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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 394

Senator MACKLIN(4.46) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave, Mr Deputy President, to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

In November 1983 the Queensland Cabinet gave the Douglas Shire Council $100,000 to start building a 33-kilometre track between Cape Tribulation and Bloomfield River. After just one inch of rain, the ensuing quagmire turned the opening ceremony of the Daintree road into an event of farce and danger and demonstrated that the road's construction was a political exercise.

Like the proposal to dam the Franklin River, the road through the Daintree rainforest is an act of wilful environmental vandalism which the Australian Democrats totally oppose. The economic arguments in support of the road are dubious, while the environmental value of the area is beyond reproach.

The Daintree region is a unique area of rainforest. Rainforest contains at least 50 per cent of the world's animal and plant species.

Daintree is a unique area of this unique resource. It is the largest area of coastal rainforest and the largest contiguous area of virgin rainforest in Australia. It is home to 13 of the 19 most primitive flowering plants on the planet, 67 per cent of Australia's butterflies, 60 per cent of our bats, 30 per cent of out reptiles, and eleven thousand species of plants.

The area surrounding the Daintree road is already national park and is listed on the register of the National Estate because of its significance.

The environmental damage done to the Daintree and its natural inhabitants by the construction of the road has now extended to the rare fringing coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef.

Recently the first significant scientific study of the coral communities of the fringe reefs off the Daintree coast was undertaken by Dr John Veron of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. He found that this section of reef is incredibly rich. For example, in one dive of two hours he found 55 of the 80 genera of coral, and within these 55 genera there were 147 species.

It means that this is no ordinary section of reef, but one which is of considerable biological importance.

The existence side-by-side of these two different eco-systems, tropical rainforest and fringing reefs is indeed rare: there is only a mere handful of such places in the world. This is the only place in Australia.

Now, after the construction of the road and its continual bulldozing by Douglas Shire Council during the wet season, these precious fringing reefs are in great danger. Already there is evidence that the siltation from the 1984-85 wet season is pouring into the reefs.

A coral reef in a similar position off one of the southern islands of Japan, died very quickly when a road was built adjacent to it and excessive silt flowed into the sea.

Monitoring stations to be set up by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority later this year may simply record the death of the Reef. Sick coral is apparently very difficult to identify.

These reefs, part of the Great Barrier Reef, are on the World Heritage List, and it is the Federal Government's responsibility to preserve them.

The Democrats remain convinced that the road through the Daintree should never have been built. Not only are the economics of the construction questionable, but we now find environmental destruction affecting a rich rainforest area as well as precious coral reefs.

Further, the road itself seems destined to be useless and subject to mishap if the experience of the opening ceremony and its first wet season is anything to go by.

An alternative route already exists-the peninsula development road or Mulligan Highway. A proposal for upgrading of this road was submitted to the Federal Minister for Transport in November 1984 by Comalco Alumina Ltd., Weipa, and the Administrator of the Cook Shire Council. The submission states that the upgrading of the peninsula development road will benefit all the people by aiding the development of industries, especially Aboriginal industries, the fishing industry, tourism, and will allow reduction in transport costs. Upgrading would also satisfy defence and surveillance requirements. The Cape Tribulation road can hardly be called a road at all when it will not be able to take trucks, and is closed more times than it is open.

Every purpose that the Cape Tribulation road was intended for, but cannot meet, can be provided by an upgraded peninsula development road. The Democrats call on the Government to give urgent consideration and support to this funding request-but the Federal Government funding must be given only if there is a cast-iron guarantee from the Queensland Government that the Cape Tribulation road be abandoned and re-vegetated.

The Daintree region, however, is not the only threatened area of Queensland rainforest.

The Daintree is part of a larger region of rainforest known as the Wet Tropics of North-East Queensland. That entire area of precious rainforest is existing on borrowed time.

Logging is taking place in core wilderness areas at Downey Creek. Commercial development is encroaching at a rapid rate.

The Australian Heritage Commission recognised the importance of the area and commissioned in 1984 a report on the international significance of the wet tropics of North-East Queensland.

That report was unequivocal in its praise of the area. It concluded:

. . . the wet tropics of North-East Queensland are of outstanding conservation significance and more than adequately fulfil the criteria defined by the World Heritage Convention for inclusion in the 'World Heritage List'.

The Heritage Commission's report was certified by four international references. Their conclusions were equally enthusiastic.

Dr Peter Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden, stated:

I believe that the report definitely establishes international heritage significance for the area.

Professor P. K. Endress, Zurich University, said:

There is no question that the tropical rainforests of North-East Queensland are the most important ecosystems with primitive flowering plants in the world . . . World Heritage nomination is highly justified.

Professor R. N. Schuster, University of Massachusetts wrote:

The study report . . . establishes the imperative need for preservation status. If economic demands eventually necessitate limiting the area given protection, this should be effect only after we know more about the flora and fauna than is known at present . . . I would argue that the area should be given World Heritage status now . . .

James Thorsell of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources concluded:

The report is the most detailed evaluation of any prospective World Heritage potential nomination that has been completed for any property.

This euphoric worldwide praise has not persuaded this Labor Government to place the fate of a unique area of the world's environment over and above its own political fortunes.

This Labor Government has done its utmost to do nothing to save Daintree. It has, I regret to say, succeeded admirably.

The Government proposed to nominate the north east Queensland rainforests for the World Heritage List only with the agreement of the Queensland Government.

At the same time, this Government has openly admitted that the Queensland Government has no intention of assisting the nomination of any of its unique environment to the World Heritage List.

The Queensland Government has rejected any co-operation in putting the rainforests on the World Heritage List and turned down the Federal Government's $1 million management plan. These outright rejections were contained in a letter from the Queensland Premier on 25 September 1984.

These rejections, which further condemn the north east Queensland rainforests, have not moved the Labor Government into action. It still remains idle while the environment is denuded.

Further, not only have we witnessed an extraordinary public performance by this Government to justify their inaction, we are now beginning to see evidence of collusion between the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Cohen) and the Queensland Government. In a Home Affairs and Environment minute, released under the Freedom of Information Act, ''(Federal Government Officers) indicated that there had been no media coverage outside northern Queensland, as far as we knew, of the drug issue, nor of the strong local and Aboriginal support for the road. Mr Tenni agreed to give this matter attention and the Minister offered to provide him with the names of journalists who might be interested in investigating the other side of the debate, particularly the drug issue''. It would seem that this agreement between Mr Cohen and Mr Tenni had some results when one reads, in the months following the meeting, numerous reports in the southern newspapers of ''the drug issue'' in the Daintree region. And apparently this is not even the full story as there were four sentences deleted from the minute. The public needs to know the full content of that departmental minute so we can ascertain the extent to which the Federal Government has entered into an ''unholy'' alliance with the Queensland Government over the Daintree.

The Democrats believe the Federal Government can and must intervene to protect north east Queensland rainforests. Under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 the Government could proclaim the area to be part of Australia's natural heritage. The Government is able to do that because the ''outstanding universal value'' of the area is now beyond question. Such a proclamation would be clearly open to legal challenge. That, however, is not an issue to be determined by politicians but by the courts. The Government's failure to use its legal powers in its own legislation in accord with its advice from the Heritage Commission is reprehensible.

The rainforests of north east Queensland have to be saved. The Democrats' Bill aims to do that until the area is nominated for the World Heritage List.

The Democrats' Bill is an interim protection measure designed to overcome the Government's failure to act. The protection is afforded by the High Court or Federal Court issuing declarations of ''natural heritage'' status following an application by an interested person. At the same time (or after) an area is declared as ''natural heritage'' the High Court or Federal Court may grant an injunction restricting the doing of a specified act that would prejudice Australia's duty under Article 4 of the Convention.

The World Heritage Convention imposes a number of obligations on signatories. Australia is a signatory.

Under Article 4 we have an obligation to ensure the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage. Each nation will do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources.

The Government's refusal to act in accordance with this obligation deserves vigorous condemnation.

It should be stressed that the obligation contained in Article 4 is not limited to properties included on the World Heritage List. Article 12 makes that clear.

In this Bill the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment is required to nominate the wet tropics of north east Queensland for inclusion in the World Heritage List after receiving a report from the Australian Heritage Commission with material for the detailed nomination. The Minister is required to do this without delay.

The protection offered by this Bill-the court declarations and injunctions-cease as soon as the nomination for the wet tropics of north east Queensland is undertaken. Once that nomination is underway the Government's World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 offers protection.

The wet tropics of north east Queensland are, as Mr Cohen has said, ''a complex mosaic of national parks, state forests, timber reserves, vacant crown land, freehold and leasehold land''. It also contains an Aboriginal reserve.

The Democrats recognise these problems. Unlike the Government, we are prepared to work out these problems.

The Democrats' Bill is a measure providing temporary protection. That protection is provided to national parks, State forests, timber reserves and the Aboriginal and Islander Reserves all of which are listed in Appendix 1 of the June 1984 'Report of the Society'. These areas are already delineated and gazetted.

Private land is not covered. It is the task of the Australian Heritage Commission to determine the detailed boundaries of the area, including private land. Appropriate compensation would have to be worked out.

Any destruction of the rainforest environment from now on in will be the sole responsibility of the Federal Government.

They have attempted to get the Queensland Government to co-operate but that has failed. They now have to take the initiative and act according to their responsibilities to secure this area for future generations.

Fifty acres of the world's rainforests disappear every minute. Over one year that is an area equivalent to the size of Switzerland.

Scientists have yet to classify many species of life that are in the rainforests. It is estimated that the loss of rainforests will make extinct between 250,000 and 1.25 million different species by the year 2000.

This loss of genetic diversity means that many unknown life forms could disappear before their value is understood.

Rainforests have provided substances that have saved human life. In 1960, a child suffering from leukemia had only a one in five chance of remission. Today, thanks to a drug developed from tropical plants, that child has a four in five chance of avoiding leukemia. About half of all modern medicine is derived from plants.

In the 200 years since European settlement white Australians have destroyed 75 per cent of this country's rainforests. Rainforests now cover only 0.25 per cent of Australia's land mass. This minute area could be grouped into a circle of 70 km in diameter.

Australian rainforests contain at least half of all Australia's flora and fauna. They are believed to be the cradle for the world's flowering plants which evolved between 65 and 130 million years ago.

The environment must be preserved for this and future generations. While we inherit the earth from our parents we merely borrow it from our children. We have to recognise that the natural environment is a finite resource capable of being destroyed by careless and greedy policies.

Australia has a unique natural heritage. We must recognise that it is priceless and work more rapidly to protect those areas under threat.

Daintree and the north east Queensland rainforests are priceless world heritage. They are under threat now. This Bill will protect them. I urge all senators to support this Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Robertson) adjourned.