Minister for the Environment, Senator the Hon Robert Hill, 8 April 1998
I am pleased to present to the Senate the OECD's first environmental performance review of Australia.
The document is a comprehensive and measured audit of Australia's environment; a catalogue of the measures that governments have implemented to repair and protect it; and a set of proposals for development of environmental policy and policy processes.
The most gratifying feature of the report is the authors' acknowledgment of our responsible stewardship of what they
describe as an "ecologically unique continent, characterised by mega-bio-diversity", and our external territories.
And this in spite of the pressures created by what the review notes is our relatively fast growing economy within the OECD, reliant on primary industries and energy intensive industries.
More needs to be done. The examiners offer for consideration 52 proposals relating to formulation and implementation of policy, integration of environmental and economic policies, and international co-operation.
We shall as a government examine the proposals carefully and respond sensibly, for this report is testimony to the axiom that good environmental policy does not have to be radical policy.
Environmental and economic objectives can be integrated sensibly, as demonstrated by the review's recognition of Australia's voluntary and co-operative approach to environmental management, and our continued, successful implementation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development.
Indeed, it is highly complimentary to the government that most of the review's proposals entail development of our existing programs or expansion of our existing policy framework.
The authors' recognition of the scope for promoting consistent environmental and natural resources management objectives through the Natural Heritage Trust, especially in the context of the urgent need to maintain habitat and biodiversity, is vindication of the government's foresight.
The Trust is having a large and beneficial impact on the terrestrial environment. The government also is committed to developing and implementing an oceans policy to protect Australia's marine biodiversity and to ensure a sustainable fishing industry.
This is in addition to the chain of dugong sanctuaries created this year in the southern Great Barrier Reef region, and the listing of two more species of whale as endangered species.
We have anticipated or surpassed the review's proposals in other important policy areas as well.
For example, when discussing the need to foster consistent environmental and economic objectives the review proposes "improvements in institutional mechanisms to more fully and consistently integrate environmental considerations into economic decisions at all levels of government".
The government already has begun comprehensive reform of its environmental law regime to reflect and reinforce the review of the role of federal and state governments, conducted by the Council of Australian Governments.
There have been similar advances in the international sphere since the review was completed.
The review urges Australia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
At the time of the review, Australia's projected greenhouse gas emissions were forecast to be 43 per cent higher than1990 levels by 2010 under a "business as usual" scenario.
Since then the government has announced a $180 million parcel of programs which will reduce emissions to 18 per cent above 1990 levels by 2010.
Subsequently, as a result of our participation in the Kyoto Protocol, we are seeking to reduce our emissions further: to 8 per cent above 1990 levels by 2012.
This reduction, from 43 per cent above to 8 per cent above, will be a remarkable attainment.
I welcome the report. It achieves its aim of creating a baseline for future reviews and offers a constructive contribution to our efforts to enhance existing environmental policies.
The examiners - from Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Germany and the OECD Secretariat - visited Australia in April and May last year. They met representatives of federal, state and territory governments, industry, environment groups and academics.
The draft report was examined in Paris in November. The Department of the Environment led the Australian delegation which included five senior federal and three senior state government representatives.
I thank the examiners, and I thank the officers of my department and the many others who contributed to the compilation of the report.