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Speech
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

EMBARGO 4:30 pm, 19 March 2002
NOTE: CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

19 March 2002

Launch of Australia State of the Environment Report 2001


Mural Hall, Parliament House, Canberra

Salutations:

The launch of the Australia State of the Environment 2001 Report this afternoon is a very significant step for Australia as we seek to move towards sustainability.

The Howard Government attaches vital importance to the environment, and has established a new Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, to provide a strong, whole-of-government framework on issues of environmental sustainability.

The commitment to a sustainable Australia sets as our goal the handing over of our country to the next generation in a better condition than we received it, so that they have a set of policy options before them which is not inferior to that which we have exercised.

Sustainability does not mean any lessening in the enterprise of our people or in our goal of improving the standard of living of all Australians. It means that as we pursue economic growth and social progress, we must do so with a greatly heightened awareness of the significance of our natural environment for the long-term success of our endeavours.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, State of the Environment Reports for our continent, our seas and our external territories will be produced every five years.

Professor Bruce Thom Chairman of the independent Australian State of the Environment Committee, which prepared this second report, will speak to its findings in a few minutes.

The Report records the status of our environment, identifies trends in the conditions and pressures facing our environment, and evaluates the responses of all stakeholders to those pressures.

The Committee has found some encouraging developments. It shows that where we have acted to improve our environment and address key issues of sustainability with determination, we can succeed.

In the last six years clear environmental gains have been made:

I was delighted to announce this morning that the Tasmanian rock lobster and abalone fisheries have become among the first in Australia to have proven their sustainability and thus won export exemptions.

These are significant achievements. The ledger, of course, has two sides, and this is where the 2001 State of the Environment Report is so valuable. It not only tells us where we have done well, but it also clearly marks out the major challenges that we must still confront.

The baseline conclusion of the Report is that despite improvements "Australia is far from achieving sustainability, and major problems and impediments remain".

The Report identifies the major challenges with which we must deal in the years ahead:

Professor Thom and his colleagues have sought to identify, again in broad terms, what will be required to deal with these problems effectively.

I believe their overall conclusion is indisputable.

"Fundamental to better management and planning is the recognition that the environment, including our cultural and natural heritage, is everyone's business."

They are talking about nothing less than cultural change. Achieving a sustainable Australia requires a shift to a culture that takes as a given, in the words of the report, that:

"current society should meet its needs in ways that ensure that the health and diversity of ecosystems, on which life depends, is maintained and does not reduce the capacity of future generations to meet their needs. Our use of resources should not cause our descendants to inherit a diminished natural and cultural heritage, less potable water, polluted air, contaminated soils, reduced variety of foods, and degraded landscapes. Environmental management in all its aspects should aim for ESD outcomes."

Achieving this change is the major environmental challenge facing Australian governments and communities. It will require leadership at all levels. It will require the mobilisation not only of our capacity to generate the scientific data essential to sound decision making, but the accumulation of knowledge of social and economic mechanisms that will encourage co-operation, and provide the incentives and the information that will allow decisions to best reflect community values.

Conscious of these issues, over the last six years the Howard Government has put in place some of the key legal and financial frameworks to move policy in the right direction.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has proven to be a powerful and effective piece of legislation to protect Australia's endangered species and environments.

Five years ago, the first State of the Environment Report made clear that our most urgent task was to prevent many of our precious and unique animals, plants and their habitats from disappearing from the face of this land.

As Professor Thom and his committee report, "The protection of biodiversity values in Australia has progressed significantly with the enactment of the EPBC Act. The protection of biodiversity values now extends well beyond the reserve system. The comprehensiveness and adequacy of the reserve system has improved."

With help from the $2.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust, more than 400,000 people have helped protect Australia's biodiversity through Landcare, Bushcare and other community organisations.

Having started to address that most pressing problem, Australia must now turn its energies to a larger task - saving the soil and water that sustain those unique plants and animals - and indeed the people and prosperity of Australia.

This is a task that will require unprecedented national co-operation between the Commonwealth and State governments and local communities.

Together Australian governments have put in place a National Action Plan that will directly mobilise an additional $1.4 billion to build on the work of the Natural Heritage Trust.

The National Action Plan recognises that land clearing is a significant threat to our biodiversity and targets salinity, water quality and biodiversity issues. It addresses the scale of Australia's land and water degradation at a level beyond the capacity of existing institutional arrangements and individual landholders.

Essential to the success of the Plan is a substantial investment in scientific analysis of the requirements for success in each catchment. Equally essential will be appropriate consultative processes involving each of the key stakeholders.

To enable the issue of water allocations and over-allocations to be addressed we need to move towards a nationally uniform system of property rights in water. Mobilising the strengths of market mechanisms within a framework designed to achieve ecologically sustainable development is one of the greatest challenges currently before the State and Federal Governments.

Conclusion

We live in a vast continent of great natural and cultural richness and beauty. We are still learning about this ancient land and its seas, how complex ecosystems function and how human activity has modified these systems.

The Howard Government is committed to developing new ways of living and working and applying new technology to reduce the pressures on the Australian environment. This State of the Environment Report shows us that we still have work to do and that this is work for every organisation and citizen.

I quote again from the report: "The key to Australia's sustainable future lies in ourselves: our attitudes towards the environment, our heritage and each other."

I sincerely thank the committee members for overseeing the preparation of this comprehensive report and commend their work to all Australians.

I now call on Professor Bruce Thom, Chair of the Australian State of the Environment Committee to speak in more detail about the Report.

Commonwealth of Australia