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Green Grapes: Ecological Sustainability and the Australian Wine Industry

The Opening Address
to the
1st National Wine Industry Environment Conference
by the
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon Robert Hill

October 31, 2000

Earlier this year I became the longest serving Federal Minister for the Environment. I reflected at the time that when I was first appointed to the position I had no direct experience or background in the portfolio area. So the past four-and-a-half years has been a steep albeit rewarding learning curve dealing with diverse issues such as global warming, species protection, wetlands conservation - none of which are included in the traditional training of a legal practitioner.

So it is pleasing today to be able to address a conference on an industry with which some might say members of my profession are a bit more familiar.

As a South Australian, I have watched our State's wine industry grow and flourish over the past two-to-three decades. It has been a driving force behind the remarkable success that the national industry has enjoyed both domestically and internationally. The industry has become something of an economic powerhouse in its own right, employing more than 20,000 people in about 1000 wineries and 50 grape growing regions around Australia. The industry supports a further 40,000 jobs in related industries such as wholesaling, retailing, research and marketing.

The importance of the industry to regional Australia is further underlined by the estimated $500 million generated each year by wine-related tourism.

And, of course, the final measure of success is there in black and white in the annual sales figures achieved by the industry - around $1.5 billion in domestic sales and a remarkable $1.4 billion in export sales. I understand that export figure equates to about 670,000 bottles a day heading off overseas.

When you compare that export value of $1.4 billion to the figure from 1985 of just $26 million, you get a fair idea of just how far this industry has come in what is a relatively short period of time.

But it should be remembered that this amazing success story did not happen by accident. Australian winemakers - both individually and collectively - set out to increase their share of the domestic and international markets. They had well-defined goals and a well-developed strategy to achieve those goals. And the strategy was based on the Australian industry's strongest selling point - the quality of its product.

Even now with all the success and accolades the industry is receiving both at home and abroad, Australian winemakers are not resting on their laurels. I note that the Australian Wine Foundation already has set down a goal of achieving an increase in the value of wine exports to $4.5 billion by 2025 - about three times our current export levels. Again, the quality of your product will be central to achieving that goal.

So if the quality of your product is the key to your industry's future success, then it stands to reason that any development plan for your industry must have at its core a commitment to maintain and protect that quality. That, in turn, will require a genuine commitment to ecological sustainability - ensuring that the environment, not just economics, is a central consideration in the future growth plans of the industry.

The economic tools of marketing can help your industry to stimulate greatly increased demand for your product - but it is the ecological tools such as the wise management of water and land resources which provide the guarantee that you will be able to sustain the production levels at the required quality to meet that demand.

Only with a commitment to respect and carefully manage the natural systems which support your industry, can we be confident of its continued economic success. In short, good environmental practice will deliver continued good economic outcomes.

In many ways this conference is a clear signal that your industry is conscious of this principle and is heading in the right direction. Indeed the efforts of some members of your industry have gone beyond just the environmental issues facing your industry.

Banrock Station in South Australia's Riverland devotes part of the proceeds from their sales for environmental protection, benefiting both Australian and international wetlands. Their contribution was recognised earlier this year at the Prime Minister's Environment Awards where they picked up the Australian Business Award for Environmental Leadership. It is fitting that such leadership be acknowledged because all too often in environmental debates the good work being done by Australian industry is overlooked.

It is that sense of leadership and that level of commitment that will be required throughout the wine industry to ensure you meet the many environmental challenges you face.

No-one should under-estimate the size and scope of those challenges;

And this, of course, is by no means an exhaustive list.

The basic game plan for dealing with all of these issues is to reduce your resource usage while minimising your creation of waste.

In that you are not alone as every other industry sector pursuing a sustainable development agenda is exploring the same path.

What you also have in common with other industry sectors is that effectively dealing with each of these issues will contribute to a better bottom line profit - so there is an economic incentive attached to the pursuit of better ecological practices.

It is a common-sense business principle dubbed by those in the know as "eco-efficiency" - a term adopted internationally for businesses seeking to improve the sustainability of their operations.

In everyday talk, eco-efficiency simply means doing more with less - increasing the efficiency of resource use while reducing waste and pollution.

In the wine industry, the eco-efficiency approach would look to streamline your operations to produce the same high quality crops using fewer chemicals and less water, and exploring ways to derive profit or additional use from your waste products.

Again, that word quality appears. Apart from providing immediate economic benefits in terms of improved profits, eco-efficiency has the added bonus for the wine industry of addressing the very issues which will guarantee the long-term quality of your product.

For example, continued access to a supply of quality water is vital to the continued quality of your product, as well as the continued growth of your industry.

The rapid economic expansion of your industry has led to commensurate expansion in the amount of land currently under cultivation for grapes. New plantings increased dramatically from 1987 onwards and in the past ten years alone the number of hectares of land being used for grape growing has almost doubled as has the tonnage of grapes grown.

The continued rapid expansion of your industry through to the year 2025 would expect an even greater draw on natural resources - more land for planting, more grapes grown, and, of course, more water resources.

But many of Australia's river systems are already under severe stress from over-allocation of water,

The only sustainable answer to this challenge is to become more eco-efficient - find ways to produce more grapes with less resources or alternatively find innovative ways to reduce the reliance of other industries on water resources, the savings of which can then be directed to environmental flows, or the wine industry and other primary producers.

Already the industry and the government are exploring ways of achieving this goal.

A recent example has been the Commonwealth's $1.8 million investment from the Natural Heritage Trust in a project at the GH Michell and Sons wool scour operation at Parafield, just north of Adelaide. The diversion, treatment and reuse of wastewater through this project will see about 1.5 million litres of water which would normally have been drawn by the scouring operation remain in the Murray. The project also maximises the use of sludge from the plant using it to produce high-grade compost which will be made available to viticulturists to increase productivity and reduce water use. The horticulture and viticulture industries also stand to gain from the effluent water generated by Michell. This 900 million litres a year contains significant levels of salt, dirt and grease, but after primary treatment it will be suitable for irrigation.

So the project stops the damaging discharge of wastewater and effluent to the marine environment and provides a benefit in its re-use to industry. Through re-use, what was once considered waste becomes a valuable resource. It is an example of eco-efficiency at work across industries to provide multiple environmental benefits. Other projects based on this same principle have been funded through the Commonwealth's Clean Seas Program in areas such as Brighton in suburban Hobart and Shoalhaven on the New South Wales south coast.

I understand that some members of the wine industry are also exploring this concept with the local governments of the regions within which they operate. Proposed schemes would handle the waste of wineries in the region along with the town effluent and wastewater. Such a proposal would require a centralised high quality treatment system to treat the wastewater and effluent to tertiary quality to allow it to be reused sustainably for irrigation purposes. Such a scheme would have major benefits for both the industry and the ecology of the rivers into which this discharge would normally flow. In participating in such proposals, the industry would be delivering a benefit to itself, to the environment, and to the local community. I approved one such scheme in the Great Western region of Victoria a few months ago.

This last point - the benefit to the broader community - is an important one. Ecologically sustainable development requires an industry to consider what is referred to as the triple-bottom line of its operations - that is the social, environmental and economic consequences of its actions. While the wine industry makes a major social contribution in terms of the employment and economic opportunities it brings to many regional communities, its social obligations also extend to ensuring the quality of the local environment and therefore the quality of life for local residents is not degraded or devalued.

I need not remind you of the dramatic impact that uncontrolled discharges of winery effluent wastewater or stormwater runoff carrying pesticides and fertiliser can have on local waterways. Apart from the social cost this places on local communities, you need only consider the tourism associated with the wine industry to understand the potential economic impact of polluted waterways. So as with all industries, there must be a general duty of care for the environment and to the broader community.

As I mentioned earlier, the wine industry has shown that it is willing to engage positively in environmental issues. That commitment also needs to extend beyond the issues which we would normally identify as being specifically related to the industry. For example, I'm sure if we were to survey the community and ask which industries it thought were contributing to global warming, very few would nominate the wine industry. But the reality is that all industries which use energy contribute in some way to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The wine industry has the added impact of greenhouse emissions associated with landclearing for new vineyards. There are also emissions issues relating to transport and the use of diesel.

Through their involvement in the Commonwealth's voluntary Greenhouse Challenge program, members of the wine industry have publicly accepted their responsibility to become part of the solution. Yalumba Wineries led the way being the first winery to sign up and they have been followed by the hosts of today's forum, SA Wine and Brandy, who are promoting a National Greenhouse Abatement program. That involvement has led to three more wineries - Temple Bruer, Tarac Australia and CA Henscke - signing as Greenhouse Challenge Members. I welcome their involvement in this important program and hope that it serves as an example to others to follow suit. There is no doubt that the clean and green image of Australian wines is a major marketing tool. So apart from the obvious benefits for the environment, I am sure the involvement of these companies will give them an added edge in a market place which is placing increasing importance on environmental performance.

Finally, I would like to address the issue of packaging and the wine industry. Packaging waste is a major contributor to landfill and a considerable burden on industry, the environment and the community. Our Government has sought to work cooperatively with all industry sectors and State and territory Governments to attack this growing problem. The result has been the National Packaging Covenant - the first agreement of its type in the world. Through this voluntary agreement, industry groups and individual companies commit to minimise the amount of packaging waste created throughout their production process - so it extends beyond the company itself to incorporate the packaging practices of their suppliers. Already more than 130 companies have signed up to the Covenant. I'm pleased that among those signatures are Brown Brothers wineries and Yalumba Wineries. Again these wineries have decided that they want to be a part of the solution and their commitment is an example to all other wineries interested in delivering a better environmental outcome.

In conclusion, there are certainly many positive environmental achievements to report on in the Australian wine industry and I commend you for that. But like all industries, the wine industry must understand that the general community is continually setting higher standards. To keep pace with those demands will require the wine industry to commit to ongoing improvement in environmental practices with the ultimate goal being the achievement of true ecological sustainability.

I would draw the parallel with your amazing economic successes - the record export sales of last year are quickly forgotten in the race to achieve an even better result this year. That's the way that today's community views environmental achievements - something to acknowledge before moving on to even better results.

In committing to this ongoing challenge, your industry will not only enjoy continued economic success but will also deliver major benefits to the environment and to the broader community. It's the type of win-win outcome one would expect from a confident, dynamic Australian industry.

Commonwealth of Australia