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Senator Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
18 June 1997
The Federal Government has unveiled details of its Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Bill 1996 which seeks to establish a $1-Billion trust fund for the protection and rehabilitation of Australia's natural environment.
Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill says the bill is a timely reminder of the opportunity Australians have to embark on a major environmental rescue program.
Senator Hill says the introduction of the bill will highlight the environmental vandalism of the opposition parties in the Senate who have sought to block funding for trust.
"One of the greatest challenges we face as Australians is to preserve our nation's natural environmental capital for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
"For too long Australia has taken its extraordinary endowment of natural resources for granted. We have failed to take into account the depletion and degradation of natural capital and we have failed to make the investments necessary to arrest and reverse depreciation of our natural resources.
"The $1-Billion Natural Heritage Trust will fund a range of capital programs which will lay the groundwork for the conservation, repair and enhancement of Australia's unique environment into the 21st Century.
"The establishment of this Trust provides the opportunity to take a new approach to environmental protection and natural resource management, and to design and integrate programs to ensure strong multiple outcomes."
Senator Hill has also signalled that the Coalition will refer the bill to a Senate committee.
"Our environment strategy is based on the involvement of the community. We want the community to be involved in the setting up of the Trust.
"We want to hear their views on how the Trust can best be used to solve the environmental problems they confront - whether it is soil erosion, degradation of waterways, ocean pollution or coastal damage."
Senator Hill says the opposition parties in the Senate, particularly the Democrats and the WA Greens, have put the Trust and its benefits at risk.
"The opposition parties' refusal to pass the sale of one-third of Telstra to provide the funding base for the Natural Heritage Trust exposes their lack of understanding of the environmental crisis facing Australia.
"It is also a betrayal of the minor parties' natural constituencies who are crying out for action, not just more words, on environmental repair.
"The transfer of funds from the partial sale of Telstra into the Natural Heritage Trust represents a transfer of investment in technological capital to an investment in natural capital.
"To block this transfer of investment is nothing short of eco-vandalism of an unprecedented scale."
The Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Bill 1996 provides funding for five major capital projects:
These initiatives are interdependent and the proposed measures are complementary.
The Bill provides for funds in the Trust to be invested and for all income from such investments to be returned to the Trust.
Interest earned from the Trust and other non-Telstra monies (gifts, bequests, etc) invested in the Trust will be applied to expenditure on a range of environmental and natural resource management projects, and also to support the development of sustainable agriculture.
The Trust will be the source of funds for programs managed within both the Environment and Primary Industries and Energy Portfolios.
It is therefore intended that management of the Trust be undertaken as a partnership between the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy.
The Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Bill 1996 will be introduced into the House of Representatives on Wednesday June 19.
For further comment contact Matt Brown on 06 277 7640 or 0419 693 515.