern about this matter, for the assistance he has given in consultation, and particularly for the informed and interesting presentation he made to this chamber on this matter during the progress of the second reading and Committee debates.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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