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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 3 Hansard (24 March) . . Page.. 717 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

the issue of the plan for Tidbinbilla and the concerns of the committee about the role of the conservator, that in fact the Government have not taken those concerns seriously. I think that underlines the importance of this piece of legislation that I am tabling today.

This Bill does add a requirement to the Nature Conservation Act that the conservator must be a person with graduate qualifications and work experience in nature conservation. I find it quite amazing that the person who is supposed to be advising the Government on the environmental impacts of development proposals and who is the chief manager of Canberra's nature reserves does not currently have to be qualified in the area. This type of work requires specialist knowledge of ecological processes and environment management and it is only reasonable that a person with high level skills in this area should be doing the job.

There are many precedents in legislation requiring government office-holders to have mandatory qualifications. The Director of Public Prosecutions must be a barrister and solicitor. The Chief Medical Officer must be a medical practitioner. Animal welfare officers must be vets. Magistrates must be legal practitioners. Within the Public Service there are qualification requirements in the selection criteria for a whole range of positions. For example, there is an expectation that computer programmers would be qualified in computing, or architects or engineers would be registered with the relevant professional bodies.

These qualification requirements are set because there is an understanding that these jobs require specialised knowledge that cannot just be picked up as you go along, and that only people with recognised training could undertake these jobs. So why should not the conservator be qualified in nature conservation? To not have such a requirement is really a downgrading of the importance of the biological sciences and a downgrading of the importance of environmental considerations in government decision-making.

There is a view within some Public Service circles that managers do not need to have background experience in the particular area that they manage; that all they need are the appropriate management skills to supervise those staff below them who supposedly have the technical knowledge and skills. This may be true for some general administrative areas where generic management skills may be all that is required. However, I think this approach is quite dangerous in many specialised areas of the Public Service where a detailed knowledge and understanding of technical issues are necessary to ensure that the Government receives comprehensive advice and that critical factors are not overlooked when actions are taken by agencies.

In the case of the conservator, they should have as their prime focus the conservation of the environment. Any decisions that involve trade-offs with other objectives should really be taken at a higher government level. What we have seen recently is the conservator making these compromises too early in the process and not giving strong conservation advice to the Minister. Requiring the conservator to be appropriately qualified will not totally solve these types of conflicts of interest, but hopefully a future conservator will be more understanding of environmental concerns and the scientific and

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