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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
International Union of Local Authorities - Asia Pacific Region
Wednesday 9 April 2003
Delegates, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank the President of the International Union of Local Authorities - Asian and Pacific Section, Councillor Peter Woods, for the invitation to address this inaugural regional Congress. I also acknowledge the presence of the Chair of ICLEI International, Ms Karin Taipale.
Australia went to the World Summit on Sustainable Development committed to making progress towards sustainable development, here and in the region.
The Australian Government's perspective on the implementation of the Johannesburg Summit outcomes can be summed up by the concluding passage from the Local Government Declaration:
'Ten years after Rio, it is time for action by all spheres of government, all partners. And local action, undertaken in solidarity, can move the world.'
This is an idea that I agree with wholeheartedly: together, in partnership, we can - indeed, we must - 'move the world'.
It is a sentiment shared by the Howard Government. We believe, in the words of the 2001 State of the Environment Report, that the Environment is everybody's business. Our flagship environmental programmes seek to empower communities and provide Commonwealth leadership with through practical on-ground community action, strategically targeted and informed by the best available science. Local Government plays a key role in our quest for sustainability.
For about the last decade the Commonwealth Government has steadily built its relationship with local government and communities for delivery of sustainable development outcomes.
The Howard Government is committed to maintaining and building on our partnership with local governments in Australia and in the Asia Pacific Region to meet the sustainability challenges of the post-Johannesburg world.
Australians are governed by a national, Commonwealth Government, eight state and territory governments, and about 700 local governments. Established under State and Territory legislation, local governments generally have had more interaction with the States than the Commonwealth.
Nevertheless, the Commonwealth deals directly with local government on many things and over the years has achieved some very effective partnerships even before Johannesburg.
Since the early 1990s Australian governments have increasingly recognised the need to cooperate and develop agreements on their respective roles and responsibilities on the environment.
The second agreement on Commonwealth/State Roles and Responsibilities for the Environment in 1997 led to the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 1999. Under this landmark legislation the Commonwealth Government takes a direct role on issues of national environmental significance, including environmental treaty obligations such as world heritage and wetlands. The Act streamlines governments' assessment of development proposals, promotes ecologically sustainable development, and strengthens intergovernmental cooperation.
Agenda 21, the 'blueprint' for sustainable development formulated at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, emphasises local government's role as pivotal partners and regional planners.
In 1997, the Australian Government began a national Local Agenda 21 Program to support local governments' efforts to develop and implement Local Agenda 21 action plans, which a quarter of our 700 councils currently have.
Networks of program extension officers work with, and often within, communities and local governments to deliver sustainable development outcomes including awareness raising and provision of practical training, knowledge and expertise for the implementation of LA21 plans.
Our partnership with local government has led to examples of best practice, which we in Australia might build on following Johannesburg.
A National Local Leaders in Sustainability Forum of representatives from forward looking and innovative councils across Australia provides me with valuable advice and assistance. This is how I "take the temperature" on barriers to local government activities or best practice in local government sustainability. It also provides an opportunity for local government leaders to share ideas and to cooperate.
The Commonwealth Government works to empower local governments and communities by making available information and tools that promote sustainable development planning and capacity building - some specifically for local government and others to be shared across all levels. Examples of these are:
Tools currently under development include a national natural resource management capacity-building package; a valuation of water resources and salinity project; and a national project for examining integration of biodiversity with regional natural resource management planning.
Although Australia has determined not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at this time because it provides no pathway for the involvement of the world's largest emitters, we remain committed to achieving our greenhouse target, and to working to put in place a global framework that will achieve the required level of emission reduction.
Local government, with its capacity to influence almost 50% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions, is critically placed to influence domestic efforts to meet our reduction target.
Since 1997 the Commonwealth Government has been supporting local government participation in the Cities for Climate Protection Australia (CCP) program.
Initial Commonwealth funding for CCP was intended for 30 councils, but the program has expanded to involve 168, representing 65% of Australia's population.
Australia is now a world leader in this program, with the highest number of participating councils. Around 30% of all local governments participating in CCP are Australian, and more Australian councils have attained the highest milestone than in any other country. We are also the first country to work with councils in CCP Plus - a program in which councils achieve beyond the CCP measures.
Australian CCP councils are recognised as among the world's most innovative. For example, Newcastle City Council recently won a prestigious UN World Environment Day Award for its "Climate Cam" - an online system to track and report on its greenhouse gas emissions.
Backed by $13m of Commonwealth funding, this highly successful partnership represents a joint initiative of the Australian Greenhouse Office, with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and, of course, Australian local governments.
Yesterday I launched the 2002 CCP Program Report, which illustrates the fundamental environmental change that local governments can effect: 780 greenhouse gas abatement actions undertaken by 51 local governments with expenditure of nearly $56m achieved cumulative abatement of 1,233,205 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over the three year period to June 2002.
The Howard Government has established the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust, the largest environmental rescue effort in Australia's history. The cornerstone of this strategic programme of environmental investment is partnerships with community, industry, state and local governments, an approach that emphasises the Howard Government's conviction that the challenges we face environmentally are challenges that need the support and empowerment of the community. Local government has and will play an important role to play in the development and the implementation of the strategic environmental rescue plans under the Trust.
Under the first phase of the Natural Heritage Trust:
Australia went to Johannesburg Summit with a proud record of practical action on sustainability, carried out within a framework of community empowerment and intergovernmental cooperation.
Australia's desired outcomes reflected our experience - outcomes that encouraged people, community groups, business, governments and international organisations to focus on practical, on-ground efforts to achieve sustainable development.
Our preparations for the World Summit recognised the necessity to listen to, and work with, all elements of the community. I was encouraged by participation in the consultative forums held prior to the Summit, particularly the Commonwealth-sponsored Sustaining Our Communities Conference, which brought together local government representatives from the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.
I acknowledge the Australian Local Government Association's role (ALGA).
The broad-ranging composition of the Australian delegation, including two local government representatives, reflected the Commonwealth Government's desire to work with key elements of the community.
The Local Government Session was one of the Summit's most successful elements.
The 750 strong local government contingent to Johannesburg represented a considerable increase from Rio and reflected the strong commitment by local government to sustainable development on the global scale.
Australia itself had 45 local government representatives, the largest contingent within the Australian delegation.
ICLEI played a very strong role, on behalf of the International Union of Local Authorities, in coordinating and presenting a consolidated local government position to the Summit, and in organising the Local Government Session at which the Local Government Declaration was formulated and endorsed.
ALGA, with ICLEI support, participated in the official Australian National Delegation for the first time and I am very grateful to these two organisations and our local government representatives for their contributions.
My interaction with your colleagues at Johannesburg emphasised the role local government can and does play, particularly in relation to planning, regulation, and service delivery.
It also enhanced my appreciation of the knowledge and expertise possessed by local government and pointed to the value of direct advice from Australian local government leaders in pursuing our sustainability agenda post Johannesburg.
Like many countries at Johannesburg, Australia acknowledged that poverty eradication, changing consumption and production patterns, and protecting and managing the natural resource base for economic and social development are overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development.
There was widespread agreement that environmental degradation is a concomitant of poverty and that a sustainable environment and a solution to poverty go hand in hand. Problems in developing countries of air and water pollution, forest destruction and desertification are as much expressions of poverty as they are of environmental disaster. Australia argued that a focus on trade and investment is a key to securing the resource flows needed for sustainable development, and to empowering people in developing countries to control their own futures.
As leader of the Australian Delegation my objectives from the Summit were to:
Australia was successful in securing good outcomes particularly in relation to oceans management, trade, governance and energy.
The Plan of Implementation set or reaffirmed 37 time-bound targets. Central are core commitments to halve:
The final Plan is a good blueprint for future sustainable development activities. It successfully treads that fine line between providing general guidance and setting out proscriptively what is needed. And it is important when coming to grips with the Plan to recognise that it is not always in the detail - the individual actions - where the Plan is innovative and forward looking, but in the overall framework, in the paradigm of achieving sustainable development through participation in the global economy.
The Australian Government's response includes working closely with State, Territory and local governments, industry and other non-government organisations.
As emphasis turns from plan to action, local government's role is now more widely recognised and acknowledged, as paragraph 149 of the Plan highlighted:
'national governments have agreed to enhance the role and capacity of local authorities and to encourage, in particular, partnerships among and between local authorities and other levels of government and stakeholders to advance sustainable development.'
The Prime Minister recognised this role long before Johannesburg. In his speech to the National General Assembly of Australian Local Government in December 2000 he said:
"we in the Federal Government believe that there is a lively and active and very productive direct relationship between the Federal Government and local government…and sometimes the best way to get the right outcomes is for the Federal Government to deal directly with local government."
At Johannesburg the Summit moved from being driven by the need to have negotiated multilateral agreements from national governments to accepting that many tangible results will spring from partnership arrangements.
The Commonwealth Government is developing direct partnerships with local government and the community through its flagship environmental programmes. The Natural Heritage Trust, the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and give direct financial support for initiatives and programs that empower local and regional communities to achieve sustainable development outcomes.
This multi-faceted approach to developing partnerships through community empowerment has already had many successes. Examples include:
The Howard Government is not only focussing on domestic partnerships, but looking to develop partnerships with our Asia Pacific neighbours.
I had the opportunity to meet with Pacific Island delegates in Johannesburg where world attention focussed on issues of concern to our Pacific Island neighbours, particularly sustainable oceans management. The inclusion of a chapter in the Plan on small-island developing states was a significant outcome for Pacific Island Countries and was strongly endorsed by Australia.
Australia's Type 2 partnerships involve working with more than 50 countries and a range of international, regional and national bodies.
Australia will lead twelve Type 2 partnerships, and participate in six others, promoting regional and global sustainable development.
Australia will be working with Asia-Pacific governments to:
These partnerships symbolise something that Australians value and understand as necessary for progress: working together in practical ways to achieve on-ground outcomes. These types of partnerships are where the real progress in sustainable development will be made.
Australia's Type 2 partnerships will support the objectives of our development assistance program to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development.
Within the Asia-Pacific region Australia is supporting current efforts for greater local sustainability. For example:
Through its overseas aid program, the Australian government is:
Perhaps the most significant challenge in the post-Johannesburg world is managing the transition from talking about implementation plans to carrying out practical and effective on-ground actions. This must be our key focus for the next ten years, in the move from Local Agenda 21 to Local Action 21.
We should build on the goodwill, respect and understanding we have and will acquire from these partnerships to deliver even more together - to move the world together.
The Australian Government will continue to develop its partnerships for action with local governments, both at home and abroad.
I mentioned earlier a group of local government leaders advising me called the Local Leaders in Sustainability. I have asked Forum participants to provide me with advice on how to take the Johannesburg Plan forward and their involvement in Type 2 Partnerships.
Combating the problems of salinity, and improving water quality and natural resource management are critical challenges facing Australian communities today. These are best tackled at the regional and local community level and require new structures, processes and arrangements for intergovernmental cooperation.
A key challenge for Australia will be to achieve sustainability in our cities and towns - where the overwhelming majority of Australians live. Australians identify with a "bush" ethos but we are very much grounded in the bricks and mortar and waterways of our suburban landscapes.
It is vital to empower communities to deliver successful natural resource management and practical local sustainability, from the inner city to the remotest outback community. Predominantly urban issues such as air and water pollution need to be addressed along with iconic issues such as the quality of the water in the Murray-Darling, whose catchment covers one third of Australia.
Local governments need to have the self-confidence to lead within and beyond their immediate communities, working with other councils and regional organisations to deliver effective solutions to sustainability across Australia.
Ten years can be a surprisingly short time. If we are to move the world together, we need to bring communities with us.
We need to educate, motivate and inspire the local, national, regional and global communities that are so crucial to the implementation of sustainable development in the post-Johannesburg world. That is the role and responsibility of governments - to provide the leadership and support to empower communities to deliver the on-ground action for sustainable development.
The Australian Government looks forward to continuing to work with local governments, both within Australia and beyond. By working as partners with communities closest to the issues, we can and will achieve our goals. We will move the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. Let me extend my since congratulations to Councillor Woods and all delegates here today on your inaugural regional congress, and I wish you all the best for an enjoyable and productive meeting.