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Speech by Senator Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
Monday, 14th October 1996
Thank you for inviting me to present the 1996 Australian Minerals and Energy Environment Foundation (AMEEF) Environmental Excellence Awards.
I am delighted to be associated with AMEEF and to recognise and support its goals, which I understand are to promote the implementation of sustainable development principles in Australia's mining and energy industry and, in particular, to promote excellence in environmental science and management.
I spoke only last week at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association annual dinner on the relationship between the success of the petroleum industry and sound environmental performance. In both the petroleum industry and the minerals industry, there is a direct relationship between environmental performance and economic performance. Excellence in environmental management is now an essential aspect of any successful and profitable project development. The economic benefits of sound environmental management are obvious - for example, enhanced environmental management may lead to an increase in the energy efficiency of a project and so a subsequent reduction in energy costs. Proper environmental management may also reduce the often expensive costs of remedial measures which will be necessary if poor environmental practices are followed - for example, environmental management systems may reduce or avoid site clean up costs and expenses associated with plant closures. Finally, improved environmental performance can minimise potential legal liability associated with environmental damage or workplace safety issues.
However, of perhaps even greater significance is the less direct relationship between economic success and the public's perception of an industry's environmental performance. An important factor that will help determine the future options available to the minerals and energy industry (and so its profitability) will be the ability of industry - and individual companies - to demonstrate a commitment to environmental responsibility.
I believe the community is demanding that industry adopt high standards in environmental management. The community is likely to expect even higher standards to be applied in the future. In addition, the community will expect independent verification that relevant standards are being observed. For this reason, I applaud the very significant steps taken by the minerals and energy industry to promote such standards of environmental management and, importantly, the steps taken by many in the industry to enhance the transparency and accountability of their environmental management systems. Industry has clearly recognised the community's increasing concerns over environmental issues and has taken steps to address these concerns. Independent auditing of environmental performance will, I believe, provide an opportunity for the minerals and energy industry to further demonstrate to the community and to government its commitment to environmental management, and so help ensure the continued success of the industry.
However, industry's attitude to environmental management should not be determined solely by what is profitable. I expect that the minerals and energy industry will take steps to adequately protect the environment because the environment - our rivers, mountains, forests, oceans and flora and fauna - are public assets which are available for all Australians to enjoy. Australians place a very high value on the protection of our environment but it is a value that cannot always be measured in dollars - at least, not under traditional valuation techniques.
Australians want to achieve both economic growth and also environmental protection - however, on occasion this will not be possible and the community will choose to forego potential economic benefits associated with the exploitation of natural resources because it places a greater value on the less tangible benefits arising from the protection of the environment. For example, a former Coalition government's decision in relation to Fraser Island. In these circumstances, it is important that industry respect the community's choice.
There is growing evidence that industry will discharge wisely its responsibilities in relation to Australia's very special environment. However, if industry cannot or will not accept this responsibility then government must act for the benefit of the Australian community.
Which brings me to our preferred role of government. I believe that conservation measures are far more effective if they are developed and implemented on a cooperative basis. You can expect this philosophy to characterise my approach to environmental issues.
You will be aware that there is currently a review being undertaken of Commonwealth and State roles and responsibilities in relation to the environment. As a related exercise, I will also be reviewing Commonwealth environmental legislation. I hope that, as a result of these reviews:
Most importantly, I will also be acting to:
Let me emphasise that the Commonwealth will not be abdicating its responsibilities for environmental protection. However, in my amendments could be made to Commonwealth environmental legislation which would not compromise the level of environmental protection but which would provide enormous benefit to industry. I am determined to ensure such reform does occur and that this benefit is delivered to industry. I am equally determined to ensure the environment is adequately protected.
Together, I believe industry and government can work cooperatively to ensure the minerals and energy sector of the economy enjoys unprecedented prosperity. This cooperation is already occurring. I have great pleasure in launching tonight the two latest booklets in the Best Practice Environmental Management in Mining series - a series better known as the Mining Modules. Development of the mining modules is a joint project between my Department and the mining industry which began in late 1994. It is a successful initiative and the two latest booklets, entitled Onshore Minerals and Petroleum Exploration and Environmental Auditing, are a worthwhile addition to that series and a further demonstration of the effort being made by industry to ensure its environmental performance is of a high standard. I hope there will be many more such cooperative and successful projects between this government and your industry.
The Mining Modules are a good example of industry accepting and discharging its environmental responsibilities. We are, of course, gathered here tonight to recognise other such efforts. The achievements being rewarded tonight are indeed outstanding. The continuation of such work by industry will, I believe, have enormous benefits for industry and for all Australians who will, as a result, be able to enjoy both a cleaner environment and the increased prosperity associated with a successful minerals and energy industry.