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by Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Minister for the Environment
Good evening everyone. It's a pleasure to be here. I thank the Banksia Foundation for the invitation to speak to such a committed group of people and to be part of a night where we celebrate the very best of environmental achievement and innovation through the 1996 Banksia Environmental Awards.
The desire of the Banksia Foundation to make a major contribution to the quality and well being of life on this planet is commendable. The Foundation is achieving this through the support of individuals, organisations and governments who are leading the way in developing a sustainable future.
If we work together we can help bring about a change in the community towards environmental matters.
As many of you will know, the Banksia Environmental Awards have been running now since 1989, and are awarded each year close to the World Environment Day on 5 June. They are now one of Australia's most recognised Environmental Awards.
The Commonwealth Government and myself, as the Environment Minister, have a very strong commitment to the conservation of Australia's environment. We have given the Environment Portfolio the highest status of any government in the history of this nation.
One of the key challenges this nation faces is to preserve its natural environmental capital for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
In the next couple of weeks, I will be introducing a Bill into the Federal Parliament to establish a one billion dollar Natural Heritage Trust of Australia, to be funded from the partial sale of Telstra.
This is the first time in the nation's history a Commonwealth Government has established a Trust for such a purpose.
In effect, the transfer of funds from the partial sale of Telstra into the Natural Heritage Trust represents a transfer from investment in technological capital to an investment in natural capital.
The Trust will provide for five major initiatives:
At the moment, establishment of the Trust is being frustrated by the failure of the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens to support the partial privatisation of Telstra.
Turning towards the theme of the night, "Communication, from Pigeon to PC the message is the same", I would like to give you a brief insight into an important initiative to the Commonwealth Government.
My Department runs the Environmental Resources Information Network, or ERIN as it is known. ERIN is a computer-based information system which provides an environmental on-line information service to individuals, community groups, industry, researchers and government.
ERIN's home page on the Internet is called, "Australian Environment on line". This service has achieved national as well as international recognition. Information is provided about land management, plant and animal species, marine environments, environmental protection, and government policies, initiatives and programs.
I encourage you to go for a surf on the Internet and discover for yourselves the many wonderful resources we have for you on ERIN's homepage.
Modern communication technology, in combination with high quality information, ensures that all Australians can access expert knowledge about their environment. This means that all Australians now have ready access to information to help them to contribute to the environmental debate.
Of course in a speech of this nature I can't hope to highlight all the ways we are using technology to convey the environment message but let's take one more example: Australia's marine and coastal areas - where nearly nine out of ten Australians live.
The challenge has been to help people to work together with the purpose of ensuring the long-term protection and sustainable use of Australia's coastal resources - one of these initiatives is CoastNet.
CoastNet is part of the ERIN system and consists of a number of on-line discussion groups that will promote information exchange between a diverse range of coastal interest groups.
We are also developing the Australian Coastal Atlas to compliment CoastNet. The Atlas' principle objective is to provide coastal managers with any information available for the area under their responsibility. This information will be wide ranging and could include species lists, the locations of endangered species and maps showing things such as vegetation, reefs, landforms and various types of landuse.
I expect the first version of this information base to be available in mid July.
Again, let me congratulate the Banksia Foundation on the essential work that they are doing for the environment and to thank you for the opportunity to participate in this night that celebrates the environmental movement and individual effort.