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

Friday, 16 May 2003

Subject: Moratorium on Land Clearing in Queensland and Response to Simon Crean's Environment Statement in Budget Reply

DR KEMP: In last year's budget, Simon Crean said that he was going to act to stop land clearing in Queensland. I challenged him after that statement to pick up the phone to Peter Beattie and do something about it.

He's done absolutely nothing in the last year in relation to land clearing in Queensland.

The Howard Government has acted on this matter. We've worked with Queensland closely and today I'm delighted to announce that a moratorium has now been imposed on new applications and permits on land clearing in Queensland.

This was a result of the fact that the Howard Government has been working in close partnership with the Queensland Government to ensure that we can bring into place a proper framework to govern vegetation clearing in Queensland and to protect native remnant vegetation.

This shows the tremendous value of governments working together - not the empty rhetoric that the Labor Party has come up with but governments working together on the principle environmental issues this country faces.

And there is not the slightest doubt that land clearing is one of the major - if not THE major - environmental challenge facing Australia at the present time.

Land clearing is very important in relation to biodiversity. Land clearing is important in relation to biodiversity, in relation to greenhouse, in relation to clean water, clean rivers and healthy land.

The Commonwealth Government has acted on this and all we've had from the Labor party is empty rhetoric.

Today Premier Beattie with the concurrence of the Prime Minister has announced a moratorium on new applications for land clearing in Queensland and it has also announced a current moratorium on the issue of new permits.

Now this is a very significant announcement. Next week I will be going to Queensland to discuss with stakeholders, we naturally have sensitivities in this matter, the Commonwealth plan. And how we intend to work with them to achieve the satisfactory outcome that we all want in relation to vegetation clearing.

QUESTION: inaudible

DR KEMP: The Murray Darling comments by the leader of the Opposition just show how out of touch he is in relation to the real environmental action on the ground. The Commonwealth is already working with the State Premiers through the Living Murray initiative to make sure that the health of the Murray River is restored. At a meeting last Friday, the Howard Government and the Labor State Premiers agreed to request the Murray Darling Basin Commission to bring forward a fully costed plan to restore environmental flows to the Murray River.

Simon Crean is 2 years behind the game. His plan is uncosted, he doesn't say where the water is going to come from, he doesn't say whether it is going to come from NSW, or Victoria. Has he picked up the phone to Premier Carr and asked him whether NSW water is going to be available for his initiative? Has he picked up the phone to Premier Bracks and asked him whether the water is going to come out of Victoria? Has he done any costing on it? Has he done any consultation with the community? The answer is no.

He's just plucked an arbitrary figure out of the air which has no reality in terms of the processes that are currently underway to restore the health of the Murray River. So once again we have seen Simon Crean claiming that he is going to do something but he doesn't pick up the phone to his state Labor colleagues who actually have got the capacity to do something about it. The Howard Government has done that and we're working very closely with the states of South Australia, Queensland, NSW and Victoria to make sure that environmental flows are restored to the Murray River.

I'd also like to make a comment if I could on some of the other inaccurate claims that have been made. There have been claims made by the Greens and the Labor party that there have been cuts to the Federal Government salinity funding. This is absolutely incorrect. There is not a single dollar that has been taken out of the National Action Plan on salinity. In fact, the spending under this plan in the coming year is going to be double the spending in the current year. It is going to go up from some $62 million to $124 million. We'd like to see that money flow out to the regions even more rapidly. The states unfortunately delayed signing up to the action plan until after the federal election and Western Australia has not signed up even today.

If Simon Crean wanted to do something about it, he can pick up the phone to Geoff Gallop and say for heaven's sake sign up to Howard Government's National Action Plan on salinity because we want to see that money flowing out to the regions to actually address this serious national problem.

It has also been claimed that there have been cuts in Greenhouse funding. Again there have been absolutely no cuts to Greenhouse funding. In fact, the Greenhouse office will be spending an additional $30 million in the coming year over and above its spending last year, up from some $93 million to $124 million. The Howard Government is strongly committed and firmly committed to Australia taking responsible action to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

This has been an excellent budget for the environment. It's a budget which brings environment spending by the Commonwealth for the first time to over $2 billion a year. This government has got a commitment to make sure that the Australian environment is put on a sustainable basis so Australians can hand on this wonderful country to their children in a better environmental condition than it is in its present time.

The big announcement today is unquestionably the moratorium on the issuing of new applications for, and new permits for vegetation clearing in Queensland.

This is a very significant national announcement and it arises from the action of the Howard Government working in close partnership with the Labor Government in Queensland. We're putting Australia first, we're putting the health of the environment first, we're putting the health and prosperity of Australian communities first.

QUESTION: what do you expect to be the outcomes of the moratorium?

DR KEMP: Well this moratorium is part of a series of proposals that the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government have worked up together and I will be talking with a number of other Commonwealth ministers with interest groups in Queensland next week on the details of these proposals. I don't want to go into the details of the proposals now. There'll be quite a lot of interest I am quite sure in these proposals in Queensland and I am looking forward to these talks next week. The Moratorium is a very vital first step.

QUESTION: Why QLD? What about the other states?

DR KEMP: Well Queensland land clearing has been by far the most significant land clearing here in Australia at the present time. There is land clearing going on in other states but the Queensland issue is the one which I think has concerned everyone around Australia. It's one that has to be tackled, it is a top priority for the nation's environmental policies for farmers, and the Howard Government and the Beattie Government in Queensland has now formed a partnership to address that.

QUESTION: inaudible

DR KEMP: Well today Premier Beattie with the concurrence of the Prime Minister has announced a moratorium on all new applications for land clearing and on the issuing of any new permits. So this is a very significant first step in getting this new program to address the vegetation clearing issue in Queensland on the ground.

QUESTION - inaudible

DR KEMP: Well we are dealing particularly with Queensland issues. There are different circumstances that arise in other states and we are talking individually with the various state governments about that. If you want more detail on that I can go into it but the real issue today is Queensland.
Thanks very much.

Commonwealth of Australia