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Senator Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
6 December 1996
The Commonwealth Government has confirmed its commitment to move quickly to establish the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia once legislation for the part sale of Telstra is finalised by the Senate.
All Australians who share a commitment to the protection and repair of our natural environment will welcome yesterday's announcement of the Commonwealth's decision to inject an additional $100 million into the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia.
The Natural Heritage Trust, which will now have a $1.1 billion capital injection from the proceeds of the part sale, will be used to fund five major capital projects:
These initiatives will be complemented by programs such as the National Landcare Program, the National Feral Animal Control Strategy, the National Weeds Strategy, the National Wetlands Program and the Farm Forestry Program.
The Natural Heritage Trust will lay the groundwork for the conservation, repair and enhancement of Australia's unique environment into the 21st Century.
It is the first ever capital fund dedicated solely to environmental rescue efforts. It provides the systematic and integrated approach to dealing with the nation's environmental problems which was called for by scientific experts in the 1996 State of the Environment Report.
The Senate will debate legislation to establish the Trust next week.
The Commonwealth will now move to accelerate negotiations with the States of partnership agreements for delivery of programs under the Natural Heritage Trust.
The Tasmanian Government in submissions to the Commonwealth has demonstrated that projects of the quality expected could easily be justified within the criteria under which the Trust is being established.
I have written to the Tasmanian Government indicating that while the Commonwealth cannot sign off on specific projects, we have agreed to its request that 10% of the expenditure under the Trust will be applied to programs in Tasmania.
This commitment reflects the Commonwealth's understanding of the natural heritage pre-eminence of Tasmania and the costs to Tasmania in repairing and conserving a disproportionately large share of our nation's reserves and biodiversity.
The arrangement also reflects a recognition and acceptance of the merits of the arguments put to the Government by Senator Harradine about the need to ensure Tasmania receives an appropriate share of funding to flow from the Trust.
As the Government stated yesterday, Senator Harradine has fought vigorously for Tasmanian interests and we accept the validity of his case.
By committing such a large portion of its land to national parks or conservation reserves, Tasmania has foregone economic potential.
The commitment made by Tasmania to conserve its natural heritage benefits all Australians. The Commonwealth believes, therefore, that additional funding to protect that natural heritage also benefits all Australians.
A similar argument can be mounted that the environmental and economic benefits to flow from our $163 million commitment to the Murray Darling Initiative will benefit all Australians, not just those that live in States directly linked to the river system.
The Howard Government is committed to getting on with the job of restoring our nation's natural heritage and preserving it for the benefit of future generations of Australians.