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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Question without Notice
Wednesday, 28 May 2003
Mr SECKER (2.47 p.m.) - My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Would the minister advise the House of the progress being made in the battle against salinity, which is so important to the land-holders of my electorate of Barker? Would the minister also advise of the impact of the recent budget on these initiatives?
Dr KEMP - I thank the honourable member for Barker for his question. Salinity is indeed one of Australia's greatest environmental problems. It destroys our agricultural land and it can make the water in our rivers undrinkable. It is this government, the Howard government, which has led the way in combating this scourge that affects hundreds of thousands of hectares throughout Australia. It is currently polluting our rivers and holding out the threat that the water to Adelaide in the Murray River will be undrinkable two days out of five by the year 2020.
The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is a plan which recognises that neither the salinity issues nor the broader environmental issues of vegetation, land clearing or biodiversity will be solved unless the communities themselves take ownership of the problem. That is what this government has put in place through the national action plan. The national action plan is based on extensive consultation with rural communities around Australia - developing the priorities for those communities in land clearing, in the preservation of biodiversity and in water quality to make the investments actually do the job.
The essence of the national action plan is the $1.4 billion that government is investing - $700 million from the Commonwealth and $700 million from the states.
Alongside that is the $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust and the Living Murray program, which is being implemented through the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, which this government put in place two years ago—a long time ahead of any plans from the other side of the House.
The government has put in place the most comprehensive environmental rescue package that this country has ever seen. Since 1995-96, through the Natural Heritage Trust, this government has invested some $365 million in the Murray-Darling Basin alone for environmental rescue. In the coming year, we will be spending almost twice as much as we spent last year through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality - some $114 million. I venture to say that no continental scale effort of this kind has ever been attempted before anywhere in the world, and it is the Howard government which has led the way. We would be spending even more than this on salinity this year if the state governments had not dragged their feet. Indeed, the Western Australian Labor government has still not signed up to the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality even though it has one of the most serious salinity problems in this country.
Because of delays in the signing up to these agreements, the government has decided that the national action plan for salinity will be extended by one year to 2007-08 to ensure that the full expenditure of $1.4 billion is made - assuming that Western Australia becomes a member of the national action plan and signs up. All other states have now signed up. South Australia signed in June 2001, Victoria in October 2001 - a year after the government put the money and the plan on the table - Tasmania in February 2002, Queensland in March 2002, New South Wales in May 2002 and the Northern Territory in February 2003.
Despite Labor's claims to the contrary, there have been no cuts whatsoever to the national action plan on salinity. There has been an extension of the program because of the delays by the Labor Party in the states in making the commitments that will solve this problem. This government has galvanised the local communities. It is prepared to work in partnership with the states to get on top of the scourge that salinity brings to our agricultural land and to our rivers.