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Launch of Minerals Industry Workbook

Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

Mural Hall
Parliament House
27 November 1996

It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to participate in the launch of the Minerals Industry Greenhouse Challenge Workbook. This initiative recognises the importance of the mining and processing industries as partners in the Greenhouse Challenge Program.

In recent years we have seen a major transformation in business attitudes towards the environment. Where once the environment was seen as a side issue, it is now widely recognised as an integral aspect of decision making.

A recent survey by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia found that the development of an environmental policy has been a priority to companies only in the last four years. 55% of companies responding to the recent survey now, however, have established environmental policies. Prior to this only a small percentage had done so.

Companies are also increasingly adopting public reporting of their environmental performance, just as they have traditionally done for financial performance.

I look forward to the not too distant future when all companies have environmental policies and reporting mechanisms which are agreed to and endorsed at the highest levels within the organisation.

There is no doubt that environmental issues can present challenges and complexities. But neither is there any doubt that being environmentally responsible is not just the right thing to do, it can and does also improve the bottom line.

I believe that through co-operation, through working together, we are seeing win-win examples every day.

The establishment of partnerships between the business and industry sector and government is significant in the government's approach to addressing environmental issues, particularly in the area of greenhouse response.

These partnerships are about best practice environmental management, and that is more than just technological change. It requires a cultural change in attitude, both at the individual and management level.

And that is what I believe the Greenhouse Challenge is about. It is about changing attitudes.

The Greenhouse Challenge is about understanding and accepting that the enhanced greenhouse effect and its impact on climate is perhaps the most important, complex and challenging environmental issue facing us today. Every member of the community must accept his or her responsibility in both their personal and corporate capacities to take action.

I am pleased that the partnership that has been forged between the government and the mining industry continues to strengthen through the Greenhouse Challenge program. I note that three mining companies - BHP, CRA and Shell - have already signed agreements and I thank them for the leadership role they have taken. I also note that nearly a dozen others within the mining industry have lodged Letters of Intent. I look forward to the early development of their agreements.

It is critical that all members of the industry commit themselves to participate fully in the Challenge and to significantly reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. It is imperative that we have, and are seen by the world to have, a credible and effective domestic response to climate change and that all industry sectors are taking their responsibilities seriously.

At Geneva, Australia pursued an approach to the question of emissions targets which would lead to an outcome which is both fair and achievable. We sought to introduce the concept of differentiation. This concept was further extended in our proposal submitted to the Framework Convention Secretariat in late October.

Australia's proposal involves using a set of economic indicators to differentiate country targets to take into account the economic structure of each economy, its resource base and other individual country circumstances, including dependency on fossil fuels. This would ensure that international efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases would result in similar economic impacts on individual countries.

The Government is pursuing an approach in international negotiations which seeks to safeguard Australia's national interests: environment, economic and trade, while laying the foundation for an enduring global response to climate change.

As I said in the Senate on Monday, and many times before, we are responsible for growing the economy and providing jobs as well as contributing to a good global outcome. We remain committed to both, but we are not going to sacrifice Australian jobs in order to meet a greenhouse outcome dictated by the US or the EU or anyone else. We do not apologise for that. It is what the Australian people are entitled to.

At the same time we acknowledge that we must contribute to good greenhouse outcomes.

In order to have Australia's position accepted we must demonstrate effective domestic action on greenhouse emissions. We need to show that we are delivering practical options for emissions abatement if our credibility in international negotiations is to remain strong and our desired outcome achieved.

After its first eighteen months of operation, I believe we can point to the Greenhouse Challenge Program as having laid the groundwork for a critical element of our national response.

The Challenge builds on the common element that is in all the industry partnership programs I have mentioned - their co-operative nature. No prescription. No new laws. No penalties. Instead, a recognition that each and every one of us has a key role to play and a responsibility to act.

The current review of the National Greenhouse Response Strategy provides a major platform for Australia to take forward its greenhouse agenda into the next century. It will include reinforcement of the importance of effective partnerships and co-operative endeavours involving all sectors of the community.

A key milestone in the development of the revised Strategy will be the release of a Discussion Paper for public consultation in March 1997. The success of the review process will depend greatly on the active participation of each level of government and all stakeholders.

The goal is for the Council of Australian Governments to adopt a revised strategy by mid-1997. The Government recognises that a strengthened national greenhouse response is essential.

I would like to thank the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Coal Association for the groundwork they have laid for effective participation by mining companies in the Greenhouse Challenge.

The contribution you have made demonstrates your willingness to grapple with this very important environmental issue, and serves as an example to others. I call upon all companies in the mining industry to attach high priority to becoming partners in the Greenhouse Challenge in the near future.

I look forward to joining you again when member organisations enter into co-operative agreements with the Government.

Commonwealth of Australia