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

Port Douglas Low Island


Friday, 21st November 1996

I am pleased to welcome President Clinton and Mrs Clinton to this very special part of Australia. There can be few better places in the world to relax - and to resurrect one's golf game after a round with Greg Norman.

The magnificent wet tropical rainforests of north Queensland and the stunning beauty of the Great Barrier Reef provide an appropriate setting to reflect on the responsibility of us all to protect our natural heritage.

The Great Barrier Reef is the worlds most extensive coral reef and perhaps the worlds richest area in terms of faunal diversity.

The president will, I believe, visit 2 coral reefs of a total of nearly 3,000 reefs in a system stretching over 2,000 kilometres.

Australia is proudly protecting the reef, not only for Australians but also for the whole world. We recognise the need to protect our marine environment - to learn from our experiences with the terrestrial environment - and particularly we recognise Australia's responsibility to assist developing nations in preserving their coral reefs.

For this reason, we were delighted to accept this year the responsibility for providing the secretariat of the International Coral Reef Initiative ("ICRI"). Mr President, the United States of America successfully lead ICRI through its first 2 years. We are proud to now assume that responsibility from your nation in time to celebrate the Year of the Reef in 1997.

In honour of your visit, it is the wish of my colleague, the Premier of Queensland, and I that one of the 3,000 reefs in the Great Barrier Reef be named Rachel Carson Reef. This recognises the pioneering work of the eminent American environmentalist who in the 1950's alerted the world to the consequences of accumulated pollution.

The Great Barrier Reef is listed under the World Heritage Convention, having been recognised by the international community as an area of "outstanding universal value". The ancient rain forests of the surrounding wet tropics of north Queensland - home to over 3,000 plant species and featuring mountain ranges cloaked by tropical rainforest - are also classified as world heritage.

Australia's actions in implementing the World Heritage Convention demonstrates our commitment to environmental protection - both domestically and as a nation committed to promoting international action to preserve the very special places on our planet.

Domestically, our government plans to invest $1 billion to protect and restore Australia's environment through the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia.

Internationally, Australia has played a key role in encouraging the responsible stewardship of our planet. For example, we have played a leading role in the development of the Biodiversity Convention and in the creation of an Antarctic Sanctuary for the great whales. We will be hoping for strong support from the United States in our renewed push for a permanent international ban on commercial whaling.

Mr President, I am pleased that our two nations have recently worked together successfully to ensure a strong environmental focus for APEC. In doing so, we have recognised that trade liberalisation must be integrated with effective environmental protection policies if we are to achieve sustainable development. APEC environment Ministers are focusing on themes such as sustainable cities and on initiatives designed to protect the marine environment and ensure a clean Pacific.

In the same spirit we will work together to meet the challenge of global warming - which could affect treasures such as the reef and the rainforest. We might not agree on all the details of how to achieve a fair and equitable outcome, but we both recognise the importance of the issue and the challenge of achieving an effective global response.

Mr President, you spoke yesterday of America's commitment to the Asia-Pacific region in terms of trade and security. I am confident that your nation's commitment to this region extends also to environmental protection.

If the ecological integrity of the planet is not respected and restored, then our ability to generate wealth and security for our citizens will be compromised. As a community of nations we must accept the enormous environmental challenges which now confront us.

We look forward to continuing to work with you in promoting this responsibility.

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