World Environment Day | SPEECH


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:07): I rise to support this motion. I congratulate the deputy leader on bringing this forward to acknowledge that yesterday was UN World Environment Day, to acknowledge the importance of a healthy environment in South Australia and of course other places as well and to commit to protecting the environment. I think it is a terrific motion that we all support. It is a pleasure to follow also the Minister for Environment and Water, who is off to an outstanding start in this new role. It is a pleasure to work with him. He brings genuine interest, genuine care for the environment and also a very important practical approach to the job.

In the electorate of Stuart, every day is Environment Day. It is not just 5 June; every day is Environment Day in our electorate. I have never actually counted them up, but I suspect that in our electorate we would have more national parks, conservation reserves and other types of public land set aside with protections focused on the environment than probably any other electorate in this state. I value that and the people of Stuart value that very highly. We have some extraordinary places in the outback, in the Flinders Ranges, in Upper Spencer Gulf, and moving down into the Mid North, some very large and very well-known and some very small places like Appila Springs near the small town of Appila between Booleroo and Jamestown. It is a remarkable and very special and very small protected area.

As the member for Stuart, I wholeheartedly support this. I also recognise that the most important people, in regard to humans having a connection with the environment, are Aboriginal people, who hold a long-term and ongoing connection to their country. They are people whose immediate families, recent predecessors and ancestors for tens of thousands of years have had a connection to their country and their country going back more than a couple of hundred years ago, when it was actually pure country with no weeds, no feral animals and the environment was as we would expect it to be.

Those people lived in, worked with and were part of that country in a pure way, which, unfortunately, we will not see again on our planet. We can work to restore things as much as possible and working with Aboriginal people, to understand and benefit from their knowledge to make that restoration as successful as possible, is very important.

The deputy leader mentioned climate change. I agree with her when she says that most people here would believe that man-made impacts are changing the climate. The reality is, though, that even if a person, hypothetically, does not believe in that, we should reduce pollution as much as we can anyway. Even if we do not think that pollution is changing climate, guess what? It is still making a mess. It is still damaging our environment even if, hypothetically, it is not changing our climate. Let’s just put that stuff aside, which can be a divide in society and politics—not much in this chamber to be quite blunt—and let’s commit ourselves to reducing pollution as much as we possibly can. I will come to a few practicalities about that in a few minutes.

I would like to touch on our government’s intention to rearrange the way the environment is dealt with from a government perspective, at least, and the move away from the existing NRM boards towards more of a landscape and integrated approach. That is our government’s intention. It is what we are doing and it is what we support for a range of reasons, because we want to get some better results and we want to have a government-led process that contributes to communities as well.

In my discussions with the Minister for Environment and Water, I made it very clear that, in my experience in my electorate the people who work in NRM boards are overwhelmingly appreciated by the communities, no more so than in the pastoral area, where, at times, there is some friction about business objectives and environmental objectives. It is not that environmentalists deny the importance of commerce and not that business operators deny the importance of the environment, but sometimes it is challenging to address both simultaneously and get results for both.

Even in the midst of those discussions, pastoralists in the north of our state, and I am sure it is true in the electorate of Giles as well, genuinely appreciate the work that the people on the NRM boards are doing. That is true in the southern parts of Stuart as well. I know that the people who are skilled, capable, focused and making a terrific contribution under the system that we are moving away from will have an important role to play in the system that we move towards over time, albeit a system that we think will be better for our state.

I would like to come back to the issue of balance and practicality. I am not a purist in the sense of saying we should surrender everything to benefit another side of the argument as much as possible. We are humans, we are living on the planet, there are some realities about us being here and we just have to find the very best way for us to get on in a comfortable, productive, socially responsible and sustainable way that damages our environment as little as possible. A varying range of views on where the balance should be is really what creates most of the debate around the place.

I touched on pastoral people before and the benefit that they see in existing departmental staff. They and I and my colleagues on this side of the chamber had been very disappointed in the centralisation of NRM boards. They were distinct, individual organisations with their own operating responsibilities. They still maintain some of that but within what has until now been the Department of Environment, Water and National Resources. That centralisation has not helped the environment and has not helped communities in the country either.

The Minister for Environment and Water touched on landholders, farmers, graziers, croppers and pastoralists. They are the people most in touch with the environment in a commercial sense. They are the people living on it; they are the people who require it. Let me say that responsible farmers and responsible graziers overwhelmingly make up farmers and graziers. Where would we be without them in an environmental context, particularly in the pastoral zone? Where on earth would we be with regard to protecting our environment if it were not for pastoralists operating in that part of the world? I can tell you: we would be overrun with weeds and we would be overrun with feral animals. We need those people and we appreciate those people.

There are some really practical opportunities that have been missed, though, by the previous government. I remember that one of my colleagues put forward a bill to allow freehold landowners to clear the vegetation between their fence line and the roadside, which would reduce fire risk and improve visibility for drivers. That was knocked back. I do not think our environment is going to suffer at all if an adjoining landholder is allowed to clear the vegetation, native and otherwise, between the fence and the road for those benefits—that thin, thin strip. That is something that I think is important.

I think there are other road clearing issues from a safety perspective, particularly on the outback highways: the Barrier Highway, the Stuart Highway and the Eyre Highway. Some greater clearance of the vegetation on the sides of those roads would not damage the environment but it would make travelling on those roads, particularly at night, much safer. As the Minister for Energy and Mining, of course, this is a very important issue for me.

In my short time in this role, it has become clear to me that the department of energy and mining has a very good constructive and positive working relationship with what has been DEWNR and is about to be the Department for Environment and Water. We value that relationship. We value the contribution of that department towards the work that we do to try to responsibly unlock the resources that we have in our state—mining, petroleum and otherwise—for the benefit of South Australians.

We on this side of the house will never support projects that are environmentally irresponsible, and we welcome the contribution of people both when it comes to an operational aspect and what is actually happening on the ground in those industries, but also with regard to their impact on pollution more broadly. I wholeheartedly support the motion and I thank the deputy leader for bringing it to the house.