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Local actions - national partnerships: local government and the environment integrating international, national and local environmental strategies: speech

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Ladies and gentlemen

The first speech I made after I became Minister for the Environment in 1990 was not on the natural environment or World Heritage - it was about the urban environment. That was an early indication of the change in emphasis I wanted to bring about in this portfolio.

That this Conference is sponsored by the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency is evidence that I have had some success in re-orienting the Government's and my own Department's priorities. '

Not that issues in the natural environment are any less important, or have not been just as time consuming - but I felt that the issues that affected most Australians most directly should be given equal time and equal emphasis.

Over 80% of Australians live in cities - and the issues which affect them directly can be linked around the ideas of waste and pollution.

Environmental issues which impact on individual Australians obviously also impact on the level of government closest to them: Local Government.

That is why we are here.

But I want to emphasise to you that waste and pollution are not narrow issues - we are not just talking garbage collection systems - they are as broad as the environment itself. And they are not simply local issues: global environmental problems impact locally. ' .

The Greenhouse effect, for example, is largely the result of waste carbon dioxide. Disposal of different toxic, hazardous and scheduled waste is a hot issue locally and internationally.

Air and water standards have to be dealt with at all levels - local, regional, national and international.

The intergovernmental mechanisms which are required to tackle the environmental challenges of the 21st Century are not a subject which one would expect to grab the imagination of the general public. They care about the issues, they are perhaps not as concerned or aware with how success is

achieved, or failure avoided. .

News coverage of environmental issues tends to be of the dramatic things supposedly gone wrong or coverage of conflict - not stories of harmony or getting things right. We get blue-green algal blooms, garbage strikes, overflowing landfill, Greenhouse and ozone scare's - not perhaps this conference.

But the urban issues, the intergovernmental issues - and the global issues - are crucial to the future of Australia - even if they are not seen as newsworthy.

The global environmental problems confronting nations will only be solved by the integration of international, national and local strategies. Pollution does not recognise nor respect national or state borders.

The importance of acting globally has been accepted by the international community in a number of areas of the environment not the least in the signature of the Biodiversity and Climate Change Conventions in Rio - but also

in many other forums as well.

The pressure on the international community to act globally has resulted directly from the global implications of potential environmental disasters such as Chernobyl, the Greenhouse Effect, acid rain, the significant air and water pollution caused by Eastern European industry, deforestation and

desertification and the dangers associated with the thinning of the ozone layer in the southern and northern hemispheres.

But cooperative global action is not confined to these publicised events: we should also remember the numerous agreements in many scientific fields, from migratory birds and meteorology to the Basel Convention and the London Dumping Convention.

But it is my view that equal importance must be placed on the critical role of local actions in pollution avoidance and environmental enhancement.

In Australia, we can proudly point to a Local Government system which has been at the forefront of this battle and has played a crucial role in many areas.

I recognise that those of you from Local Government who are here recognise . and understand all this. I also have to say that in the areas of waste management and recycling there are many local government areas which are

failing their constituents, and failing the environment.

I hope this conference will highlight what should be done and can be done for the environment at the local level, and that the message will be taken back to those reluctant to take their responsibilities seriously.

International Developments

Over the next two days, you will hear a lot about the impact that international developments are having on local actions.

In the research ANOP commissioned by my Department were some interesting observations about how Australians view the international, Australian and local environments.

The research found that while economic issues dominate the community's agenda, the environment has a permanent place on the national agenda. While employment is the most important current issue, the environment overshadows it as a more important long term issue.

A large majority of Australians perceive the worldwide environment as being degraded, and a clear majority have a negative view of the Australian-wide environment.

However pessimism about the environment decreases the closer it gets to home - and Australians have a more favourable view of their local environment. Perhaps because they feel they can do something locally, they do not view it as quite so degraded.

The top four issues in each category are similar:

Worldwide issues are forests, air pollution, water pollution and depletion of the ozone layer.

Australian issues are water pollution, air pollution and depletion of ozone.

Local issues are water pollution, air pollution, industrial waste and urban sprawl/traffic.

Even more significant was the finding that the community believes that in 10 years time, it will be the most important issue. Concern for the environment is no passing phase - it is here to stay.

Ladies and gentlemen

The decisions taken at the UNCED Conference in Rio earlier this year have established the framework for national governments to act - particularly as I mentioned the Biodiversity and Climate Change Conventions, and the responsibilities in Agenda 21.

They have demonstrated the scale of the challenge and the practicalities of moving from unsustainable development to ecologically sustainable development.

As a result of Rio, the Commonwealth Government will meet its responsibilities and is energetically consulting with industry, non-government organisations and other spheres of government with the aim of developing and implementing national strategies.

Commonwealth's Leadership Role

The ANOP indicated that a clear majority of Australians believe it is the Federal Government which should set uniform standards for air and water pollution, World Heritage, the protection of endangered species and land degradation.

However I believe that in the Australia of today these things, and other must be achieved through cooperation of all levels of government - which we have set

out to do through the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment, the Ecologically Sustainable Development process and ANZECC.

The challenge for all government is to balance the demands of the environment with the need to ensure a viable and growing economy. Most of you will appreciate that this is not always easy, but it is the underlying philosophy of Ecologically Sustainable Development.

However, the Commonwealth willingly accepts its responsibility to adopt a leadership role and is exercising it in a number of ways.

Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment

Environmental management is not a new role for Local Government. It has been involved in the supply and management of water for over 150 years and the disposal of urban waste almost as long.

A relatively recent development, however, is the recognition that global environmental problems require regional and local solutions to give effect to international and national strategies.

In recognition of Local Government's vital role in this process, Local Government is a party to the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE).

This historic agreement was signed in May 1992 by the Prime Minister, the Premiers of the States, the Chief Ministers of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory and the President of the Australian Local Government Association. It establishes the ground rules under which

Commonwealth, State, Territory and Local Government interact on the environment and sets out cooperative arrangements on a wide range of specific issues. .

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The IGAE provides an important first step towards delineating the responsibilities and interests of the three spheres of government in environment protection.

This Conference is being conducted under the title "Local Actions - National Partnership". It has been designed primarily to provide an opportunity for the discussion of Local Government's role in the national partnership and to provide an opportunity for those most directly involved to discuss local councils' contribution to environmental protection.

Information Exchange

Information is one of the most vital tools which Local Government needs to help it make sound environment decisions.

A national survey on Local Government environmental information resources has found that much of the technical information councils need to manage their responsibilities to the environment already exists.

However, one of the major problems which confronts local councils is not being able to readily access relevant information, particularly on such matters as Commonwealth and State policies, databases and relevant information from other councils. .

To assist Local Government overcome this problem, the Commonwealth Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories and the Office of Local Government have cooperated in implementing a number of projects to support environmental information needs at the local level.

Local Government has been involved from the outset in the development and consultation on these matters.

One project is the recent establishment of a pilot scheme to provide information to users by way of a computer-based information exchange network, known as CouncilNet.

It is accessible throughout Australia. I am to officially launch the project immediately following this session and officers from my Department are here to demonstrate how it works.

The pilot CouncilNet project provides for communication on issues such as waste management, water quality, conservation planning and Greenhouse issues.

Environmental Information and Support in Local Government (EiS) is another important information initiative. It is a new three year $lm national project funded through the Commonwealth Office of Local Government. The project, administered through the Centre for Resources and Environmental Studies at

the Australian National University, aims to link local councils across Australia, improving their access to the information, knowledge and skills they need for appropriate environmental management.

National Strategies

I mentioned before the necessity for the Commonwealth to take a leading role in the development of national environmental strategies.

Many of you would already be aware that the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency has been quite active in this area since its establishment last year and several strategies have been promulgated. I want to mention just three which I believe have special relevance to Local Government.

Waste minimisation

Each year more than 14 million tonnes of solid domestic, commercial and industrial waste are disposed of in Australian landfills. Australia's level of waste per head of population is one of the highest in the world.

As well as discharge of waste water to sewers, more than 200 000 tonnes of liquid and solid industrial wastes are taken to special landfills and treatment facilities throughout Australia.

A key component of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) will be to reduce the flow of wastes into our natural environment. Efficient use Of resources and waste minimisation are, therefore, key aspects of ESD.

As you would all be aware, waste disposal is one of the major concerns of local councils and other government organisations throughout the country.

Pollution is degrading the quality of urban, rural and natural environments.

Landfill sites are becoming scarce as there is growing community debate over waste management issues.

As a community we are changing the way we view and deal with waste. Our primary aim should be to avoid the production of waste; this applies to Governments, industry and individuals.

The National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Strategy is the first step in pursuing the aim of reducing the amount of waste going to landfill by 50% by the year 2000.

Central to the Strategy is a hierarchy of waste management priorities. In order of importance these are waste avoidance, waste reduction, waste reuse, waste recycling or reclamation, waste treatment and waste disposal.

We all have a role to play whether as elected members of government, officials, managers or workers in industry, or as individual consumers.

It has been particularly pleasing to see the involvement of Local Government in the development of the National Waste Minimisation and Recycling Strategy, for which the Commonwealth Environment Protection (CEPA) is responsible.

Local Government has also enthusiastically taken up an important part in the recent CEP A B. Smart - Play Your Part waste management education campaign.

Chemicals '

In Australia, a large number of manufacturers produce chemicals for use in industry and agriculture, and for a vast array of products in and around our homes. These chemicals are important for the production of basic necessities such as food, clothing, building materials and transport; they provide

medicines and other health care products and are used in manufacturing to produce plastics, detergents, glue, paint and fibres such as nylon.

Although chemicals can provide immense benefits to the community, risks may be associated with their use.

Last Friday a report was released by the Independent Panel on Intractable Wastes on the disposal of scheduled wastes. It contains some important recommendations - above all that there should be no single national facility for the destruction of waste. No High

Temperature Incinerator. Instead it recommends that different wastes be treated by different, appropriate technologies.

The manufacture, transportation, storage, handling, use and disposal of chemicals all potentially pose risks to the environment, the public and the workplace.

These risks arise from the emission of toxic substances from factories; transport of hazardoiis substances through residential areas; contamination of food with pesticide residues; and inadequate protection of workers.

Chemicals in Australia need to be responsibly managed to ensure that risks do not exceed acceptable levels. '

This involves the cooperation of industry, the public and, once again, all levels of government — Commonwealth, State, Territory and local.

The Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency is working with all these parties to streamline existing arrangements for regulation of chemicals and develop long-term management plans.

It is particularly important that Australia is able to contribute to, and derive, maximum benefit from, international chemicals programs such as those associated with other countries means that Australia can protect its people and its environment more

effectively, while at the same time avoiding duplication an d waste at all levels of government and industry.

We are working to help people to gain a better understanding of the benefits and risks associated with chemicals, particularly through the Understanding Science and Your Environment Program.

Water Quality

With the exception of the Antarctic, Australia is the driest continent on earth.

Average annual rainfall is a meagre 420mm. Rainfall varies greatly between areas, seasons and years and with high evaporation rates, quality water is a precious resource.

It is a resource which needs protection as well as conservation.

Australia has critical water quality problems including rising salinity levels, increasing incidence of bacterial, chemical (including nutrient) and sediment contamination of waterways. These issues, if not properly addressed, can lead to serious health, environmental, agricultural and industrial and economic problems.

The summer blue-green algal bloom threat is with us again and will be with us for many years to come. .

Governments can make a significant contribution to the reduction of pollutants running into our water systems.

It is critical for governments at all levels to recognise this and to take action to protect this most valuable resource.

The Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and the Australian Water Resources Council is developing a National Water Quality Management Strategy for sewerage systems, water quality management in the rural environment and ground water protection.

It is my intention to support this with a major Water Quality Education Campaign aimed at industry and the general community early in 1993. This will be done in consultation with other Commonwealth Ministers with a role to play in this area and with the support of State and Local Government.

Conclusion I believe that I have illustrated that the Commonwealth Government is committed to taking a leadership role in advancing Australia's international and national environmental responsibilities. Part of that responsibility is to facilitate a national partnership which, in the Australian context, means an important role for Local Government.

At the same time, the Commonwealth recognises that not all councils are equal when it comes to their ability to respond to environmental demands. Pollution or other environmental challenges have no regard for boundaries, size of shire or financial resources. Obviously the most effective manner to tackle the problem is on a regional basis. In this respect, the Commonwealth will do all it can to encourage and assist regional cooperation.

The activities of the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency . exemplifies the links between economic development and environment protection. Business opportunities and job creation are closely connected with current environmental strategies . Commonwealth agencies generally share with Local Government the objectives of achieving integrated policies and organisational efficiency. ’

This Conference is an important milestone in the relationship between Local Government and the Commonwealth in developing a national approach to national environmental issues, in institutional terms as well as policies.

The Government has declared an objective of achieving a "Cleaner Australia by 2001". However, the Commonwealth can only go so far on its own. A "Cleaner Australia by 2001" will only be achieved with the concerted support of all spheres of government. Support which will need to be translated into

policies applied at the local level.

Ladies and gentlemen, a clever country is a leaner country. And that is what we want - A Cleaner Australia by 2001.