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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3276

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)-

This Bill is concerned with the provision of grants to the States over the financial years 1974-75 and 1975-76 as an interim program of financial assistance for soil conservation. The Australian Government is seeking to protect those natural resources upon which the nation's well being is founded, in the interests of present and future generations. In particular, this Bill gives tangible expression to the importance which the Government places upon the preservation of the nation's soil resources. This subject first attracted significant Federal attention in February 1 97 1 when the Australian Agricultural Council received a report from its Standing Committee on Soil Conservation, entitled 'The Study of Community Benefits of and Finance for Soil Conservation'. The recommendations of this report provided a factual basis for the States to request financial assistance for their soil conservation programs.

The matter was raised at the Premiers' conference in 1 972. However, the Government of the day preferred not to make a decision, and instead referred the question to the Interdepartmental Committee of Australian Government officers. The Interdepartmental Committee reported in July this year, after having discussions with representatives of the State soil conservation organisations, and after having examined the report of the Standing Committee. The Interdepartmental Committee agreed that soil conservation activity should be considerably increased above present levels and that it would be appropriate for the Australian Government to provide financial assistance for this purpose.

The Government has now decided in principle to assist the States with a long term program of soil conservation. At the same time it has recognised that there is an urgent need for a collaborative, nation-wide study of soil conservation in the context of land management, involving the State and Australian governments, with a view to providing a sound basis for a long term accelerated soil conservation program. This Bill provides for an interim program of financial assistance for the States to step up their soil conservation activities over the duration of the proposed joint study, in preparation for a long-term program. Participation of the States in the proposed study will be a pre-condition for the provision of financial assistance in the interim program. Agreement to participate in the study has been received from all States except New South Wales. The Bill has been amended in the House of Representatives to clarify its objectives and, to this end, during the debate the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) quoted from a letter from the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to the Premiers which elaborated the conditions of the grants as mentioned in Clause 4 (5) of the Bill. The relevant section of the letter reads:

The main condition associated with the allocation of these funds is that the State and Australian Governments should collaborate in a study program to be completed by 30 June 1976 to establish a basis for a long-term national program of soil conservation in the context of an integrated approach to land management. Major components in the study program will be:

(i)   The development of a national approach to land resources survey and evaluation.

(ii)   The drawing up of a co-ordinated research program aimed at meeting the most urgent needs associated with soil conservation.

(iii)   Study of legal, administrative, financial and land tenure systems associated with soil conservation and land management, including the matter of cost allocation and reimbursement in relation to works on private property.

(iv)   Requirements for the recruitment and training of all categories of staff.

(v)   Integration with other areas of Government policy including rural reconstruction, conservation and flood mitigration

Other conditions are that your Government will not reduce its planned level of expenditure on soil conservation unci that funds for the interim program will not be made available for works on private property unless the landholder undertakes responsibility for complementary land management activities. In accordance with its current practice, the Australian Government also reserves the right to consider the environmental implications of projects prior to agreeing to provide funds for those projects.

The Australian Government recognises that gearing up for a major long term program of soil conservation will take time. For this reason it regards the interim program as essential so that the results of the joint study can be applied to this most urgent problem without delay.

While the Australian Government's proposed contribution to each State in this first instance is small in relation to the magnitude of the work which is urgently required, it is a significant first step in dealing with this national problem. With the completion of this essential first program, the Government will then assess its responsibilities in the implementation of a national plan to protect and restore Australia's soil resources- which is perhaps, along with water, the most vital of all our natural resources. The sums to be made available were carefully determined after discussions with State officers and examination of the available human and technical resources. The total Australian Government finance to be made available to the States under this program is $0.5m to June 1975 and $2.5m to June 1976. These funds will supplement the provisions for soil conservation already committed or foreshadowed by the States for this period. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned.

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