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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3410

Senator EVERETT (Tasmania) - I feel that today should be named 'Dr Cass's day' because the Senate has already agreed to 3 measures, albeit with some amendments, dealing with conservation and we are now debating a fourth Bill which I think goes much farther than has ever before been attempted in Australia. The 4 Bills to which I refer represent the culmination of 2 years of extremely hard work and enlightened dedication by the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass), and their significance should not be overlooked. As I have said, this is the first time in Australia that there has been any statutory attempt to go nearly so far in relation to environmental impact statements as this Bill seeks to go. The measure deals not just with pollution, not just with aesthetics, not just with environmental matters in any narrow sense. In order that the true effect of the Bills can be understood I invite the attention of the Senate to the extremely embracing definition of the word environment' appearing in clause 3. It is defined as including 'all aspects of the surroundings of man, whether affecting him as an individual or in his social groupings'. It does seem to me that too many persons at least up to date, have taken the view that environmental matters are narrow in their concept. I believe that they are not and that they are are extremely wide. I invite the attention of the Senate to the first proclamation of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment as to the scope of the environment as that proclamation saw it. It is defined in these words:

Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet a stage has been reached when, through the rapid acceleration of science and technology, man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale. Both aspects of man's environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rightseven the right to life itself. '

I would for myself add the further point that I do not think that in the ultimate any question of the environment in the true sense can be considered in isolation from the question of planning. In other words, environmental issues do not exist in a vacuum; they are related to the planned development of this earth and everything about it for the benefit of man.

I want to pay a very brief tribute to the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, Dr Cass, because I know from extremely bitter personal experience how difficult it is at times for a Minister charged with this type of portfolio to be able to achieve ministerial co-operation, at least completely. Yet, in his quiet unassuming way, Dr Cass, with great respect to him if I may say so, has gone about his ministerial duties with extreme efficiency, so much so that he has been able to persuade his colleagues to insert in this Bill a provision that I believe to be unique so far as statutory provisions are concerned. I refer to clause 8 of the Bill which provides:

Each Minister shall give all such directions and do all such things as, consistently with any relevant laws as affected by regulations under this Act, can be given or done by him-

(a)   for ensuring that procedures for the time being approved under this Act are given effect to in and in connexion with matters dealt with by the Department administered by him and that any authority of Australia in relation to which he has ministerial responsibilies observes, and assists in giving effect to, those procedures; and

There is a situation in which a statutory duty is cast by that clause on every Minister of the Australian Government. It has no parallel. I think it is unlikely that any government would have the vision and the courage to attempt any such parallel in the future, but that is what the Minister has been able to achieve. He also- and this I think is an indication of the extent of the burden which he is prepared to assume unto himself- has included in clause 10 a provision that any person, any member of the public whatsoever, may, by notice in writing, require the Minister to inform him in writing as to what action, if any, has been taken, or is proposed, for ensuring consideration of the environmental aspects of the matter, and the Minister shall promptly inform the person in writing accordingly. Not many Ministers would have been prepared to assume such a burden as is involved in complying with clause 10, but the present Minister has done so.

I will be as brief as I can in dealing with what I regard as an extremely important measure. The Bill contains a dual approach to the problem with which it seeks to deal. The first is by clause 6 under a scheme of administrative procedures approved by the Governor-General. Both in another place and here this afternoon doubts were expressed as to whether there would not be some infringement of so-called States rights and some duplication. The simple answer to that is that the effect of the Bill and therefore the application of the administrative procedures cannot transcend the constitutional power of the Australian Government. That is why clause 5 of the Bill has been drafted with what obviously is extreme care. The matters relating to the question of possible duplication between the Australian Government and the State governments are matters in which there is a joint interest, created by the circumstances which are dealt with in clause 5 of the Bill. That being so, it would obviously be a matter of administrative good sense if both governments involved discussed the matter and decided whence the environmental impact study would come. I see no reason to fear any duplication. From my experience over recent years I would have thought that all States would have welcomed the existence of the scheme of administrative procedures which is set out in clause 6 of the Bill.

The second approach which the Minister has included in this BUI is one of extreme importance to the public, and that is his discretionary power in clause 1 1 to require formal inquiries to be carried out by commissioners, with access by the public to those inquiries and with access to the results of those inquiries. This is something for which conservationists have been figting for a very long time. They have not had a great deal of success in the States in relation to that matter. One should mention what this Bill does not cover lest there be any public misunderstanding. It does not apply to any matters which are outside the constitutional powers of the Australian Government. Therefore, in a matter which is entirely a State matter this Federal law has no application. I regret very much- but I am bound to concede the legal accuracy of the advice that was tendered to the Australian Government- that the Bill will not cover any matters or projects which are the result of the allocation of loan funds to the States or to, the authorities. That was considered in a formal legal way to be outside the power of the Australian Parliament, and one must accept it. One can only hope that one day by constitutional referendum the powers of the Australian Parliament will be increased so that this measure can be a much more embracing one.

I do not wish to labour the matter very much more execpt to say that this Bill gives me an opportunity to raise a matter that has been of considerable concern to me for some time. I refer to the danger to the nation of Australia of the unbridled export of woodchips, mainly to Japan. The situation has been reached at which we are now exporting close to 3 million tons of woodchips per annum. The value of those woodchips- I do not set a great deal of store on their actual value per se- is nearly $40m. Most of these wood chips come from Tasmania although the exports from New South Wales in the last financial year increased to a point at which they exceeded half a million tons. I do not believe it correct to say that anyone has ever made a proper assessment of the effect of the wood chip industry in relation to the whole ecology of Australia and to the general question of the environment. The attraction of quick money has drawn a curtain over the eyes of some governments to the extent that they are just content to accept money and not give a hang about the future. It is worse when one realises that, to my knowledge, no attempt has been made to impose any statutory obligation on private individuals and companies which in my view are indulging, together with State governments, in the rape and spoliation of part of our natural resource heritage.

Senator Steele Hall - You have some examples from Tasmania.

Senator EVERETT - It is from that somewhat bitter experience, Senator Hall, that I speak. One could debate this matter at length but all I want to say is that if this Bill is passed the first thing I propose to do is to request the Minister for the Environment and Conservation to direct an inquiry on a national basis under clause 1 1 into all aspects of the wood chip industry so far as it affects Australia and our future.

It is unfortunate, perhaps, that this Bill, for reasons that are beyond control, is being debated in the dying hours of this sitting. It is important in my view that governments realise that they are not the beneficial owners of the earth, the sea and the air of the jurisdictions in which they operate. They are trustees only, and those governments will be judged by the manner in which they carry out that trust. The Australian Labor Government and the Minister, Dr Cass, in particular, have grasped the nettle with this Bill and they have given the nation of Australia a basis for hoping that man will intelligently mould to his total environment, including his social groupings, to his advancement and happiness. In conclusion this is a day for which responsible environmentalists have hoped but their hopes, I suggest, would never have materialised without the enlightened policies of the Australian Government which now are in statutory form. I support the Bill.

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