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As Parliamentary Secretary in the Environment Portfolio, I am delighted to have this opportunity to open this, the Planning Education Foundation of South Australia, 1996 Winter Planning Seminar.
As Parliamentary Secretary to Senator Robert Hill, the Minister for the Environment, I have the great pleasure of assisting him with his crucial portfolio at time of great challenges and even greater opportunities.
I also have policy and administrative responsibility for the Australia Antarctic Division, the Bureau of Meteorology and the exciting Green Corps proposal.
He has asked me to address this conference as he is on his way to Geneva to represent the Australian Government at COP 2, (Conference of the Parties) which is concerned with green-house emissions and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
I have been asked to speak about the Commonwealth's role in integrating planning and the environment, however as it is only five weeks until the Commonwealth Government brings down its first budget, I am somewhat constrained in talking about the future of particular programs or initiatives.
Nevertheless, whatever the outcome of the Budget, the issues of the environment and sustainable development will continue to be major priorities of the Government.
Planning, whether at the local or regional level, is a key mechanism in achieving lasting environmental quality and sustainable development.
The essence of sustainable development is of course the integration of environmental, economic and social considerations in decision-making - the bringing together of a variety of disciplines and considerations to optimise the outcomes for people and for the environment.
It is a philosophy which is embodied in this seminar - jointly sponsored by the Planning Education Foundation of South Australia and the State branches of the Royal Australian Planning Institute and the National Environmental Law Association.
They, along with their private and public sector partners, have gathered together people from a wide range of disciplines, here in the Australian Minerals Foundation building, to discuss the theme
The urban environment, its form and facilities, is the basis of modern society. Its efficiency as a place of economic activity and its effectiveness as a place for people to live are interdependent.
The success of a city or town in meeting the economic and social needs of its citizens depends to a large extent on the ability of planners, and the planning system, to integrate both facets.
How we deal with environmental challenges plays a large part in that success.
As the most urbanised nation on earth, Australia has a lot of experience in facing that challenge. I won't say that we have all the answers, but it is true that Australian cities are widely regarded as among the more livable and workable in the world.
The challenges however remain, and they change over time.
In the last decade, planners have learnt a great deal more about issues such as the greenhouse effect and bio-diversity, about energy budgets and "whole-of-lifecycle" costs and about waste minimisation and cleaner production.
While governments have played a role in highlighting these issues and, in some cases, trying to provide answers, they are not problems created by governments, although they do contribute to these problems, and it is not governments who must ultimately find the solutions.
And while they may be problems with a strong international dimension, the solutions are mainly local.
Which brings me to the Commonwealth's role in integrated planning and the environment.
(Our Natural Heritage)
Earlier this year, the Coalition recognised the urgent need to undertake enormous capital investment into our environment.
The Coalition announced what is arguably the most comprehensive and ambitious environmental policy in Australia’s history. The policy was aptly named....Saving Our Natural Heritage.
The Government’s policy involves the establishment of a $1 billion National Heritage Trust responsible for the implementation of the new Government’s environmental package. This package includes:
I will make a few comments a little later regarding the funding of this package.
(Saving our Natural Heritage - planning implications)
Apart from setting out our commitment to the Natural Heritage Trust, Saving Our Natural Heritage outlines a comprehensive program to deal with the pressing environmental issues facing Australia, many of which have ramifications for land-use and urban planning.
The new government is committed to taking a broad leadership role on environmental matters.
It is a role which recognises the important and fundamental roles and responsibilities of State Governments in this area and is a role in which the Commonwealth will work together with the States in formulating policies and goals.
We specifically state a wish to avoid the types of damaging, and unproductive, confrontation between levels of Government which has marked environmental policy over the past decade.
Part of that new style leadership is in recognising genuine national priorities and acting decisively to deal with the underlying causes of environmental problems.
Water use - in both urban and rural environments - is one of those priorities.
The National Rivercare Initiative will assist in funding pilot stormwater management projects and will provide additional assistance to communities to enable the development of low cost water reuse projects in regional areas of Australia.
Air quality is another obvious priority.
We will provide an additional $16 million over five years for air quality monitoring systems, community education and an air pollution inquiry.
Waste Management and recycling is a clear area of interest for planners.
The Commonwealth is taking a national lead in encouraging a reduction in the volume of material entering the waste stream and the amount of that waste which ends up as landfill.
In all cases we will be emphasising community based activities programs promoting waste management awareness - to encourage the community and industry to re-examine their waste disposal practices.
The Coastal Action Program is an outstanding example of just how this is already being done.
The program is being delivered cooperatively in each state under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth, the State Government and the State Local Government Association.
The program includes a number of components.
Under Coastcare, community groups are working with their local government managers to tackle local coastal problems, with matching funding provided by the Commonwealth and State Governments;
The Coastal Strategic Planning Program is probably the key to securing a sustainable future for our coasts. Again this involves the 3 spheres of government working together with other key stakeholders.
Of particular interest to planners will be the Code of Practice for Coastal Planners being developed by RAPI with funding support from the Commonwealth Department of the Environment.
In defining a new role for the Commonwealth in these areas we are conscious of the need to involve the community and the professions.
There is a real need for all levels of government to act. But there is an equally strong need to ensure that we act together, and with clearly differentiated roles, rather than in some awkward tangle of competing interests and bureaucracies.
In areas where there is a clear national interest and the involvement of the Commonwealth can assist or add value, it will. But its role will not be to take over legitimate State Government functions.
It can provide leadership in areas such as the development of national programs, strategies, policies or standards, in resolving resource management issues of national significance or by ensuring that our international obligations are met.
The Government is also committed to reviewing the Commonwealth’s environment legislation so as to provide greater certainty in Government and business decision-making and to provide better environment protection.
The review of the Commonwealth legislation will be conducted in consultation with all major stakeholders, including all levels of government, the environmental movement, and industry.
The Commonwealth can also act as an important, but not sole, source of funding for projects which address issues of national importance.
The Natural Heritage Trust projects, and some of those I have already mentioned in the areas of water management and air quality, are examples of where Commonwealth funds will continue to be available to the States where their activities address national priorities.
What we must avoid, is the proliferation of programs at all levels of government seeking to address the same underlying problems. That is wasteful and creates chaos for those seeking to get on with business.
We also have to recognise that the Commonwealth is not a bottomless pit of program money.
There are good arguments for the Commonwealth to fund projects which promote and shape a sustainable future. But it must act as a catalyst, not a crutch.
Over recent years the Commonwealth has funded a variety of pilot and best practice programs that address environmental issues at the local government level.
Included in these programs are several environmental projects that relate to urban ecosystems, for example, the safe handling of industrial chemicals in Noarlunga City (SA), planning integrated stormwater management in the Sutherland Shire (NSW), a database on waste minimisation by the Monash University Graduate School of Environmental Science, and a main drain catchment management strategy by the City of Bayswater (WA).
(Local Agenda 21)
The United Nation's action plan for sustainable development in the 21st Century, Agenda 21, calls directly upon local authorities to develop their own "Local Agenda 21s" by 1997.
Later in the seminar, there will be more discussion of "Local Agenda 21s".
The Commonwealth takes the view that it is for local governments, individually and collectively, to decide their responses to this recommendation.
The Commonwealth does not view Agenda 21 as a binding international commitment but as a collection of worthwhile proposals that governments at all levels should address and adopt according to their circumstances and priorities.
Having recently addressed the Commission on Sustainable Development, the UN body mandated to pursue follow-up to Agenda 21, it is my observation that there is an ongoing global political and policy commitment to principles contained in Agenda 21.
I would also say that there is a strong recognition of the vital role that actions at the local and community levels play particularly when this is coupled with a strong policy leadership role at the national and international levels.
The Commonwealth monitors the incorporation of Local Agenda 21 principles into the policies and plans of Local Government throughout Australia, and assists this incorporation process wherever appropriate.
For example the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories (DEST) commissioned the production of “Managing for the Future”, a step by step guide to Local Agenda 21 and its implementation, targeted to Local Government.
There are many Councils throughout Australia which would claim to have strategies which meet the principles of Agenda 21.
These strategies are often called "sustainability strategies" or "environment policies", and include local conservation strategies and more specific strategies such as waste minimisation plans.
Environs Australia, a professional association of local government environment and planning professionals, is currently conducting a survey of all Councils in Australia to determine which Councils are involved in Local Agenda 21 programs. When completed this will provide a snapshot of the progress of Local Agenda 21 in Australia.
So far, we have some preliminary indications that many Australian councils have responded to the challenge. This is particularly so in Victoria and here in South Australia.
Over a third of Victorian municipalities have environment/ conservation strategies.
These are more commonly referred to as "local conservation strategies" or "environment strategies" although the intent is to integrate environmental, economic and social concerns into a single plan.
Not all Victorian local governments will be putting together a single Local Agenda 21 document.
Some, like the City of Moreland, are incorporating the principles of Agenda 21 into Council strategies, operations and specifications for services etc.
This approach was taken because the number of strategies (waste management, economic development, open space etc) already under development by the Council rendered yet another strategy superfluous.
Basically two different approaches are being taken in Victoria:
The State Government of South Australia has a commitment to sustainable development and has entered into a partnership agreement with the Local Government Association on Local Agenda 21.
They have jointly developed a five Council working model of specifically working to Local Agenda 21 principles. Each of the five Councils represents a different "type of Council". These Councils are:
The Australian Local Government Association, the peak body for local authorities in Australia, is keen to promote these initiatives and the capacity of local government to give effect to sustainable development principles.
ALGA has worked with the Commonwealth to promote case studies of best environmental practice in local government to the international community.
A major opportunity to showcase Australian expertise and commitment in this area will occur next year.
The City of Newcastle (NSW), in association with the International Centre for Local Environment Initiatives (ICLEI), is planning a major conference on Local Governments and Sustainability entitled "Pathways to Sustainability - Local Initiatives for Cities and Towns" in June 1997.
The Conference is expected to provide a forum for assessment and review of Local Agenda 21 activities worldwide and the final phase of an international review of Local Agenda 21, with the outcomes presented to a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Agenda 21 later in June 1997.
(Environmental Resource Officers)
DEST has also developed, funds and coordinates the Environmental Resource Officer (ERO) scheme which places a dedicated environment officer in a peak Local Government organisation in each State. The main role of the EROs is to assist Local Government with the implementation of a range of Commonwealth Government environment policies and programs, including Local Agenda 21, by providing a "one stop shop" for information and advice.
Senator Hill recently approved the funding of the ERO Scheme for an additional year.
The Commonwealth is also working with local governments to improve planning in the urban environment.
One example of this is the Australian Model Code for Residential Development, better known as AMCORD. AMCORD is one of the partners in today's seminar.
AMCORD has been a central element of the Commonwealth's role in assisting the acceptance and amenity of environmentally efficient housing.
AMCORD reflects the main policy directions set by the Commonwealth including the objective of achieving environmental sustainability in urban development.
It does this by promoting more efficient and environmentally sound housing and locational choices.
These mechanisms will include appropriate pricing mechanisms which take a better account of environmental costs and benefits.
AMCORD promotes a performance based system of control as an alternative approach to regulation.
Instead of specifying prescriptive standards, it focuses on matters to be addressed (called Performance Criteria) in order to achieve a desired outcome.
It is a manual of best practice in urban planning, design and development and focuses on the importance of taking an integrated approach to residential development to achieve environmentally sustainable outcomes.
AMCORD incorporates model design elements for local area and site planning and emphasises the need for residential developments to be synthesised.
The South Australian Government has received funding to develop a comprehensive and sustainable residential development strategy which is based on and consistent with AMCORD, involving the adoption and adaptation of AMCORD within the South Australian Planning and Development system.
Specific project outputs include:
Members of the Royal Australian Planning Institute (RAPI) have been involved in the development and steering of AMCORD from its early stages and are currently involved in its implementation at the State and Territory level.
(The Telstra Sale)
I would like to conclude by making a few comments regarding what is perhaps the most fascinating political and environmental debate in this country for many years.......the Telstra Sale.
I am sure that our international guests here today can tell you that a crucial issue facing each and every government in the world today relates to the ability to make funds available to environmental programs.
Likewise governments have also been under increasing pressure to function in a financially responsible manner.
The Australian Government, like most others, must examine alternative funding arrangements beyond that of taxation or borrowing.
The Australian Government will fund this investment in Australia’s environmental future, with the partial sale of the Government-owned telecommunications network, Telstra. It is proposed that one third of Telstra will be made available to Australian business and investors.
This will inject a commercial philosophy into the company, encourage its modernisation and assist it to become an internationally competitive multi-media company.
The remaining two thirds of Telstra will be retained by the Government.
What we are essentially doing is transferring funds from one government asset to perhaps Australia’s most important asset, and the asset in the greatest need of maintenance, our environment.
The financial returns from the sale will not be immediate. It is a long term investment, an investment for Australia’s future, an investment for the generations to follow.
The State of the Environment Report clearly indicates what we as a nation must do to address the environmental degradation of past generations.
The sale of Telstra will provide a long-term and identifiable source of environmental funding, free from the vagaries of annual budget negotiations.
An unreported, and perhaps not so controversial aspect of the Telstra sale, relates to the very environmental nature of Telstra itself. A significant benefit from the partial privatisation of Telstra is that large inefficient government-owned enterprises are bad for the environment.
Inefficient enterprises of any size are bad for the environment, they waste both human and physical resources. An enterprise the size of Telstra that is inefficient logically wastes massive amounts of these resources.
An excellent example of such inefficiency was brought to my attention earlier this week by the Bureau of Meteorology, for which I have Ministerial responsibility.
The Bureau has offered an Infofax service since 1993 through Telstra, which provides up-to-date detailed weather information to users via the facsimile.
Those who typically use the service include those involved in: agriculture, aviation, navigation, fishing, sport and recreation and the media.
The service is extremely popular, with about 160,000 calls made each month, totalling over three million calls since the service was introduced.
The Bureau of Meteorology has now been told by Telstra that as from Monday 8th July, they would now be required to send a cover sheet with each transmission.
The information Telstra requires to be placed on the cover sheet has previously been provided on a single-line header across the top of the weather information page.
The initial reaction of many people to this requirement will be ‘so what.........what is a one page cover sheet in the scheme of things?’
Well, when you deal with a company the size of Telstra and a service as widely utilised as the Weather Infofax, the one page cover sheet on each transmission means almost 2 million sheets of paper each year.
It also means an additional cost of $1 million per year to users to cover the extended transmission time.
Waste and inefficiencies such as this, can and will be significantly reduced through the partial privatisation of Telstra.
Finally, may I leave you with this thought on the Telstra issue;...........When government ownership of a telecommunications company is balanced against an environment in desperate need of rehabilitation, it is my view and the view of my Government, that our responsibilities toward our environment far outweigh the desire to maintain a one hundred percent government ownership of Telstra.
You would think that people genuinely sensitive to our environmental needs would agree with this statement.
At present, the minor parties, including the Greens, have indicated their intention to block the sale of Telstra. Needless to say, if they maintain this approach, the funding of the Government’s environmental package will suffer.
It is my sincere hope, that the opposition parties who hold the balance of the power in the Senate, base their decisions upon Australia’s environmental needs and future, and not upon an outdated and environmentally unfriendly ideology that the Australian Government must wholly own the telecommunications network.