Hawke Plan: The Greening of a Prime Minister

AUSTRALIA'S Prime Minister Bob Hawke planted himself firmly on green political turf last week when he unveiled the preliminary details of what he says is ``the most comprehensive statement by any world government on the environment.'' The key elements in the Hawke environmental plan:

Establishing Australia's first globe-trotting ``ambassador for the environment.''

Planting 1 billion trees by the year 2000.

Providing an additional $315 million for environmental protection - with almost two-thirds going toward soil conservation.

The new ambassador, Ninian Stephen, will ``take the lead,'' says Mr. Hawke, in developing international environmental conventions. He will urge faster action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and phasing out chlorofluorocarbon production. He will campaign for preserving biological diversity and promote global bans on mining in Antarctica and drift-net fishing.

Hawke also promised a 10-year study on endangered species, a new agency to integrate soil and water research, and removal of a 20 percent sales tax on recycled paper.

The initiative is winning qualified praise. The program gives farmers ``the confidence to undertake long-term management programs'' to combat land degradation, says John Allwright, National Farmers Federation president. But the farmers lobby will be pushing for tax rebates on soil conservation equipment and expenses in next year's budget.

The Australian Conservation Foundation lauds the soil conservation measures, too. But the initiative ``falls disappointingly short of making firm commitments'' on nearly all other environmental issues, says director Phillip Toyne.

The ACF wants a referendum broadening federal powers over the environment, a review of national forests protection policies, and specific targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Hawke's Australian Labor Party (ALP) is responding to a voting community increasingly attuned to ecological issues. And it is positioning itself for the next federal election due before May 1989.

``For many elections to come, the environment and the economy will be vying for each other in terms of being the major issues,'' says ALP official Bob Hogg.

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