Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3412

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - This Bill, as earlier speakers have indicated, gives expression to a wholly commendable objective but it is a Bill which has some features about it in respect of which I have reservations. I think it is fair to say that the Opposition as a whole has reservations about features of the Bill. It is one of those pieces of legislation about which any Opposition has to make its judgment. When there are desirable and not so desirable features about a Bill an Opposition has to decide on which side of the fence it comes down. I think everybody acknowledges that in the late twentieth century the twin questions of how man controls his environment and how man respects his privacy are the most vital questions for the development and future of mankind. We see, as we did not see earlier, despoliation of our natural environment inways which were quite perceptibly occurring but the import of which was never sufficiently appreciated. We now see the way in which the natural features of a continent are disappearing. It is incumbent upon mankind to do what it can to preserve the natural heritage which is ours. This Bill is an attempt by the Commonwealth Government to give effect to that objective in this Commonwealth area.

Equally I believe there is need for man to feel that he is no longer constrained by the mass, pressures and influences, that he is moved and manipulated by pressures over which he has no influence and that the essential quality and integrity as an individual are able to be preserved. These are 2 objectives which I know are at the forefront of thinking in the Liberal Party today, and occasionally they come in conflict. I think there is an element of conflict in this measure which we are passing through the Senate today. I hope that just in the expression of some views we can resolve these problems in the future and at least make the community aware that desirable and commendable as the protection of the environment is, it ought not to be done at the cost of the preservation of individual privacy. These are questions which I think ought to be in the forefront of our political awareness for the future.

Against that background, I will say specifically 3 things about this legislation. The first is that it gives expression to an initiative which was adopted by the previous Liberal Government in a quite memorable statement which was made to the Senate on 24 May 1972. The concept of impact statements in Australia received its real impetus from the statement which was made on behalf of the McMahon Government at that time. I simply refer to one aspect of what was a very long statement made in both Houses on 24 May 1972. On the subject of impact statements the statement made on behalf of the then Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts read: . . I wish to announce that the Government has decided to introduce a system of 'impact statements' designed to protect the environment. That is to say that when a Commonwealth Minister prepares a submission to the Cabinet on any proposal that has some relevance to the environment that submission must be accompanied by a statement setting out the impact the proposal is likely to make on the environment. This 'impact statement' will, I am sure, become an important element in decision-making. I might add that State projects for which Commonwealth financial assistance is sought will also need to be supported by assurances that all environmental factors have been considered and evaluated.

In the time which still remained to the previous Government, that policy was implemented. I think that it has been a policy which the succeeding Government has sought to implement, although there have been some notorious occasions, like the proposed Galston airport project, on which no impact statement was sought beforehand. But this legislation, I think, is a culmination of the earlier policies and it represents the truth of the prophecy that impact statements would become an important part of decision making. However, one difference is to be noted, and that is that under the proposals which the Government is implementing, it seeks to have its own impact statement procedures apply to Commonwealth financed State projects, whereas the view of the previous Governmentand it would be the view which the present Opposition parties would preferably follow- was that the State procedures ought to be sufficient for an effective evaluation of impact on the environment of various types of proposals.

As Senator Carrick indicated earlier, the States have developed procedures and means by which this evaluation can take place which I think are quite extraordinary in their range. I know as far as Victoria is concerned- and this has been borne out in relation to the Newport power station environmental protection hearings- that the steps which the Victorian Government has taken have subjected the whole machinery of the executive government to the decisions of the Protection Authority and the Environmental Appeals Board. That, I believe, is an indication of the strength of the legislation in Victoria. As I understand the position in the Commonwealth legislation, the Minister still ultimately has a residual authority which may or may not work out desirably in practice. But that is for implementation in due course. The second aspect relates to whether or not the width of this legislation may in fact be misused in terms of the way in which the environmental procedures can be used.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Senator GREENWOOD -Before the sitting of the Senate was suspended I was indicating that the power which the Commonwealth Government was asserting in respect of this environment protection legislation was immensely wide. The environment is defined as including all aspects of the surroundings of man, whether affecting him as an individual or in his social groupings. 'Environmental' has a corresponding meaning. When we consider the matters which this Bill is giving the Commonwealth Minister a power to examine, we see that they cover almost every aspect of human endeavour. That is a mighty significant and far-reaching range of power.

Senator Everett - Does the honourable senator object to that in the context of this Bill?

Senator GREENWOOD - I find that a very difficult question to which to give an immediate answer. I think the environment is immensely important. Over the years it has not been given the adequate appreciation which I hope, for the balance of this century, mankind will give it. I feel that to give any government in Australia the powers which this Bill gives- that is, to roam into all areas of human affairs as this Bill permitsought to be scrutinised. I have said that it is a matter for judgment for us in Opposition to determine how we approach the matter.

Senator Everett - But the Opposition will vote against the Bill.

Senator GREENWOOD -No, we have decided that we will support the Bill. Having said that, I think it is important, nevertheless, to draw attention to the width of the powers and the dangers which are involved on the basis that it might even be a warning to Government that if the powers are exercised or abused in a certain way then, the Opposition, when it comes back into Government in the not too distant future will, I hope, correct and remedy some of the things contained in this legislation. Senator Carrick expressed the Opposition's viewpoint. I do not want to say anything which detracts from the propositions he put forward. I notice that the language of the Bill and the letter which the Minister (Dr Cass) sent to the honourable member for Gwydir, Mr Hunt, who is the Opposition spokesman in he House of Representatives on his matter, indicate the way in which this measure can be dealt with. There is not doubt that the Commonwealth can look into the environmental aspects of any State proposal financed with

Commonwealth money. Very few State projects are not financed with Commonweath money. Therefore the Commonwealth's range of activity is exceedingly large. This aspect is not answered by what Dr Cass said to Mr Hunt. He simply said that the principle concern of the State Ministersthat is, the Premier of Queensland and the Minister for Conservation in Victoria- appears to be that the Bill might be used in relation to Loan Council approvals. In this respect in the course of drafting the legislation the First Parliamentary Counsel expressed the view that the Bill does not cover proposals for the application by States of funds, the borrowings of which have been approved by the Loan Council unless some agreement or arrangement with the Australian Government is involved.

The point is that almost every cent of the moneys that are borrowed by the States are the subject of some agreement or arrangement with the Australian Government. Therefore, there is virtually not one State project which is not susceptible to the Commonwealth controls contained in this legislation. I believe that it is blinking at the plain facts contained in the legislation and in the Minister's letter to ignore that. I go further: On 3 1 October I asked the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation who represents the Minister for the Environment and Conservation in this place a question about the Newport power station project. I asked the Minister whether he was aware that a group of unions in Victoria was standing over the Victorian Government by simply telling it that the power station, essential for Victoria's needs, would not be built at Newport. I also asked the Minister whether he was aware that this attitude was being taken against a background of exhaustive inquiries into the environmental impact of such a power station and the fact that those inquiries had been held and that all of them had been resolved in favour of the power station. I asked the Minister whether he was prepared, in the interests of balanced and sensible environmental policies and with a view to upholding the authority of the State of Victoria, to express his strong support for the Victorian Government's position. Senator Wheeldon, the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, stated quite categorically in simple words 'no'. In other words, he has demonstrated that so far as he is concerned he will not support the Victorian Government's position. He said so in this chamber. I ask him now, if he has either the courage or the knowledge to do so, whether he will assert that so far as this legislation is concerned it will not be used as a vehicle to examine the Newport power station. I ask him that seriously and quite deliberately in the hope that he will give an indication now as to whether the Victorian Govenment can expect the Commonwealth Government's assertion of authority with regard to the new power station.

The legislation is clearly wide enough. I regret that we are not able to amend the legislation in order to prevent the Victorian Government's position being recognised under this legislation. But I ask the Minister whether he will say that the Commonwealth Government will not use this legislation in any way to affect the implementation of the Victorian Government's policy with regard to the Newport power station. I shall repeat my question because I see that he is speaking with other Ministers. I hope that he will advert to this matter in the course of his reply because I think it is an important matter upon which we are entitled to receive an answer. The Victorian legislation which will be to a large extent duplicated by this legislation- indeed, it may even be superseded, but ultimately that is for the High Court to decide- indicates that there is an Environment Protection Authority and an Environment Appeals Board which can examine whether projects in Victoria are consistent with what is required for the protection of the environment. I have said earlier that that legislation has teeth. It subjects all proposals of the Government to the examination of the Authority and the Board. The Authority and the Board have both decided that the Victorian Newport power station is a project which ought to be continued. We know at the present time that in Victoria there is a move by certain conservation interests and certain trade union leaders to prevent the Newport power station from being constructed.

The union leaders had every opportunity in hearings before the Authority and the Board to put their case. The unions concerned chose to put no case whatsoever. Two or three conservation bodies, including the Conservation Foundation, did put a case to the Authority and to the Appeals Board, and the Appeals Board rejected the case which was put by these bodies. Fairness requires that they accept the decision of the Authority because it was a decision made after examination of the evidence. But notwithstanding those facts we find that certain union leaders, without the consent or authority of their union members, are prepared to tell the Victorian Government that this Newport power station will not be constructed. It is a challenge to the authority of the Government and it is being conducted in the name of environment protection -

Senator Wheeldon - But what has it got to do with the Bill?

Senator GREENWOOD -And environment protection, to answer the Minister, is the name of this Bill. All I am concerned to ascertain from the Minister is whether he will give an assurance that the provisions of this Bill will not be used -

Senator Wheeldon - Yes, I will give you that assurance.

Senator GREENWOOD - ... to thwart in any way the implementation by the Victorian Government of the decisions which have been made by the Victorian Government through the Victorian Parliament.

Senator Wheeldon - Yes, I give you the assurance. What more do you want?

Senator GREENWOOD - I would ask the Minister to give that assurance in clear and unequivocal terms when in due course he responds to this particular Bill. I know that he is attempting to interject while I am speaking, but what I am looking for is a clear statement, contradicting his earlier statements in this place, which indicates precisely what the Federal Government's position is. I believe we ought to have an attitude expressed by the Government which clearly discloses where it stands on this matter with regard to State environment projects. The language of this Bill is language which would permit the Commissioners appointed under the legislation to inquire into any area of human affairs, not only the area of affairs related to the construction of projects but also areas which are not related to physical creations but are related, for example, to publications and censorship. I hope that the Minister is prepared to listen to what is being said and not to discuss other matters with his colleagues, with a view to giving some response when in due course his reply is forthcoming. The third matter to which I think attention ought to be drawn with regard to this legislation is the conflict of interests which the Bill discloses. I have said earlier that the need to protect the environment is quite clear and unchallengeable, but this Bill imposes upon individuals the right to submit to the requests of persons appointed by the Minister- who are not judicial officers but who may be anybody in the community whom the Minister appoints- to attend before them, to answer questions, to produce documents, and indeed to allow their properties and premises to be entered without any warrant whatsoever. This I believe is totally in conflict with the standards of privacy, with the standards of civil liberties which the Liberal Party stands for and which the Labor Party, when it was in opposition, was prepared to stand for.

Senator Wheeldon - I have agreed to accept your amendment. What are you going on about?

Senator GREENWOOD - I know that with constant interjections the Minister desires to denigrate the points that I am making. Maybe it is only because he recognises that he has not got much of a defence to those points. But I suggest that you cannot resolve satisfactorily these environmental protection questions by simply saying that individuals can be subjected to all sorts of impositions, to coercive powers, because the environment requires that individuals must submit to those powers. It simply means, in other language, that the national interest is supreme and that the individual is subordinate to it. The Liberal Party is opposed to that sort of proposition and we hope that, in due course, an opportunity will be given to us to reverse these features of this legislation.

As I have indicated, the Opposition will give its vote in favour of the Bill but will do so with some recognition of the features of the Bill which are controversial and which we would prefer not to see in the legislation. On balance, we recognise that there are some advantages to be derived and therefore we will support the legislation. But I hope that the Minister is prepared to make some exceptions to the general authoritarian approach of his Government by giving some answers to the questions which are asked.

Debate (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) adjourned.

Suggest corrections