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Speech by Senator Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
Hotel Intercontinental, Sydney,
12 June 1996
EMIAA Chairman, Mr Paul Perkins, Chief Executive, Dr John Cole, representatives of like-minded industry, professional and scientific organisations involved in protecting Australia's environment, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for inviting me so early in my term as Minister to the Environment Management Industry Association fifth anniversary dinner.
I would like to use this opportunity
But first, I would like to congratulate you on your achievements in the short time of the Association's existence.
The EMIAA has established a national and international network to link Australia's environment industry capacities and leading-edge solutions with those facing environmental challenges and problems, spanning both the public and private sectors. In so doing, you pave the way to growth for the businesses that make up the industry, and represent those businesses in domestic and export forums.
The EMIAA has been an important advocate of national approaches to protection of the environment, such as national strategies for waste management, and national standards for air and water quality.
As the leaders of the environment management industry, you have also:
. established an export body, AUSTEMEX (Australian Environment Management Export Corporation Ltd), made up of more than 50 businesses exporting Australian environment management goods and services, most particularly into the Asian Region;
. developed a formal Memorandum of Understanding and informal partnerships with the Federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to provide expert advice on environmental issues and strategies;
. collaborated with the EPA on initiatives such as the Internet- based National Environment Industries Database, known as EnviroNET Australia, and EnviroLink that brings together people with environmental problems and the people with practical solutions to those problems; and
. played a leading role in industry/EPA joint ventures under the Environmental Co-operation with Asia Program (ECAP) in undertaking strategic projects in Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Thailand and showcasing Australian technology.
The Recent Past
If we look back just a short few years, the work of protecting Australia's environment and effectively managing our natural resources was seen as the exclusive preserve of governments; principally State Governments at that.
The Commonwealth Government was but an occasional participant in important decisions concerning the environment. Local Government was not acknowledged as a vital contributor. Industry generally was minded to wait for the next round of environmental regulations, dictating what was required -the minimum standards to be met.
There has been a considerable transformation in recent years.
The challenges, the business opportunities and the demand for sound environmental management have since bred a growing array of firms, a cluster of professional and research organisations, and your peak industry association serving the needs of society and your members, both here, and increasingly, in the Asian Region.
We see now, putting sustainable development into practice with the EMIAA, bodies such as the Australian Water and Wastewater Association, the Waste Management Association, and the Clean Air Society represented here tonight.
And industry generally is increasingly moving "beyond regulation"; getting ahead of regulation and moving towards environmental best practice, cleaner production and clean technology. These are the pathways to sustainable development upon which we need to build.
But in spite of these gains, the fundamental task of restoring and protecting the environment and our natural resources remains. A great deal needs to be done. The momentum must be stepped up.
The Need for Sustainable Development
There is no doubting the demands of our modern, egalitarian society for an environment that is healthy for all and protected from harmful pollution, chemicals and wastes - whether urban or rural; land, rivers, beaches or oceans; city air or global atmosphere.
The need to attend to both our natural resource base, and the so- called "brown" environment protection issues, are high on the agenda of the Australian public, just as they are high on the agenda of our governments.
The community is convinced of importance of protecting and rehabilitating our natural environment.
What the community wants from us as a Government is a structure for sustainable development. They want jobs, and rising living standards, but through economic growth that is environmentally sustainable.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data published only last week as Australians and the Environment showed that 71 per cent of those questioned ranked environment protection and economic growth as equally important. Equally significant was that 75 per cent of those questioned hadn't the vaguest idea what ecologically sustainable development meant.
The concept is quite simple. The current generation passes on a world that has the capacity to produce in sufficient abundance to satisfy needs. That depends on harvesting the resources that are renewed by nature and controlling the use of resources that are not.
The only one way to achieve this common-sense goal is for business, and the community, and government to co-operate on sustainable development.
The message is clear: Australians want a good environment; but they also want development.
I want to tell you something now of the Federal Government's policy commitments on the environment.
"Saving Our Natural Heritage"
Now that we have both the public sector institutions at all levels, and a growing environmental capacity in your industry and business generally, we need to turn our attention to "Saving our Natural Heritage"; to making serious inroads to reverse the neglect of the very resources - air, water and land - on which we depend.
Central to the Government's efforts in this direction is the establishment of a $1 billion Natural Heritage Trust, the legislation for which I expect to introduce into Federal Parliament next week.
This is the first time in the nation's history that a Commonwealth Government has established a Trust for such a purpose.
The initial capital of $1 billion to be invested in the Trust will come from the proceeds of the partial sale of Telstra.
In effect, this represents a transfer from an investment in a telecommunications company to an investment in natural capital. Investing in natural capital will benefit not only present but also future generations.
The initiatives to be funded from the Trust are aimed at reversing the decline in our natural capital. They will contribute to the conservation, repair and enhancement of Australia's unique environment into the 21st Century.
The Trust will provide funding certainty for important natural heritage programs of this Coalition Government for the next five years, free from the normal economic pressures and budgetary constraints.
The Trust, and the range of initiatives it will support, is based on a recognition that an integrated approach is needed right across the spectrum of problems we face. The environment and sustainable agriculture packages that we took to the Federal election have been strategically developed around five interdependent environmental infrastructure packages:
We are also committed to addressing crucial issues affecting key aspects of the urban environment where the vast majority of Australians live. This will involve putting in train a wide-ranging, strategic inquiry into urban air pollution - to chart the course for tackling the debilitating mix of pollution in our major cities.
We will be able, more effectively, to attack the causes of declining air and water quality, jointly with industry and the motoring public, as we further develop and put into place a National Pollutant Inventory. It will ensure that our efforts are well directed and achieve real environmental outcomes. We will be going to industry and the community with carefully targeted campaign to reduce the harmful wastes we generate.
The Trust as a New Co-operative Approach
Another distinguishing feature of the Coalition's approach to the environment is that we have much greater faith in the Australian people to act cooperatively to confront this national challenge. This is on all fours with our need to work closely with industry also.
We aim to develop a cooperative approach that will tap into the enormous enthusiasm which exists throughout the Australian community for the restoration and protection of our unique environment.
We will work with the community, farmers, local and State and Territory Governments, volunteer organisations, industry, environmental groups and the scientific community in a cooperative and coordinated manner.
We will draw upon the readiness and capacities of your environment management industry, and business generally, to make a visible difference on the ground in protecting and restoring the environmental resources of the nation. I know that the environment management industry is ready to play a part in delivering these important programs. I welcome that involvement.
National Environment Protection Council
I want to turn briefly, now, to another important challenge for the environment industry - through the National Environment Protection Council.
The decision of all Australian governments, under the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment in 1992, to establish a collegiate national system of environment protection - through the National Environment Protection Council-marked a major turning point for Australia.
It was an explicit recognition by all levels of government that the Commonwealth, the States. and local governments each have a legitimate interest and role in the nations quest to protect the environment for the benefit of all Australians.
It was inspired, in part, by a recognition also that those industries and markets which operate on a national basis are reliant on nationally applicable environmental "rules of the game", something which can only be achieved by the Commonwealth and State Governments working together to set national standards.
The promise of national environmental protection measures has been a long time coming. Little has been done to bring it to reality. I intend to do so.
I am pleased to say that I expect to Chair the inaugural meeting of the National Environment Protection Council in Perth on 21 June.
The National Environment Protection Council will have an ambitious program of work ahead of it. I hope that, as the Commonwealth and State budgets allow, it will begin the task of addressing such vital matters as:
The work of the Council will require considered and expert contributions of the environment management industry, among others, if it is to establish for Australia measures which will advance environment protection and encourage mainstream industry to adopt leading-edge systems and practices.
Through its consultative processes, the Council will be looking to the EMIAA and others to chart the course towards good environmental outcomes.
I urge the environment industry and scientific and professional bodies to take an active and constructive stance in contributing to the important tasks ahead. We will be looking to you especially to show how the various measures proposed might be achieved by the cost- effective application of Australian technology and knowhow.
These national moves towards harmonisation will, in themselves, help to grow the Australian environment management industry, and deserve your enthusiastic attention and leadership.
"Investing in Tomorrow" - EMIAA International Strategy
We know that, well nurtured, the environment management industry has a healthy growth trajectory ahead of it. It can produce environmental solutions for Australian and the Asian Region, employment growth within Australia, and export earnings from its innovations. Nothing will serve the industry better than a record of environmental excellence and leadership within Australia.
The Coalition Government's Science, Engineering and Technology Policy, 'Investing in Tomorrow", made a commitment to applying science and technology to addressing our environmental priorities. We also undertook to "encourage the development and internationalisation of the Australian environment management industry to increase exports of environmental technology and services".
The Government's forthcoming White Paper on the energy sector will provide another avenue for the environment industry to press for clean, green technologies and systems. Innovations of the kind that will reduce Greenhouse emissions and drive Australian industry towards clean production and clean technology.
The Government is committed to extending the dialogue and consultation with business on these issues. To achieve long-term progress, industry will be required to make large investments and strategic commitments in a global marketplace.
While the challenges are large, the rewards are high. The global environment market is estimated to approach 500 billion US dollars by 1998. The Australian share of the market is reckoned to be 1 per cent.
Our world class expertise in mining and mineral processing, primary production and downstream processing, manufacturing, urban infrastructure ad coastal management are all skills relevant to the expanding economies of South East Asia, India and China.
The Environmental Co-operation with Asia program is one means by which, through demonstration projects, exchange of information and technologies and practical workshops, we can extend our environmental knowhow and business into the Region.
In Jakarta this week, a team consisting of Australian experts on mining and the environment has just completed a two day workshop on good environmental practices in mining - a practical contribution marking World Environment Day held this week in Indonesia.
Beginning next week, the EPA together with Australian companies will be holding workshops in Beijing, China and then in Bangkok, Thailand showing how cleaner production protects the environment, saves valuable resources, and can reduce production costs for industry. The Chinese National EPA and the Thai Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment are each participating in the respective workshops, together with local and Australian industry.
The workshop series is a means of showcasing Australian approaches to environment protection and sustainable development. The teaming of the EPA and Australian environmental businesses highlights the value of governments and industry working together. The benefits from cleaner production and cleaner technologies which yield economic returns as well as environment improvements; an attractive prospect for both government and industry, here and in Asia.
It is probably not universally known that part of the worlds largest man-made object that can be seen from space was made in Australia. A large part of the Great Green Wall in the west of China is made of Australian eucalypts and acacias to hold back the Gobi Desert; preventing soil erosion loss of fertility, salinity and water degradation.
It is perhaps both ironic and symptomatic that China is currently earning an annual income of more than US$1 billion from eucalypts and acacias as environmental solutions. According to the ABS study, Australia exports $1 billion of forest products and imports $3 billion of the exactly the same products. I trust we will never be importing eucalypts or acacias made in China.
Australia's richest endowment may not be the mineral wealth that earns us $35 billion every year in export revenue; we currently earn more from exporting mining technology including rehabilitation techniques than from exporting nickel or diamonds. Environmental technology could become our greatest export industry.
To establish a leading position in the world markets for environmental management, we must encourage technology innovation programs, such as clean technologies, and take our knowhow to the Region through a range of effective partnership arrangements.
We must move away from the outdated idea of relying simply on regulatory controls, towards negotiated agreements and performance goals directed at meeting national standards and goals set through the National Environment Protection Council.
It was particularly pleasing last week to see some of our major companies such as BHP, ICI and Shell agreeing to make significant voluntary undertakings to reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Greenhouse Challenge Program. Such leading companies have voluntarily agreed to: submit an inventory of current emissions, project future emissions, describe programs that are in place or planned, and commit to a continuous improvement in their greenhouse performance.
This is the sensible way for government to intervene: to set the environmental goal posts and leave business to sort out ways of achieving them.
Sustainable development initiatives will not work if they are simply imposed; collaboration beats confrontation. These days an effective environmental agenda is one to which industry is in tune. Our agenda for sustainable development will have the best prospect of success if it has the support of industry.
The Government has a clear mandate from the electorate to improve the quality of our environment while maintaining international competitiveness.
We will encourage technological innovation to deliver a new generation of environmental performance in products and services. We will encourage exports in environmental technology and we will continue to work in close co-operation with the EMIAA and other peak environment bodies.
In conclusion, I express my thanks for the contribution your industry is making to protecting the environment. I confirm the Government's commitment to providing the lead, but acknowledge that the most effective outcome will occur when we all work together.