Senate Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees
The First 20 Years 1970 - 1990

Table of Contents


The Committee and its Predecessors

Since the establishment of the Senate Standing Committees in 1970, matters presently covered by the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts have fallen, formally, within the areas of interest of the following Committees:


Current Membership

The membership of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts in December 1990 was as follows:

A full listing of membership and Committee Chairpersons on the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts and other related committees are listed in an attachment to this section. Other attachments to this section include lists of committee secretaries and reports tabled by the committees.


The Work of the Committees

Five areas of inquiry may be considered generic to the interests of the Senate Committees established on science, the environment and recreation. In broad terms, those areas are science and technology, natural resources and wildlife, environmental degradation, the environment and human welfare, and recreation.

In addition to conducting inquiries and preparing reports on these subjects, the Committees have occasionally met with visiting parliamentary delegations on those issues and also with subject specialists such as relevant government officials.

By a resolution of the Senate on 14 December 1989 Standing Committees are required to examine and report on annual reports. The Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts tabled the first report on this matter, 'Examination of Annual Reports', on 31 May 1990. Other Committee reports on the examination of annual reports were tabled previously by the Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment and the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment.

The first report of the Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts on a Bill referred to it by the Senate, 'Report on the Consideration of the Australian National Maritime Museum Bill 1989 [1990]', was tabled on 13 September 1990. This was followed by a 'Report on the Australian Heritage Commission Amendment Bill 1990' on 5 December 1990.


Science and Technology

The Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment tabled its reports 'Progress Report on Physical Sciences' in November 1977 and 'Progress Report on Australian Marine Science' in May 1980. The latter was followed by a further report, 'Australian Marine Science', in June 1981. Recommendations in these reports recognised the need for an expansion of Australian marine science and appropriate national policies. Further, the 1981 report presented a detailed plan for the co-ordination and future development of Australian Marine Science. In its response to the latter report the Government described new administrative arrangements for the Australian Marine Sciences and Technology Committee; the response also accepted the need for coastal survey data and described how best to achieve a development-free zone for coastal areas.

In June 1979 the Committee presented its report 'Industrial Research and Development in Australia'. This report recommended that a clear, national policy for science and technology receive urgent attention and it made sixty other recommendations for the further development and application of science and technology. The Government response to this report outlined how its findings were supported by several other studies and how most of its recommendations had been satisfied. The response also described action in relation to particular recommendations concerning the role of research and development in the offsets program and in the manufacture of military equipment.

Agricultural research has also been the subject of inquiry. In November 1982, the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources tabled its report 'The Commonwealth's Role in Rural Research and Extension' which recommended measures to facilitate and expand agricultural research through Commonwealth programs and increased support. Following this report the Government announced the establishment of a Bureau of Rural Resources and a National Soil Conservation Program.

The Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment reported on 'Technology Assessment in Australia' in April 1987 and recommended measures aimed overall at increased information and consultation over the social consequences of technological change. In the response to this report the Government outlined procedures for improved consultation between management, employees and unions over the introduction of new technology. Particular support was also given to representation of the interests of women in this context.

The Senate Standing Committee on National Resources has also tabled reports dealing with particular technical subjects. The Committee's report 'Solar Energy', tabled in May 1977, was followed by the establishment of a National Development and Energy portfolio and a National Energy Advisory Committee. The Senate Committee tabled its report 'Plant Variety Rights' in May 1984, calling for the introduction of a plant variety rights scheme in Australia. In response the Government accepted that particular provisions recommended in this report should be included in plant variety rights legislation; these included a review after at most five years, the lodgement of seeds in a national collection and clearer definitions and operating criteria. The Government also announced a further examination of plant breeding needs in Australia.

Further, in September 1980, the Committee reported on 'The Replacement of Petroleum Based Fuels by Alternative Sources of Energy', and drew attention in particular to Australia's approaching problem of liquid fuel supply and the importance of a world parity pricing policy for crude oil. The Government response to this report outlined how recommendations for particular work were encompassed within the National Energy Research Development and Demonstration Program. Initiatives were also described in relation to recommendations covering fuel economy in the haulage industry, publicity for fuel conservation and standards for liquid petroleum gas vehicles.


Natural Resources and Wildlife

Some matters referred to the present Committee and its predecessors have involved particular attention to natural resources and wildlife. In 1976-78 the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment examined woodchipping and tabled 'The Impact on the Australian Environment of the Current Woodchip Industry Program - Interim Report' in December 1976 and 'Woodchips and the Environment' in May 1977. The latter report was followed by a supplementary report 'Woodchips and the Environment', tabled in November 1978; this report examined action taken in response to recommendations in the May 1977 report. In November 1981 the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources also tabled its report 'The Development of the Bauxite, Alumina and Aluminium Industries'.

A report on 'The Preservation of the Abbott's Booby on Christmas Island' was tabled by the Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment in November 1983. Recommendations in this report recognised the importance of monitoring the bird, and the need to extend and improve its environment in concert with land rehabilitation after mining and an examination of alternative industries on the island. The Government, in its response, outlined action to extend funding for the Abbott's Booby Monitoring Program and to investigate land rehabilitation, the extension of the Christmas Island National Park and alternative industries to mining. In February 1985 the Committee tabled its report on 'Land Use Policy in Australia' which recommended, inter alia, that the Australian Environment Council establish a Standing Committee to draft a National Land Use policy. In the response to this report the Government accepted the need for management guidelines and an inventory for Commonwealth land. The response also described initiatives in line with the recommendation for a national land use policy.

Subsequently, in December 1985, the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources reported on 'The Natural Resources of the Australian Antarctic Territory'. Recommendations in this report supported continued Australian sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory and recognised the need to protect the Antarctic environment from expeditions or tourism and any mineral exploitation. In particular the report recommended that Australia ratify the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, maintain support for the Antarctic Treaty and support minerals negotiations within the Treaty system. The report led to agreement by the Government to ratify the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals. The Government also reaffirmed its commitment to maintain Australia's sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory and to support the Antarctic Treaty system.

In December 1986 the Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment tabled its report 'Shelburne Bay'. Following the recommendation in this report, and an environmental impact assessment, the Government announced in March 1987 a decision not to approve a proposal for silica sand mining at Shelburne Bay.

More recently, in November 1988, the Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts tabled its report 'The Potential of the Kakadu National Park Region'. The Committee's report contained thirty-nine recommendations which addressed the use and the management of the park region, in order to ensure that the region's potential benefits were realised without damage to its natural beauty and environmental integrity.

In response to the report the Government referred to inquiries begun by the Resource Assessment Commission, which would be considered prior to discussions concerning land use. In its response the Government also described the establishment of a Board of Management for the Park and it outlined how other recommendations relating to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Office of the Supervising Scientist had been addressed in reviews of these agencies. The response supported a recommendation for a long range tourist strategy for the Park and described consideration being given to a recommendation for an Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Park.


Environmental Degradation

In June 1976 the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment tabled its report 'Review of the Report of the Senate Select Committee on Air Pollution'. The report recommended the enactment of legislation by the Commonwealth to control air pollution within its territories and it made other recommendations to advance relevant research, including the establishment of a Bureau of Air Pollution. The report also recommended that urgent consideration be given to the control of motor vehicle emissions. The Government response to this report included details of action to establish a National Air Quality Data Centre; the response also described the application of Australian Design Rules to reduce motor vehicle emissions.

In August 1978 the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources tabled its report 'Australia's Water Resources - the Commonwealth's Role'. Subsequently in the period 1979-1981 the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment examined pollution of the Murray River and tabled three successive reports entitled 'Progress Report on the Continuing Scrutiny of Pollution - The River Murray', in June 1979, September 1980 and November 1981. The reports highlighted the need for the River Murray Commission to have more power and the urgent requirement for co-ordinated management of water quality, involving the Commission and State Departments and authorities responsible for water supply, pollution control and environmental quality. In its response, the Government described the introduction of the River Murray Waters Bill in October 1982 and the establishment of a National Water Research Council.


The Environment and Human Welfare

Inquiries by the present Committee and its predecessors have given particular attention to factors deriving from the natural and social environment which affect human health and welfare. Inquiries have covered the social effect of environmental conditions and development, and have also examined pesticide use, quarantine provisions and sports drugs which are of direct relevance to human health and welfare.

In 1972 and 1974 the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment presented progress reports on 'The Environmental Conditions of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the Preservation of their Sacred Sites'. This matter was subsequently referred to a Senate Select Committee for further consideration.

More recently the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts examined the attention given to environmental considerations in multilateral development assistance and Australia's bilateral assistance program; its report 'Environmental Impact of Development Assistance' was tabled in December 1989. Recommendations in this report were designed to give effect to Australia's concern over the environmental impact of multilateral development assistance and to ensure the adequate integration of environmental considerations into Australian development aid planning. The Government, with minor exceptions, accepted the Committee's recommendations. The response to the report announced in particular the provision of environmental assessment training for staff of the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau and the inclusion of environmental issues and controls in aid project documents. Overall the response described evaluation and review measures to ensure that Australia's aid would promote environmentally responsible development; it also described arrangements to permit the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act to be applied to bilateral aid.

In June 1978 the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment tabled its report 'Herbicides, Pesticides and Human Health' and in November 1982 the Committee reported on 'Pesticides and the Health of Australian Vietnam Veterans'. The Government response to the latter report foreshadowed the subsequent establishment of a Royal Commission to examine the health effects of exposure to toxic chemicals in Vietnam.

Quarantine provisions were the subject of the two reports, 'The Adequacy of Quarantine' and 'Adequacy of Quarantine in the Torres Strait Area', which were tabled in November 1979 and November 1986 respectively by the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. The first report called for a new Australian Agricultural Health Service and increased legislative powers and surveillance resources for the quarantine service. The report also recommended measures to increase research and public information on quarantine, and to increase consultation with industry and overseas governments on these matters.

In its second report the Committee recommended in particular a review of provisions and arrangements concerning quarantine under the Torres Strait Treaty. Other recommendations identified the need to increase quarantine awareness among islanders and examine plant control measures, resources for quarantine and related disease monitoring and contingency controls. The first of these reports led inter alia to the announcement by the Government of an upgrading of quarantine surveillance and attention to strengthening coastal surveillance. The report also resulted in the establishment of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. In response to the later report the Government outlined action to improve the operation of quarantine in the Torres Strait area and also drew attention to the CSIRO program for biological control of screw-worm fly.



More recently, human health and welfare was a central theme for an inquiry into the use of performance enhancing drugs by Australian sportsmen and sportswomen; this inquiry was conducted by the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts. The Committee's Interim and Second Reports 'Drugs in Sport' were tabled in June 1989 and May 1990 respectively. The reports recommended measures to detect the use of sports drugs and restrict their overall availability. In particular cases of drug use, the Committee was also concerned that government agencies and sporting bodies demonstrate a commitment to prevent the use of drugs. Even prior to the formal Government response to these reports, the Government took action, following the Interim Report, to control the availability of sports drugs and to detect their use by sportspersons. That report led to the establishment of the Australian Sports Drug Agency and restrictions upon the importation of particular drugs for personal use. On 7 November 1990 the Government responded to both Drugs in Sports Reports. In addition to supporting the Committee's major recommendations that an Australian Sports Drug Agency be established, it also agreed that the Australian Sports Commission issue a revised Doping Policy and that both ASDA and the Australian Sports Commission adopt the International Olympic Committee's List of Doping Classes and Methods as their guide for prohibited drugs. Nevertheless, several significant recommendations were not accepted by the Government. These included the types of powers to be allocated to the ASDA, and the establishment of an independent tribunal to adjudicate drug test penalties. Further, the Government's response to the Drugs in Sport inquiry did not support action against individual sportspeople named in the Reports.