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ADDRESS BY SENATOR IAN MACDONALD


OPENING OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT (ICEM2)
McKinnon Building, University of Wollongong
Tuesday 10 February 1998, 9.00am

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment



Introduction

Thanks very much Professor Chowdhury, to you and to Alderman David Campbell (Lord Mayor of Wollongong), Professor Gerard Sutton (Vice Chancellor, University of Wollongong), particularly to all the international scientists who have made their way to Australia for this very important conference, and ladies and gentlemen. May I add my welcome to you, particularly to international visitors attending this conference.

I think Alderman Campbell was perhaps a bit humble in extolling the virtue of this city. The weather you see outside is quite typical of the weather you always get in the Wollongong area. The Lord Mayor has really said some of the great things you can see and do in this city. We are very proud as a nation of what Wollongong has done for our country. The Mayor mentioned the coal industry and it is one of course that at an Environment conference comes under the spot light in relation to greenhouse emissions.

Also, as you look around this city and see the infrastructure, you will understand one of the reasons why our Government took the approach that it did at Kyoto. Because while we are very determined to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions in Australia, and I will talk more about that later, we are also determined to ensure that Australians have jobs and maintain their very high standard of living. Particularly in Wollongong which has contributed so much to Australia's standard of living over the years.

Professor Sutton has welcomed you to the University. I don't know the University very well. As I arrived late, and I apologise for that, I cannot comment on the aesthetics that Prof Sutton was talking about but I can say that the University is well regarded Australia wide and I suspect world wide for its academic and intellectual excellence. It is tremendous that this University is hosting this conference.

May I also so how pleased I am to be part of the conference. I'm here representing Senator Robert Hill, the Federal Minister for the Environment. For those of you who aren't from Australia you probably would not have heard of this and I suspect that even if you're an Australian you wouldn't be too interested in the conference happening down the road in Canberra at the moment. They are discussing the future of our constitution and Senator Hill, as leader of the Government in the Senate, is involved and unfortunately could not be here. But he sends his very best wishes and regards.

I understand that this Conference is the second in a series of inter-disciplinary conferences aimed at considering management of both (a) natural hazards and (b) man-made environmental problems, and its purpose is to establish a continuing vigorous dialogue between scientists, engineers, other professionals, academics and the community in general.

This conference is unique because of its inter-disciplinary nature and the vigorous debate it will generate between engineers, academics and scientists. I would like to congratulate Professor Chowdhury and his team from the Geo-Environment-Mine Engineering Research Centre for organising this conference in the way that they have.

All professions have an important role to play in achieving the goal of ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development. This is one of the greatest challenges facing these professions as we move towards the 21st century.

Changing community and government roles.

Ladies and gentlemen, all sections of our community must share the responsibility of proper stewardship of our environment. The last twenty five years has seen a major change in the level of public interest in the environment - perhaps related to the creation of many national park and heritage areas, and through exposure through the print and electronic media to the many wonders of the natural world which we see and are exposed to every day.

The environment used to be regarded as the responsibility largely of government, and the community was content to leave it up to the government, through regulation, to protect the environment. However, with the development of a greater sense of understanding of the environment, its values, diversity and vulnerability, the community now has a sense of ownership. The rapid growth in the number, membership and activity of community environment groups reflects that sense of custodianship, developed partly because of the perception that the traditional form of environmental protection through government regulation was falling short of what the community expected.

In effect, it is now public opinion that is commonly the main driving force for industry to react and improve; you can say that government regulations and standards now play the role more or less of a "safety net", to make sure there is no room for rogue operators. It is naive of any of us to consider that the level of public concern is going to diminish. So the model of industry working to keep pace with evolving community expectations for environmental protection, rather than simply toeing the regulatory line, looks like it is here to stay.

An example which illustrates this point is that leaders in the mining industry now regard themselves as temporary users of land owned by the community. The overall objective is to operate in a way which does not threaten the offsite environment, and to leave the site in a form which is available for some form of subsequent use. It is not acceptable for any section of the community or industry to indulge in "once-only" land use which leaves an area devoid of any value for future generations. All industries have to play their vital part.

Changes in community attitudes and expectations have placed a significant burden on some industries, but this is surely for the better. I think we would all agree that it is right for our industries to adopt the role of environmental custodians at home, and to build a competitive edge through best environmental practice in their international activities.

The Need for Sustainable Development

Ladies and gentlemen there is no doubt that the demand of our modern society for an environment that is healthy for all and protected from harmful pollution, chemicals and wastes is something that we must achieve. The community is convinced of the importance of protecting and rehabilitating our natural environment. What the community wants from us as a Government, and from you as a scientific community, is a structure for sustainable development. Australians want jobs, and rising living standards, but through economic growth that is environmentally sustainable.

The concept is quite simple. The current generation passes on a world that has the capacity to produce in sufficient abundance to satisfy needs. That depends on harvesting the resources that are renewed by nature and controlling the use of resources that are not. The only way to achieve this common-sense goal is for business, and the community, and government to cooperate in sustainable development.

"Saving Our Natural Heritage"

Central to the Government's efforts to save our Natural Heritage was the establishment of the $1 billion Natural Heritage Trust.

The initial capital of $1 billion to be invested in the Trust was raised from a public enterprise that Australians over the years had invested in. That was Telstra, the telecommunications company. We sold one third of that, but we reinvested that money into the natural capital of Australia. That's the first time that this has ever been done. This will not only benefit present generations but also future generations as well.

The initiatives that are being funded from the Trust are aimed at reversing the decline in our natural capital. They are contributing to the conservation, repair and enhancement of Australia's unique environment into the 21st century.

Industry and government partnerships on environmental best practice

Failure to meet increasing expectations for environmental protection could threaten the future strength of Australian industry, both at home and abroad. Perceptions about the environmental credentials of our industry generally, are affected by some, unfortunately, highly publicised events. (EG- The Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea and its affect on the Fly River.)

The only effective ways of countering these perceptions is to improve the level of best practice environmental management throughout industry to reduce the probability of major environmental incidents.

The government is therefore very keen to work together with industry to help it achieve improvements in environmental performance. A number of initiatives are already under way which involve partnerships between government and industry, and between Commonwealth and State government.

Cleaner Production

Governments throughout the world are now addressing the problem of achieving cleaner production.

Cleaner Production explores incentive-based approaches and voluntary actions jointly initiated by government and industry. The emphasis should be on process improvement and waste minimisation where the rewards are less costly production, low ecological impacts, lower energy consumption, lower raw material use and less affect on global warming and the ozone layer.

Australia is a strong supporter of cleaner production, and in Queensland, later this year, will be hosting a second Roundtable on Cleaner Production organised by the UNEP Working Group for Cleaner Production in Food Technology which operates out of the University of Queensland.

At the national level, industry associations, governments, academics and environmental NGOs have just completed Australia's first draft National Strategy for Cleaner Production. This National Strategy brings together many of the tools and processes that have been supported by States and Territories over the last few years into a comprehensive framework for action.

The Greenhouse Challenge

The Greenhouse Challenge is another example of the increasing number of partnerships being formed between the Commonwealth, the States, Territories, Local Government and Industry, with the assistance and cooperation from Academia, the Institutions and Scientists.

The Australian Government is committed to seeing Australia implement a credible domestic greenhouse response agenda. The National Greenhouse Strategy provides the comprehensive framework for our domestic greenhouse effort engaging all spheres of government, industry and the community.

Though voluntary, the framework for the program sets expectations of pursuing best practice and development of comprehensive action plans. Many companies have already been involved and more are getting involved with cooperation and encouragement from the Government.

Environmental Reporting

The government sees it as very important that companies consider not only engaging in thorough environmental auditing of their own performance, but releasing the results to the public in a comprehensible form, and also taking action to improve environmental performance.

This is not only important to the domestic environment and our economy but more and more, overseas governments are looking at a company's environmental track record to determine whether or not they can achieve contracts and set up projects in those foreign countries.

Best practice awareness

The focus of initiatives aimed at achieving sustainable development point toward the raising of best practice awareness, and of course, implementation of best practice principles in all industries. To use just one example, the mining industry, has in participation with Environment Australia and environment NGO's produced a series of booklets which describe the benefits arising from best practice applied to particular environmental issues of relevance to the mining industry.

A list of the booklets that have so far been published and those still in the process of being prepared are available at this conference.** I hope you will find the booklets interesting and useful.

Risk Management

One of the proposed titles of the best practice booklets is on the subject of risk management, and I note that numerous papers on this topic will be presented at this Conference.

Environmental decision making is a critical management function for many public and private sector organisations. Well designed risk management programs have the potential to improve the quality of environmental decisions by Government, because they provide a structured, logical progressive framework, through which technical, policy, economic and community issues can be collectively considered.

Risk management therefore offers informed, consistent and defensible decision making which is important if we are to move forwards in an environmentally sustainable way. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you well in your discussions on risk management processes over the next few days.

Conclusion

I now have the pleasant task to open this Second International Conference on Environmental Management and again wish you success in your discussions over the remainder of this week.

The Government is always very keen to note the outcome of these conferences and to note the impact that your decisions and discussions will have on the environment and the way we move forward.

Delivering higher levels of environmental protection in response to evolving expectations ultimately depends on advances in scientific and technical know-how. Conferences such as this are important catalysts to advancing this know-how, and I again commend the organisers on their emphasis on an inter-disciplinary approach by bringing together different branches of science and engineering.

Partnerships between disciplines, and between government and industry are, I feel, powerful mechanisms for pursuing environmental excellence. The cooperative approach to planning, operating and standard setting makes the achievement of best practice environmental management all the more achievable.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I declare this conference open.

** List of booklets referred to in speech by Senator Ian Macdonald to the Second International Conference on Environmental Management, University of Wollongong.

Table 1:
Best practice environmental management in mining booklets


Published:

In preparation:

Copies of these booklets are available from:
Supervising Scientist Group
Environment Australia
PO Box E305
KINGSTON ACT 2604

Tel: 02- 62172010
Fax: 02-62172060

Commonwealth of Australia