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Opening Address by Senator the Hon Robert Hill,
Minister for the Environment
Thank you for inviting me here today to open the second Coast to Coast conference in my home state of South Australia.
Australia has the opportunity to lead the world in ecologically sustainable development. This is an objective which is not only environmentally responsible but will also produce major economic benefits and job opportunities for the nation.
The management and protection of Australia's environment is a key priority in the Government's agenda, and we believe that we have an important leadership role in addressing environmental issues.
Our Government is committed to working co-operatively with the States, Territories, and Local Governments to achieve lasting solutions to Australia's environmental problems.
As a matter of priority we will ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to be actively involved in developing these solutions.
This is particularly important in relation to management of our coasts and oceans, which are of tremendous importance to all Australians.
The coastal zone supports about 86 per cent of Australia's population. It is where much of Australia's commercial and industrial activity is found.
Our coasts and oceans are also the focus of many of our social activities and recreational pursuits. And for many Australians, particularly indigenous Australians, the coast is a place of great cultural significance.
Clearly, the sustainable management and development of our coasts and oceans is imperative to our way of life and economic prosperity.
Our Government is committed to protecting Australia's coasts and oceans, so that we and future generations can continue to enjoy their multitude of benefits.
Coastal management is a joint responsibility and this government recognises that state and local governments have a leading role to play in successful management.
Like the Commonwealth, State Governments have also acknowledged the importance of our coastal environments, and have taken major steps to protect and rehabilitate them.
In opposition the Coalition supported the introduction of comprehensive policies to provide a national and integrated perspective on sustainable management of both our coasts and oceans.
Our policy objective, stated in Saving Our Natural Heritage, is to maintain the Commonwealth Coastal Policy and its budget forecasts.
We are committed to improving relations with the States and Territories, and support the Memoranda of Understanding signed between the Commonwealth, State, and Local Governments to implement the Coastal Action Program.
I appreciate the effort that has gone into establishing these co- operative arrangements and look forward to working with those States who have signed the memoranda - South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria.
In particular, I wish to congratulate South Australia on being the first to enter into these co-operative arrangements.
Negotiations with Western Australia are at a promising stage and I am confident that they too will soon be participating in the Program.
The Memoranda put in place co-operative administrative arrangements , including matching funding for three specific activities:
Government action alone is not enough to improve coastal management.
Coastcare is a community participation program that draws on the enormous enthusiasm within the Australian community for active involvement in the management of the coast.
Coastcare is modelled on Landcare. Landcare has been particularly successful in generating broad community involvement in, and understanding of, land management issues. In a similar way it is anticipated that Coastcare will also develop strong community support.
The program is an outstanding example of governments and communities working together.
The Commonwealth and State Governments are providing matching funding for Coastcare projects, with Local Governments supporting many individual projects.
The projects themselves are being developed and implemented co-operatively by communities and local managers, principally in local councils.
We will continue to support the Coastal Strategic Planning Program through which integrated coastal management strategies will be developed. These strategies will help to resolve the conflicts that arise in areas of the coastal zone under major development pressure.
For example, Commonwealth, State and local governments in Queensland are working together to resolve the key issues arising from the increased rate of development adjoining the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The MOU's also commit the three spheres of government to finding local solutions to local water quality management problems.
But more still needs to be done. We will provide a further $100 million, subject to the 1/3rd sale of Telstra, to tackle coastal pollution 'hot spots' and significant threats to Australia's marine biodiversity as part of our Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative.
The Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative targets several previously neglected areas of policy - ocean outfalls, stormwater pollution, marine research, oil spills, and oceans management.
Sewage is an obvious pollutant that threatens our coastal and marine environments.
Ocean outfalls rely on the dilution capacity of oceans. But where outfalls are badly designed or an area just can't cope with the amount of sewage, our beaches and marine environments suffer.
Subsequently, our tourism, mariculture and associated industries also suffer.
We will assist State and Local Governments to address the threat of stormwater pollution to our urban beaches and popular recreational and environmentally sensitive coastal areas.
Sound management of our coast is dependent on good management of our ocean and land resources. Our policy recognises this and will draw together a number of related activities to ensure the best possible outcome.
The $85 million National Rivercare Initiative will address issues that are relevant to the quality of our coastal rivers including agricultural run-off and the reuse of waste water.
Assistance for rehabilitating, revegetating and preserving remnant vegetation, including vegetation in our coastal zone, will be provided through the Government's $318 million National Vegetation Initiative.
Of course the funding level for both of these initiatives is contingent on the part sale of Telstra.
Healthy wetlands are an important part of the coastal environment.
However, nearly two thirds of the wetlands sites around the world listed under the Ramsar Convention are described by the World Wide Fund for Nature as 'threatened by developments or poor management'.
The Commonwealth Government is committed to improving the management of Australian's wetland through the National Wetlands Program.
An area that has long been neglected is our oceans.
The creation of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone provides a challenge which has not been addressed - the management of an area larger than Australia's land mass - some 11 million square kilometres of marine waters and their resources.
We need to put in place an integrated Oceans Policy to promote ecologically sustainable resource use and environment protection of our oceans.
The task will be complicated by our lack of knowledge of marine resources and the many competing interests in the marine environment.
Development of an Oceans Policy is in its very early stages. And like the Coastal Policy it will be developed in full consultation with all major interest groups; including States, a wide range of industries, conservation groups and indigenous communities.
Now I come to the most pleasing part of my address. Earlier today I spoke about the importance of Coastcare.
It gives me great pleasure to join with Minister Wotten in announcing that the successful 1995/96 Coastcare grants for South Australia have been approved.
I was impressed with both the quality and breadth of the range of projects. I commend the community groups for their effort and commitment and wish them well with their projects.
The Commonwealth is pleased to be a major sponsor of Coast to Coast '96 because it provides an opportunity for communication and information exchange between a diverse range of coastal managers from all over Australia.
I am sure that it will be an interesting and valuable meeting for all concerned.
It gives me great pleasure to open this conference.