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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2840


Senator KILGARIFF(10.10) —We were last discussing the appropriations for the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment on 19 November. At that time I asked questions of the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) regarding various aspects relating to the Northern Territory. Perhaps those answers are available.

I guess the nation has noted the decision of the High Court of Australia regarding the Federal Government's appeal against mining by Peko-Wallsend Ltd in Kakadu National Park and the fact that the Federal Government's appeal has failed. I understand that last night in Paris the Federal Government indicated to the World Heritage Committee that it would not be pursuing World Heritage listing at this stage. In view of the decision taken yesterday and the telex from the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, to Steve Hatton, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, which I understand gave an undertaking that the Federal Government would not proceed with listing of Kakadu stage 2 this year, what process, if any, is proposed whereby the Northern Territory Government will be consulted now regarding World Heritage listing of this area? There are no time restrictions now and perhaps the people in the north can be given a better go.

The status of mining companies holding interests in Kakadu has been raised at Estimates committee meetings and conflicting views have been expressed as to the rights of those interest holders. I note that yesterday at Question Time the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) emphatically stated that no compensation would be paid to mining companies which had been assured by Labor Ministers in the Whitlam Government that they would be allowed to explore and develop their interests. In fact, we heard that from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) only a few weeks ago before his rather dramatic change in attitude. Given that the Minister is so certain that no compensation will be paid, I assume that he bases his views on some solid legal opinion to the effect that these mining companies have no right to compensation. I ask the Minister for Community Services to say whether a legal opinion on this matter has been sought and, if so, to provide the Committee with details of any such opinion. Can the Minister say whether the Government will be equally intransigent in the matter of compensating Aboriginal communities or organisations which have entered into agreements with mining companies, agreements which, incidentally, were approved by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding)?

It seems to me that the whole situation is wide open and that there are very many matters that the Government must put its mind to in fairness to mining organisations, the Northern Territory Government, Aboriginal people and other people. As we are debating the appropriations of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment, I believe it is appropriate that the Federal Government give answers to these very important questions.