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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11434


Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 05/08/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11434


Thank you very much Sharman Stone, the Member for Murray. To my other Parliamentary

colleagues, Mr John Daton, the other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

The last time I visited the Murray electorate as Prime Minister we had a

gathering under a rooftop such as this at Euchuca, and it was associated

once again with an environmental project, and it was conducted more or less

under the aegis of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. And I'm delighted

to be back today to be associated with the commissioning of this marvellous

project. As the sign outside declares it's a project jointly funded by the

Commonwealth, the State and the community. And in many ways today's event

and this particular project fulfils two of the goals that I had about the

nature of government policy, in not only the environmental area but many

other areas, when I became Prime Minister.

One of those goals was to achieve what I've chosen to describe as the building

of a social coalition within our community, recognising that the many problems

that confront Australia and Australians, none of them can be solved by the

Commonwealth government, or indeed any government acting alone. None of

them can be completely solved by individuals or communities acting alone.

None of them can be solved by business organisations acting alone. But most

of them can be solved if there is an effective coalition between all of

those interests. And caring for the environment is one such area where that

social coalition has really begun to work in a big way.

This sort of gathering, as many would acknowledge, wouldn't have been possible

10, or 15, or 20 years ago. 10 or 15 years ago a lot of people in this audience

wouldn't have thought the environment was anything other than a trendy issue

that concerned the leafy suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney. They were wrong.

Just as many of the people who live in those trendy suburbs don't understand

that you've got to get a balance between caring for the environment and

the preservation of jobs, particularly in industries such as the forestry

industry. But that belongs to another time and another place. But it's still

a very important issue and it's a very important example of the need to

preserve a balance in our community. And if we want to preserve the Australian

bush all of us have got to understand that we have a contribution to make.

And what this project does is therefore bring together that social coalition.

But it is also a practical outcome of an idea I had more than three-and-a-half

years ago when I was thinking in the lead up to the 1996 election about

how it would be possible to make the sale of one-third of Telstra not only

a boon for reducing debt in Australia but also to use some of the proceeds

of that to provide some attractive investment in areas that were important

to Australia's long term future. And I don't think I'm exaggerating to say

that sort of, almost literally walking along the beaches at Hawkes Nest,

the place on the coast of New South Wales where my family want to go for

its annual holiday, I devised the idea of establishing a natural heritage

trust. And then out of that sale of Telstra we would invest money in a trust

that would be used, I hope in perpetuity, to contribute to the renewal of

Australia's environment.

And the Murray-Darling Basin is the principle recipient of resources coming

out of that trust. And the problems that are encapsulated just over there,

the challenges that are met by this project, the problems of salinity, of

water logging, age old problems becoming more pressing as we move into the

next Century. They are the very practical things that are being addressed

out of this trust and of the money that is being made available.

And we are witnessing a level of cooperation between different sections

of the Australian community that we haven't had before. And people have

put aside their differences and they see that they have a common benefit

and a common gain to be had out of working together to properly look after

our environment. And many of the assumptions we all made as children that

certain resources in this country were unlimited, the idea that we'd never

have to worry about nurturing them or conserving, all of those assumptions

have been challenged over the last 20 or 30 years.

One of the most symbolic things my wife said she's ever done since I've

been Prime Minister was to be invited to cap the first bore just near Longreach

in Queensland a few months ago under the program that was announced in the

budget to begin repairing the great Artesian Basin which is so tremendously

important to the long term resource future of this country.

We are all a lot more conscious of the precious and the limited resources

that this country has. And all of us are more willing and more able and

more ready now to sink our difference on issues to work together to preserve.

The farmers of Australia have become the greatest environmentalists in relation

to land care of all and I congratulate them. They've always understood the

value of land better than most and they've always understood that if you

don't take care of your valuable resources then you'll pay a very heavy

price in years to come. The contribution that rural people have made to

the land care movement has been truly astonishing.

I want to thank the scientists associated with the commission. I want to

thank everybody who's been associated with getting this project together.

I think as I look around this gathering I see every generation and every

section of the community represented. I see the young from the schools,

I see people representing the farming community, people representing local

government, people representing Federal and State government, local businessmen

and women, all of you have come to this gathering. And something in the

order of $15 million already has come to this particular catchment area

and over $1 million to this particular project from the Natural Heritage


And it really does give me an enormous amount of pleasure to be involved

in this commissioning ceremony today. I want to acknowledge the tremendous

energy that Sharman Stone as your Federal Member has brought to concern

for environmental issues. She's fought very hard to see that the electorate

of Murray gets its fair share of the resources that are coming out of [inaudible].

If it gets more than its fair share well she won't be one to point that

out. And like any good Federal Member why should she be.

But this electorate is really in a sense, and what happens here will be

a metaphor for the capacity of our entire nation to handle these problems

because the problem of salinity is a huge challenge for this country. Water

conservation is a huge challenge for Australia. And the management of our

resources in relation to those two challenges in particular will determine

the ongoing wealth of the ongoing capacity of this part of our country.

It is the food basket of Australia. I've been reminded of that quite forcefully

and quite effectively over the last few hours since I arrived in Shepparton

last night. I visited the largest pear producer in Australia. I've come

to this magnificent gathering and I've had the opportunity of opening the

new Department of Rural Health associated with the University of Melbourne,

an exercise and a project that is designed to address over time the shortage

of medical facilities and doctors within rural communities. But to be involved

in the commissioning of Stage 1A of this project, and to thank all of those

who've been associated with it, and to particularly congratulate the local

community for coming together and working so effectively to get behind the

project is a distinct privilege and honour for me. And I therefore have

tremendous pleasure in declaring it, commissioned I think is the correct

turn of phrase, commission the Muckatah Depression Catchment Project Stage

1, I declare it duly commissioned. Thank you.


Transcript 11434