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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2655

Senator DURACK —My question is also directed to Senator Gareth Evans but in his capacity as the Minister representing the Attorney-General. He may have some passing interest in his capacity as Minister for Resources and Energy, although I doubt it. I ask, on the same subject as the previous question, whether the Minister is aware that the World Heritage guidelines set a deadline of 1 January in any year for the receipt of nominations for World Heritage listing to be dealt with in the coming year. Why did the Government not follow this long-established procedure and put forward its nomination of stage 2 of Kakadu National Park for consideration next year, which would be in accordance with those guidelines? Does he agree that this would have given time for the Government to consult with the Northern Territory Government-as it had promised, but failed to do-before putting stage 2 forward for listing, and also for consulting with interested parties who claim rights in the area, such as Peko-Wallsend? If the Government is not successful in the High Court proceedings, does the Government intend to withdraw the nomination in its entirety or will it proceed with it with the excision of the area under dispute?

a Senator GARETH EVANS-The circumstances of the Government's seeking of listing by the World Heritage Committee when it did are well known and were fully described and explained at the time. They are a product of a rapidly evolving set of circumstances in which the interests of all parties were well and truly known to the Government, not least the interests of the Northern Territory Government and the alleged interests of the leaseholders or lease applicants in that area. Nothing would have been gained by further consultative processes of the kind to which Senator Durack referred. In all the circumstances of the case, and given the need to demonstrate the extent and the depth of the Commonwealth's commitment to Kakadu, which I have again spelt out today, it was thought appropriate to proceed with that nomination as soon as possible. It was accepted by the World Heritage Committee on its agenda for today's meeting. There was no difficulty about having the matter dealt with through that body until the current legal proceedings and the interlocutory injunction. Senator Durack would know that it is only an interlocutory injunction that we are here talking about. The criteria, standards of proof and legal argument that must be satisfied for an interlocutory injunction by no means settle the likely outcome of the final determination of the case, when it happens. It should not be thought that the proceedings that have occurred to date are in any way a demonstration or proof of the inadequacy of theCommonwealth's legal position, quite apart from its moral position, in this matter.

Senator Durack, in the final part of his question, meant to ask, I suppose, whether, if the interlocutory injunction was not overturned by the High Court today, the Government would still seek to proceed with its application to the World Heritage Committee in a form that was shorn of those contested lease areas, or whether, rather, it would seek to defer consideration of the whole application until a later date. I am able to say that the latter course would be that which the Government would take, not least because it is not at all clear that the World Heritage Committee would be prepared to countenance an application being proceeded with for some different land area-that is, one short of the leasehold interests in question-than the land area which is the subject of the basic application. It is the Government's intention, as I said in answer to the first question today, to legislate as soon as is appropriate and as soon as possible to put all these matters beyond doubt. At the latest, that will occur at the beginning of the autumn session next year. The application for the listing of the matter before the World Heritage body, perhaps with some further extension of the national park, can be dealt with next year. Nothing will be lost by the delay that will thus arise if in fact it is the case that a delay will be imposed upon us by a court decision today.

Senator DURACK —I have a supplementary question, Mr President. What is the further extension of the national park that the Government is perhaps thinking of including?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I know that Senator Durack does not take much notice of what is going on in his shadow portfolio area but he will recall that back in September the Government announced--

Senator Durack —I recall only too well but you were not too specific.

Senator GARETH EVANS —In the context of stage 3 of the park, the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases, it is well known that the Government stated right back at the outset of its term of government an intention to extend the national park into that area. We should be in a position to have some further extensions ready to go on the World Heritage List, certainly by the time that that Committee meets again next year and hopefully a lot earlier.