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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3274

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Mr Deputy President,I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-

Honourable senators will be aware of worldwide concern for the conservation of wildlife and of places of natural, scenic, scientific and recreational significance. The environment produced by the billions of years of evolution which has resulted in man in his present state, is being drastically altered in a few decades by man himself. Everywhere the natural systems which evolved with man and of which he is part are under threat. We must make a strong stand and determine that this generation will ensure that evolution itself will proceed as much as possible without deliberate or unthinking intervention by man. Over 100 nations have taken action for the permanent reservation of natural areas to represent the range of landscapes and ecosystems within their boundaries, and to protect their unique wildlife resources. They have assembled professional staff to ensure the effective planning and management needed to consolidate legislation and area reservation.

Despite the excellent initiatives taken in some States, our record in Australia has not been good. Since the arrival of the white man some 5 species of marsupial and several species of bird have been wiped out. Many other species have been endangered. The area of our vast continent dedicated as parks and reserves is far from sufficient. Both the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation and the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate have underlined the pressing need for action at various levels to rectify deficiencies in the system in this country.

This Government is taking action which accords with the sentiments of those reports. The Bill proposes the establishment of a professional service to enable the Australian Government, for the first time, to bring a co-ordinated approach to the management of nature conservation resources in the areas under its direct control. The Bill is the product of 18 months of careful work and thought and is a major initiative aimed at overcoming the inactivity of the past. The Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) will also soon be introducing a Bill to make finance available to the States for nature conservation purposes and a Bill creating a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. In this year's Budget $9m has been provided for National Parks and Nature Reserves. The Council of Nature Conservation Ministers set up on this Government's initiative will, I hope, help in the development of a national approach to the conservation of our unique fauna and flora. The National Parks and Wildlife Service will also facilitate co-operation with the States in the national nature conservation effort, and the meeting of Australia's obligations under the increasing number of international agreements for the conservation of wildlife to which this Government has become a signatory. Its functions will include education of park rangers and the provision of assistance to other countries in nature conservation matters.

The Bill makes special provision for agreements with Aboriginal people for the cooperative conservation management of their land and its wildlife resources. In land vested in the Service, regulations will be made where necessary to meet the special needs of the Aboriginal people while ensuring that overall wildlife conservation objectives are met. In all cases, there will be consultation with the Aboriginal people and proper consideration of their traditions and culture which have so much to contribute to the heritage of this nation. The Government has dealt positively with the question of minerals in national parks. Where minerals occur in a park or reserve, no operations for their recovery may take place except in accordance with a plan of management approved by both Houses of the Parliament. We believe that Parliament itself should make the vital decision on whether operations for the recovery of minerals should take place in a park or reserve and then only in the genuine interests of the nation. Under the Bill, the Service will be able to manage parks for a variety of purposes in addition to nature conservation, such as tourism, recreation, and for scientific investigation.

With the passage of this legislation, the Government will move quickly for the proclamation of a number of outstanding areas. Foremost is the proposed Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory, which the then Minister for the Interior in July 1970 referred to in the following terms: . . the area's ingredients of scenic grandeur, interesting and unique flora and fauna and cultural and historical elements, if blended and managed successfully, could produce a great park for public interest and enjoyment as well as making a major contribution to conservation.

We agree with this assessment, and will be proud to proclaim this long-promised, world class, national park. We will also proclaim Gudgenby National Park in the Australian Capital Territory, promised but not established by a former government.

In commending this Bill to honourable senators, I would like to stress that it is high time that this Parliament enacted legislation on behalf of all Australians to permit the Australian Government to play its proper part in the conservation of our natural heritage, which indeed is part of a world heritage becoming increasingly precious to mankind. I regard this Bill as a significant part of this Government's response to the growing awareness of our fragile world. It exemplifies our willing acceptance of the obligation to set the example required of a national Government.

In conclusion I would like to say that this action accords with the sentiments of the Labor Party platform where it is recognised that ' man lives within and depends upon a complex natural system which must be protected and managed as a whole '. The platform further states:

The advance of agricultural pursuits and the expansion of cities and their industries have been the cause of much of the natural habitat of Australia's native flora and fauna being severely reduced and in some cases lost completely. Our natural heritage should be fostered and our natural landscapes protected for the sake of social, cultural, educational and scientific purposes as well as for Australia 's future tourist potential.

To achieve this protection the Australian Labor Party in its platform has pledged to 'conserve for future generations adequate samples of Australia's unique flora and fauna by the development of a comprehensive system of national parks, nature and recreation reserves'. This Bill is a vital first step and will be complemented by further legislation. This will deal with important aspects of environmental concern, in addition to nature conservation, aimed at halting man's unthinking degradation of the total environment, the genesis of life on this planet. Mr Deputy President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.

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