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The Commonwealth's Environment Expenditure 1997-98
Statement by Senator The Honourable Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
Environment Australia 1997
This is an historic moment in the process of protecting and repairing Australia's environment.
This year's Budget realises the Liberal-National Party Government's vision of devising and implementing a comprehensive, self-funding strategy to restore and conserve Australia's natural heritage - its land, its rivers, its flora and fauna and its coastal and marine environments.
In 1997-98, the Government will draw on the expected proceeds of the partial sale of its telecommunications operator, Telstra, to turn the vision into reality. Legislation authorising the partial sale of Telstra was passed by the Parliament in December last year.
My Ministerial Statement at the time of the last budget, Investing in our Natural Heritage, described the environmental challenges confronting the nation.
They involve halting the loss of our species and the degradation of our land. They involve securing our native forests, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing air and water pollution in our cities.
Australia's marine territories and fragile coastline are threatened by pollution and unsustainable use. Species like dugong, whales, turtles and albatross remain vulnerable.
The Government will begin implementing realistic solutions to these challenges.
The decision to divert $1.25 billion to the environment up until 2001-02 was made, notwithstanding our determination to redress the inherited $10 billion budget deficit.
And it has been achieved in the teeth of dogged opposition from the non-government parties in the Senate.
This year's budget is environmentally significant for another reason.
It redeems the pledge, contained in last year's ministerial statement, to identify and publish whole of Commonwealth spending on the environment.
The exercise is another 'first' by this Government.
The result is intended to supplement other Commonwealth environmental reporting initiatives such as the report, Australia: State of the Environment 1996, the first in a series; environmental information gathered and published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics; creation of the Environmental Resources Information Network database; establishment of the National Resource Information Centre; initiation of the National Land and Water Audit and the National Pollutant Inventory; and the activities of the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group.
Like the other initiatives this one was designed to promote more informed and transparent policy formulation within the environment portfolio.
Because of problems of definition and estimation, it has not been possible to identify accurately all Commonwealth environmental spending. It is however, likely to be in excess of $3 billion, including direct portfolio spending of $2.1 billion over the four years to 2000-01.
Priorities for 1997-98
This document also stipulates the Government's environmental priorities for this year.
Within the environment portfolio our 10 main objectives for 1997-98 are:
The Government introduced the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Bill 1996 into the Senate at the end of October after the Bill had been scrutinised by a Senate committee.
The objectives of the Trust are to:
New spending will be directed to five major areas: vegetation, rivers, biodiversity, land and coasts and marine. When added to existing programme estimates, total spending over the period from 1996-97 to 2001-02 amounts to $1.7 billion.
A New Way of Managing the Australian Landscape
The Trust integrates for the first time at the national level the mutually supporting goals of biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture.
It thus promotes integration of the efforts of individual landholders, community groups, industry and the three tiers of government to manage the landscape in an ecologically sustainable way.
This recognises the observation of the authors of Australia: State of the Environment 1996 that '[t]here is little likelihood of a coherent policy emerging from the traditional compartmentalised approach in which different departments or different levels of government each handle different, small parts of the problem.'
Natural Heritage Trust Progress
The delay in passing the legislation for the partial sale of Telstra prevented the Trust's programmes from being implemented until this budget.
Nevertheless, the Government allocated an additional $41.9 million in 1996-97 to enable preparatory work on Trust programmes and maintenance of some existing programmes for which funding was about to cease.
As a result of the Government's efforts last year:
This year one of our major tasks will be to reform ways in which we pursue environment protection within the Federal Government.
We shall pursue reforms which emphasise cooperation instead of conflict between the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments; reforms which attack duplication and poor targeting of some government programmes and legislation; which encourage partnership between government, industry and the wider community; which refocus our efforts from process to outcomes; and reforms which will improve the investment climate for Australian business by providing more certainty about the Government's role in environment protection.
Reorganising the Portfolio
During the year the environment portfolio was reorganised to improve programme management and renamed Environment Australia.
The five groups within the portfolio now are:
Working with the States and Territories
The Commonwealth, States and Australian Local Government Association through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) are conducting a review of relative roles and responsibilities for the environment. The objective is to provide enhanced protection for the environment by building a strong, cooperative relationship among the three tiers of government.
The Government is committed to fully use the potential of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE) to achieve a better outcome for the environment.
Defining a Commonwealth Role
The Commonwealth obviously has a critical role to play in safeguarding the environment for all Australians. However, its role is not clearly defined so Commonwealth intervention often is inconsistent and inefficient.
In the review of relative roles and responsibilities, the Government believes the Commonwealth's role should be directed to issues of national environmental significance, consistent with the broad principles enunciated in the IGAE.
The challenge will be to define issues of national environmental significance. Any definition should ensure the Commonwealth is not involved in issues of only local or State significance. However, the review must also ensure that the quality of the Commonwealth's involvement in matters of national environmental significance is enhanced.
Reviewing Environmental Legislation
To implement the outcomes of the COAG process, the Government will have to amend Commonwealth legislation. Accordingly, the Government will formally initiate a review of Commonwealth environmental law by publishing a discussion paper canvassing possible reforms in the second half of this year.
An important objective of the review will be to improve protection of the environment. Much of the Commonwealth's legislation is 20 years old and no longer reflects best practice.
Much existing legislation reflects a 'first generation' approach to environmental protection. For example, existing law provides for national parks management but does not address off-reserve conservation of biodiversity.
Commonwealth legislation should be amended to incorporate the principles of ecologically sustainable development and address in an integrated way the Commonwealth's global and national responsibilities.
The review must ensure that Commonwealth environmental legislation embraces contemporary approaches to environmental protection including off-reserve conservation, environmental auditing and the use of economic instruments.
The review must also reduce duplication, improve certainty for proponents and increase the efficiency of approvals processes.
Reviewing Conservation of Australia's Heritage Places
In concert with the Government's review of its relative role in environmental management, the Australian Heritage Commission has been seeking community views on the future directions for recognising and conserving Australia's heritage places.
The Commission has published a series of discussion papers seeking views on heritage policy and principles, the concept of a national list and national standards, the outcomes of which are being introduced into the COAG process.
Broad consultation has revealed a strong acknowledgment of the shared responsibility of all Australians for the care of Australia's natural and cultural heritage. In particular, there is widespread support for the development of a national heritage places policy which would be based on general principles and standards supported by all levels of government and the community.
Developing a Set of Environmental Indicators
The next logical step after the State of the Environment report is the development of a set of environmental indicators. We shall have a set of scientifically credible, environmental indicators for continuous state of the environment reporting and environmental auditing.
The Government is working with the States, Territories, local government, the scientific community and community groups, to ensure these national indicators are the most relevant, useful and practical for all decision makers.
Development of environmental indicators for state of the environment reporting on land, inland waters, estuaries and the seas, biodiversity, the atmosphere, natural and cultural heritage and human settlements has begun.
The Government recognises that the best possible scientific information and assessments are of limited use unless the community has a sound awareness and understanding of our environment.
Therefore, we shall ensure independent, scientifically expert interpretation and communicate trends to the general community in the same way we currently communicate economic and employment statistics, that is regular and easily comprehended.
Australia recognises the need for coordinated global action to address many of the environmental challenges confronting the planet. An effective response to issues such as climate change, the unsustainable use of ocean resources and the trade in endangered species requires international cooperation.
Australia has traditionally played an important role promoting international environmental efforts within the international community. Australia will continue to demonstrate leadership in this area.
Many international environmental issues have direct implications for Australia, for example, health impacts associated with ozone depletion, the need to ensure sustainable fishing practices in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and the need to ensure global stability is not threatened by disputes over access to resources (such as disputes over river basin management).
In addition to protecting our direct interests, Australia recognises it has a responsibility to contribute to efforts to protect the global environment beyond Australia's national borders.
We discharge this responsibility, for example, by contributing to the Global Environment Facility ($43 million between 1994 and 1997) and through our overseas aid programme, which funds a wide range of environmental projects.
In 1996-97, Australia made a significant contribution to the international environment agenda. We assumed the secretariat for the International Coral Reef Initiative, successfully nominated 11 species of albatross for listing under the Bonn Convention, and created a domestic taskforce to explore ways to achieve a permanent international ban on commercial whaling.
In June 1997, the nations of the world will gather at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) to review progress on the implementation of Agenda 21, the global action plan adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and to set global priorities for the next five years.
At the 5th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in April 1997, Australia successfully argued that the priority areas for the next five years should include the protection and sustainable use of our oceans, freshwater management, achieving an equitable and environmentally effective response to climate change, action on sustainable forest management and promoting sustainable cities.
We also stressed the need to encourage sustainable patterns of production and consumption through the adoption of appropriate economic policies including full cost pricing to add in environmental costs and remove subsidies.
In keeping with its past role, Australia will demonstrate leadership at UNGASS by urging all nations to commit to urgent implementation of programmes to achieve sustainable development.
In 1997, Australia will continue its commitment to international environmental action in other forums. For example, Australia will play a key role in improving the management and operation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) through its membership of a new high level governance group. In addition, Australia is an active participant in negotiations on two new chemicals conventions.
Australia has played a leading role in ensuring that environmental concerns are a key consideration in APEC's efforts to promote economic growth. This role will continue, with APEC environment ministers due to meet in Canada in June 1997.
The South Pacific will also continue to be a priority area for our international environmental effort. In 1996-97 we were the largest donor to the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme.
Daily life, especially in cities and regional centres, exacts a heavy toll on our environment. Too often the unintended consequences of our actions are air pollution, waste and effluent.
Within the environment portfolio, the Environment Protection Group has been reorganised to more effectively help reduce the pressures we place on our environment through impact assessment, setting national guidelines, and working with industry and the community towards ecologically sustainable development.
All levels of government are confronted with the problem of managing thousands of tonnes of waste going to landfill. On average, Australians each produce a tonne of waste a year. There is widespread concern about waste, its disposal, and its implications for the environment. We can no longer afford not to turn our waste into a resource.
The Government is committed to improving resource management by reducing waste. It is committed to the Australian and New Zealand Conservation Council's (ANZECC) target of reducing waste going to landfill by 50 per cent by 2000.
The Government continues to cooperate with the packaging industry to reduce unnecessary packaging. New industry waste agreements were signed this year. Furthermore, the Government is committed in the year 1997-98, to addressing more effectively other major waste streams such as organic, industrial, construction and demolition waste. There will also be greater emphasis on reducing waste at source. The Government also supports the activities of the Cooperative Research Centre on Waste Management and Pollution Control which conducts research into all aspects of the waste management, and manages the Australian Waste Database.
Litter is a significant national problem. The Government provides funding to assist organisations such as Clean Up Australia and Keep Australia Beautiful in their efforts to reduce litter and to raise community awareness.
The principal objective of cleaner production is implementation of changes in product design, manufacturing processes and management techniques to increase efficiency, prevent pollution and reduce wastes.
In 1996 the Government endorsed products of the Eco Redesign project, including state of the art household and office equipment. The Government invested $760,000 and industry invested $15 million. The result was production using less water, energy and raw materials. The resulting products, now commercially available, use minimum water, energy and raw materials throughout their life and maximise recyclability of their components.
The Government, through Environment Australia, produced environmental best practice modules and handbooks for the mining sector, local government and the health care industry.
The National Cleaner Production Demonstration Project, funded by the Government, is providing detailed case studies and costing information for implementation of cleaner production in a number of industries. These practical experiences have been widely promoted to increase industry's awareness of the economic and environmental benefits of improving environmental efficiency.
Now the Government is funding development of a national strategy for cleaner production, to be implemented through ANZECC, due for completion by the end of the year. Its objective is to develop an integrated strategy through education, training, expert assistance and regulation.
This involves all levels of government, industry and the community to ensure implementation of cleaner production techniques and sound environment management.
Air pollution is the environmental problem of greatest concern to Australians.
Recognising this, the Government announced an inquiry to examine solutions to urban air pollution in October. The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering is conducting the inquiry and has created a series of scientific taskforces. Public submissions are now being assessed.
The inquiry complements the work of the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) which is developing a measure for ambient air quality. The NEPC, which I chair, held its first meeting in June and met again in November.
The council also has agreed to the development of a national measure addressing a national pollution inventory which, through its reporting mechanisms in relation to pollutant discharges to air, will assist in fine-tuning air quality monitoring programmes.
The Government is continuing to support the Smogbusters programme, conducted by the conservation councils with assistance from the Government, to raise awareness of sources of air pollution and promote use of public transport to reduce motor vehicle pollution.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides a clear message on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Action must encompass response to the potential impacts of global warming, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and advancing climate change science.
Internationally, Australia is playing an active and constructive role in negotiations for an agreement at the Climate Change Conference in December in Kyoto.
In October 1996 Australia submitted a proposal calling all countries to bear an equitable share of the global costs of addressing climate change. Australia's proposal involved a set of economic indicators to differentiate country targets to take into account the economic structure of each economy.
Australia is seeking an outcome which is fair and achievable. The Rio Earth Summit in 1992, set targets that were not achievable without disproportionate economic cost.
The Government has allocated continued funding for climate change research to obtain more accurate data on weather patterns and their potential health, economic and environmental impacts. Australia's contribution particularly from a Southern Hemisphere perspective is widely appreciated.
The discussion paper, Future Directions for Australia's National Greenhouse Strategy, was published for comment. After assessing public submissions, a final strategy will be adopted by Commonwealth, State and Territory heads of government in July. The Government is committed to a rigorous domestic response.
Through funding and support of the Greenhouse Challenge Office the Government is working with industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Thirty companies and twelve industry associations, representing Australia's key energy users and producers, have signed cooperative agreements to reduce their emissions.
In July, the Government announced a pilot project, Activities Implemented Jointly, to provide expertise and new technology to check emissions to developing nations, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Government recognises Australia needs a sustainable energy policy as it enters the second millennium. To assist in that objective, a White Paper on sustainable energy is being developed and will be published during the year 1997-98.
In all, the Government has allocated funding totalling $31.4 million relating to research on climate change, the ozone layer and air quality.
Australia is the custodian of about 10 per cent of the world's biological diversity. This diversity of life rivals any in the world.
Tragically, biodiversity is being lost as a result of past mistakes, poor environmental management and lack of knowledge.
Implementing the National Biodiversity Strategy
The Government will provide $4.4 million over the next two years in pursuit of the objectives of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biodiversity and to meet Australia's obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity.
The Government is working with the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) and the Biodiversity Strategy Executive Group to develop the mechanisms needed to implement the Strategy nationwide. In addition the Government established the Biological Diversity Advisory Council which includes representatives of industry, non-governmental organisations, indigenous peoples and the scientific community to advise me and ANZECC on biodiversity conservation issues.
The council has met four times and presented a report, Incentives for Off-Reserve Conservation, to the Minister and ANZECC. The report recommends guidelines for implementing Natural Heritage Trust programmes, including the National Vegetation Initiative, Landcare, Rivercare, Murray-Darling 2001, Endangered Species, feral animals and weeds programmes.
Reports on incentives for off-reserve conservation on indigenously owned land and on a strategy for promoting awareness of the significance of biodiversity conservation throughout Australia will be completed soon.
Protecting Native Habitat and Endangered Species
In 1996-97, the Government completed action plans for marsupials, monotremes cetaceans, seals, dugongs and frogs. These will conserve our species and ecological communities by redirecting efforts towards on-ground works.
Funding of $5.9 million for the programme also supported recovery plans for 194 species which were being implemented in 1996-97. In addition, a new strategic plan for the Threatened Species Network has been prepared. It substantially increases opportunities for community groups and landholders working to conserve endangered species.
The Government will provide an additional $16 million to the year 1999-2000 for the Endangered Species Programme. Some $6.7 million will be provided in 1997-98 to help prevent the further extinction of Australia's fauna and flora and to restore endangered species to secure status in the wild.
The money will be used to implement recovery plans and to encourage the involvement of local groups in the conservation of endangered species.
National Reserve System Programme
The $80 million National Reserve System programme which will run until 2001-02 will help to establish and maintain a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of protected areas across Australia.
The Government recognises that if reserves are to conserve biodiversity, they need to be well managed.
The National Reserve System programme is complemented by other measures to conserve biodiversity in places outside the reserve system, such as on farms and along roadsides, streams and urban and coastal areas.
In 1997-98, $11 million will be provided to expand and protect our national reserve system - an increase of $9 million over the amount allocated for 1996-97.
Conserving and Restoring Vegetation
Native vegetation is an integral component of biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture. Native vegetation conserves the soils, cleans the water and provides food and shelter for native animals.
In 1997-98 $46.6 million will be provided for the vegetation programmes, Bushcare and the Farm Forestry Programme, to protect and enhance native vegetation cover across the continent.
Bushcare is a new programme which will consolidate the National Vegetation Initiative and several existing vegetation programmes, Save the Bush, One Billion Trees, Wet Tropics Tree Planting and Corridors of Green, and the Sugar Coast Rescue Package (Mahogany Glider habitat) programmes.
The Bushcare programme will receive $40.6 million in 1997-98, an increase of $23.3 million on the 1996-97 vegetation programmes, nearly three times last year's allocation.
Under Bushcare, the largest single new initiative of the Natural Heritage Trust, the Government will provide $366 million to fund two key areas of activity:
The Government, under the Natural Heritage Trust, will provide $1.6 million in 1997-98 to the Farm Forestry Programme to encourage commercial tree growing to be incorporated into farming systems for wood and non-wood production, increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable natural resource management.
In addition to economic benefits, farm forestry should provide substantial environmental benefits, including absorption of greenhouse gasses and better biodiversity and land care outcomes.
In its first budget the Government increased funding to implement the National Forest Policy Strategy, funding which the Labor government failed to provide.
By February this year the Commonwealth and Victorian governments had signed the nation's first Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).
The agreement, for the East Gippsland region, followed a complete assessment of environmental, economic and social factors. It was the exemplar of a world best forest reserve system, which provided for the development of an internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable timber industry.
Completion of the RFA process remains a high priority. The process will deliver a world class forest reserve system and an ecologically sustainable and internationally competitive forest products industry.
Through Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) in key forest regions in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland the Government and the States will continue to integrate conservation and socio-economic goals, building on the significant work in Tasmania and East Gippsland.
Beside the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system, the RFA process will emphasise improved forest management and conservation practices on both private and public land, plantation development and the need to understand and overcome impediments to a range of industries dependant on the forest.
RFAs should be completed in the 1997-98 financial year in Central Highlands, Victoria; North East Victoria; Eden, NSW; Upper North East NSW; Lower North East NSW; South East Queensland; and Western Australia. An RFA will be finalised in Tasmania by the end of June this year.
Queensland's recent commitment to a scoping agreement means that all relevant States and Territories are now fully participating in the process.
Protecting Coasts and Marine Life
Australia has one of the world's longest and most beautiful coastlines. It is internationally famous for its recreational beaches which attract tourists from around the world. Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is one of the largest in the world.
The coastal zone supports about 86 per cent of Australia's population and much of the country's commercial and industrial activity, while the Exclusive Economic Zone comprises some 11 million square kilometres of marine waters and their resources. The value of Australia's marine based industries is about $30 billion a year.
The Government doubled the annual rate of funding for the Coastcare programme in its first budget and funded more than 350 projects. There are now more than 140,000 Australians participating in the protection and restoration of our coasts.
The Government has established the $6.4 million Coastal and Marine Planning Programme which will improve the way all levels of government manage the nation's coastline.
We are developing Australia's first integrated Oceans Policy. The Prime Minister launched a policy discussion and scoping paper, in February, which proposed a framework for the policy's development and implementation.
Through the $106 million Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative, the Natural Heritage Trust will confront marine pollution. Chief areas of activity will include:
Australia will become a world leader in marine conservation and management with the development of a comprehensive oceans policy. The policy, which will be completed by mid-1998, will be one of the world's first comprehensive marine policies.
Australia's marine EEZ is an area almost one-and-a-half times as large as its land mass. The Coalition Government recognises its enormous responsibility to ensure that we manage that area to reconcile economic and employment opportunities and ecologically sustainable development.
The policy will be the result of careful consultation with governments, community organisations, industry and other stakeholders.
In one of the great wildlife tragedies of modern times, some 40,000 albatrosses drown each year taking baits laid by long-line fishing fleets. Many species are facing population crashes. Some species already have been reduced to fewer than 100 birds.
In November the Government nominated all 11 species of albatross which migrate around the southern oceans for listing under the Bonn Convention for Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. The nations which are party to the convention unanimously endorsed the nominations when they met in Geneva in April.
The endorsements will result in regional agreements for these and all other species of albatross to greatly reduce - if not entirely eliminate - the slaughter.
The Government, with the cooperation of the Australian fishing industry, is preparing a threat abatement plan to protect albatrosses in Australian waters.
In December the Government announced a new rescue strategy to address and reverse the alarming decline in dugong numbers in the southern Great Barrier Reef. As part of the strategy the Commonwealth committed more than $600,000 in 1996-97 to dugong conservation.
The strategy will create a dugong sanctuary system along Queensland's coast.
The Government gained support from the Queensland Government for listing nine interim dugong protection areas as the basis of the sanctuary system.
The strategy identifies Shoalwater Bay as a dugong sanctuary. A management plan for Shoalwater Bay, which will effectively ban all gill netting in the bay, has been approved and will ensure the bay remains a dugong haven.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has reported on necessary action to ensure no further dugong mortality in other areas identified as sanctuaries. The Government is considering the report.
Continuing the Coalition's proud record of protection of whales, the Government has established a national taskforce to advise on how best to achieve a permanent international ban on commercial whaling. This honours a commitment made in Saving Our Natural Heritage. The taskforce is expected to report in the next few weeks.
The Australian Government is determined to ensure the magnificent whales can again roam the oceans free from threat of slaughter. The international community has been waiting for a nation to display leadership in seeking a permanent international ban. Australia's Coalition government has accepted the challenge and again is leading the world in whale conservation.
Restoring Rivers and Wetlands
The impact of European settlement on Australia's river systems has been severe. Many river systems are suffering from environmental stress due to unsustainable levels of water extraction, destruction of aquatic and riverbank habitat, weed growth through nutrient enrichment and rising levels of salinity, silt and pollutants.
This has led to reduced water quality and flows, loss of native fish populations, fisheries habitat destruction, deterioration of wetlands and a general decline in the health of river systems.
Natural Heritage Trust programmes will provide funding support of $12.4 million in 1997-98 to improve water quality, increase environmental flows and restore the ecological health of river systems across Australia, yielding complementary benefits of biodiversity conservation and sustainable agricultural production.
In February, the Government published its wetlands policy which committed all federal government agencies to promoting the prudent use of wetlands throughout Australia. The Government will provide to the year 2001-02 $11 million to continue the work of the National Wetlands Programme and $10.5 million to continue Waterwatch activities.
National Rivercare Initiative
The National Rivercare Initiative will provide a budget in 1997-98 of $12.4 million and $97 million until 2001-02 to assist sustainable management, rehabilitation and conservation of rivers outside the Murray-Darling Basin:
National Wetlands Programme
The Trust will provide $1.8 million in 1997-98 and $11 million until 2001-02 for the National Wetlands Programme to support locally based efforts to rehabilitate degraded wetlands.
The programme promotes the conservation and wise use of the nation's wetlands to improve the management of nationally significant wetlands, and to demonstrate the wise use principle for managing wetlands and monitoring their health.
Murray-Darling 2001 Project
The Murray-Darling Basin is one of Australia's most important agricultural regions. Yet it has lost an estimated 15 billion trees in the last 200 years and about 80 per cent of the average natural flow is being diverted resulting in dry land salinity affecting 500,000 hectares.
Extensive blooms of blue-green algae have caused significant problems for water supplies.
The Coalition recognises that if the Murray-Darling is to have a sound economic future immediate action must be taken to rehabilitate catchment and river systems.
The Trust will allocate $163 million for the programme - $29.5 million in 1997-98 - significantly accelerating on-ground action within the basin. The programme will achieve a number of objectives including:
It is in all Australians' interest to encourage farmers and landholders to protect and conserve the environment and pursue sustainable agricultural production. Australia's land and water are the basis of our unique flora and fauna and the foundation of our rural industries, our rural population and much of our export income.
Much of the continent is damaged by serious land and water degradation. Inappropriate management practices have resulted in weed and pest infestations, rising water tables dry land salinity, poor river health and poor water quality.
The Natural Heritage Trust will provide funding of $54.2 million in 1997-98 for the National Landcare Programme, the National Land and Water Resources Audit, the National Feral Animal Control Strategy, the National Weeds Strategy, and the Advanced Property Management Planning.
The National Landcare Programme
Additional Natural Heritage Trust funding of $264 million until 2001-02 will enable an increase in financial assistance for the National Landcare Programme to support activities which contribute to the sustainable management of land, water and vegetation resources.
Funding of $35 million in 1997-98 - an increase of $24.8 million on 1996-97 - will be used to restructure the National Landcare Programme to broaden its scope and consolidate many of its activities. There are more than 3,200 local Landcare groups throughout Australia. Approximately one in every three farmers is a member of a Landcare group.
The funding will support implementation of strategies based on catchments and regions.
Community initiated and managed projects addressing critical issues on public and private land for public benefit will receive substantially increased funding.
National Land and Water Audit
Effective management of any resource requires recording its quantity and condition to enable periodic reviews.
Despite the seriousness of land and water degradation in Australia there has not been a comprehensive record kept to allow accurate assessment over time.
The Trust will provide $37 million for the National Land and Water Audit ($7.5 million in 1997-98) which will be managed by an independent board, to provide the first comprehensive appraisal of the environmental, social and economic costs of land and water degradation to the nation.
Feral Animal Control
The Government will allocate $16 million until 2001-02 to a National Feral Animal Control Strategy to help reduce damage to the natural environment and agricultural production from feral animals. It will provide $3.7 million this year to manage vertebrate pest species which damage agricultural production and nature conservation values, such as feral pigs, feral cats, rabbits, feral goats, foxes and buffalo.
The strategy will be coordinated with the development of threat abatement plans for endangered species under the Endangered Species Protection Act.
National Weeds Strategy
The Government will provide $24 million until 2001-02 for the National Weeds Strategy to control weeds of national significance which most threaten the natural environment and agriculture.
The 1997-98 Budget will provide $5 million to help recovery of threatened species, communities, and improve farm productivity and our natural landscapes.
Advanced Property Management Planning
The Government will allocate $3 million in 1997-98 and $15 million until 2001-02 for farmers to attend advanced property management training courses and to engage professional consultants in advanced integrated farm management planning, incorporating financial, natural resource and regional planning.
The Government remains committed to preserving the unique natural and cultural values of Cape York. We shall work with the Queensland Government, landholders, indigenous people and other stakeholders to realise that goal.
This work will build on the Cape York Heads of Agreement and the Cape York Peninsula and Land Use Strategy (CYPLUS) Stages 1 and 2. In particular, the Government is currently considering the recommendations of CYPLUS Stage 2.
The Government intends to allocate up to $40 million from the Natural Heritage Trust to ensure the protection of the region's environmental values.
The Government is committed to ensuring the protection, conservation and presentation of Australia's world heritage areas. Unfortunately, the Labor government neglected implementation of world standard management practices.
As a matter of priority, this Government is ensuring appropriate management structures and comprehensive management plans are in place for each property.
In 1996-97 the Government was proud to announce a major increase in funding for Shark Bay, Fraser Island, Lord Howe Island and the Central East Australian Rainforest Reserves.
It also provided significant additional funding to the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Riversleigh and Naracoorte, and to the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area.
Funding for these properties was almost three times the amount provided in 1995-96 by the previous government.
Funding will protect world heritage values, continue the development of management plans, protect endangered species, upgrade interpretation and visitor facilities and rehabilitate degraded areas.
In addition to the continuous funding to Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Government will provide more than $18 million for the management and the protection of Australia's eight other world heritage properties in 1997-98.
This is evidence of the strength of the Coalition government's commitment to protection of Australia's World Heritage Areas. By contrast, the previous Labor government provided only $10.3 million for the management of these eight properties in 1995-96.
A major achievement in 1996-97 was the establishment of Commonwealth-State joint management arrangements for Fraser Island. The previous government failed to establish satisfactory management arrangements for the island.
However, in March 1997 the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government agreed to establish the Fraser Island Ministerial Council, a joint management advisory committee and scientific and community advisory committees.
The first meeting of the Ministerial Council is scheduled for June 1997. It will be followed soon after by the first meeting of the Shark Bay ministerial council.
In 1996-97 the Government committed $2 million to the resolution of world heritage issues in the Willandra Lakes region in NSW. We have made significant progress developing financial compensation packages for landholders.
Implementation of the Willandra Lakes compensation package is expected to be complete within 12 months.
Similar success was achieved with the Daintree Rescue Programme. The Government helped fund the purchase of six new properties in 1996-97 - a total of 600 hectares - to allay concern about the potential impact of sale and development of freehold blocks of land adjacent to the Daintree Region of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.
Until now 66 properties - more than 1200 hectares - have been purchased. Two cooperative management agreements to promote the permanent protection of rainforests on the land of other land holders also have been approved.
The new environmental initiatives of the Coalition government are occurring in the context of other major government economic and social reforms.
The major lesson from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, a strategy agreed by industry and the environmental movement in 1992, was that environmental, economic and social considerations must be integrated to promote ecologically sustainable development.
An indication of the significance of consensus on this issue was the willingness of all governments to endorse the strategy.
Unfortunately and surprisingly the previous government allowed the momentum and goodwill generated by the agreement to wane, and the agreement itself has languished.
The Government intends to try to rebuild momentum to foster economic growth which uses our natural capital without depleting it.
The Coalition government is implementing microeconomic reform across the economy to promote economic and employment growth. These reforms also have the potential to yield significant environmental benefits.
Elements of reform that can deliver better environmental outcomes are:
The Commonwealth is continuing with reform of rail, roads, shipping, aviation, electricity, gas, rural water, urban water and sewerage services all of which seek to promote better use of resources and as a consequence confer environmental benefits.
Reform in all of these sectors can continue to produce environmental benefits. For example, better inland water regulation will help reduce salinity and improve the natural flow of rivers; the moves towards national electricity and gas markets, which have already encouraged more gas-fired electricity generation and co-generation, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In relation to water reform, we shall participate in implementation of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) water agreement. Key environmental aspects of this process include resolving cost recovery and asset valuation issues, identifying community service obligations, facilitating trade in water, and ensuring that adequate natural flows are provided for in future water management arrangements.
The Government will work with the States as they implement the competition principles agreement to their State forestry operations. These reforms are expected to result in log pricing regimes that reflect the full costs of producing timber and lead to the expansion of viable private forest plantations.
The Government's review of the responsibilities of Commonwealth and State governments for the environment will reduce the regulatory burden on business, improve certainty in government and business decision making and so encourage investment, economic growth and employment.
Robust, sustainable growth and generating employment and reducing unemployment is the Government's principal economic objective.
Economically sustainable growth must also be ecologically sustainable growth. Sound environmental policies reconcile these objectives by allowing development without damaging the environment.
Environmental repair programmes, which form a major part of the Natural Heritage Trust, also will provide an important direct source of employment.
The Government has provided $41.4 million over three years from 1996-97 to establish the Green Corps. The programme will give young people the opportunity to participate in environmental projects which will contribute to their employment prospects by employing them in environmental projects.
The Green Corps will be built up over three years by which time some 3,500 people should have benefited from participation in an environmental project.
Australians are concerned about their environment. They are conscious of their responsibility for their inheritance and want to preserve it and pass it on to future generations of Australians for their enjoyment and wonderment.
To repair and protect this environment is expensive and requires national leadership. This is leadership that the Howard Government is committed to give.
In establishing the Natural Heritage Trust and setting about the task of restoring our natural heritage we are meeting a major national challenge that is long overdue.
It is a challenge in which we are prepared to lead, but in which there is a place for all Australians.
To be part of the solution, rather than just the problem, should be a source of satisfaction for all of us.
Minister for the Environment