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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1924


Senator KILGARIFF(9.57) —I wish to speak to this group of cognate Bills relating to Kakadu National Park-the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2), the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Amendment Bill, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) and the Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill. The package of Bills before the Senate consists of the Bill introduced last year to prevent mining in stages 1 and 2 of Kakadu National Park and the four Bills relating to stage 3. The potential impact of this legislation is quite monumental, not only for the people of the Northern Territory, whom I represent, but for the people of Australia.

The decision that this Federal Government has taken in relation to the future of Kakadu is one that could see Australia throw away rights of access to billions of dollars worth of resources. That the Federal Government could even contemplate what is proposed in this legislation, at a time when Australia's balance of payments exceeds $100 billion and the nation is looking for every export dollar that it can earn, gives one very legitimate cause to doubt the motivation for that decision. It is clearly not being done in the national interest, so we must ask ourselves in whose interests it is being done. The answer, as all honourable senators know, is that this package of Kakadu Bills is purely and simply for the benefit of the Hon. R. J. L. Hawke, born-again greenie, and his Australian Labor Party colleagues, although I must admit that I believe that very many of his colleagues disagree with him about this matter.

By no stretch of the imagination could one justify the proposed limitations on mining and tourism development in Kakadu National Park on the basis that they are necessary to protect areas of significant environmental and/or cultural significance. Certainly, I accept that government must take responsibility for the protection of such elements of our national heritage and the National and Liberal parties in Federal government do have a very good record on conservation issues. However, we on this side of the chamber have also recognised the requirement to meet the respective needs of competing interests and are of the view that, before any decision that will significantly affect such interests is taken, there needs to be an adequate assessment of potential benefits or losses to those interests as a result of such a decision. In the case of Kakadu, no such assessment, especially in relation to the mineral wealth of the area, has been made-yet the Federal Government is ready to lock up thousands of square kilometres of land, substantial areas of which are highly mineralised. Nowhere is the Federal Government's blatant disregard for the mineral potential of the area more evident than in the proposed stage 3, which incorporates the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases. It is worth noting that this area is considered highly prospective for copper, lead, zinc, gold, silver, uranium, tin and tungsten. It includes the richest combined gold, platinum and palladium deposit in the world, which is very considerable. The inclusion of this area, which will in the future add a further 6,726 square kilometres to the park, must be queried in view of the failure of the Commonwealth to identify clearly the conservation value of each square kilometre.

As I have already said, not only has the Federal Government failed adequately to justify the inclusion of this area in the park but also it has neglected to examine the prospectivity of the area. With the enactment of this legislation a vast proportion of the Kakadu region will never be able to be explored and its mineral potential assessed, to the detriment of Australia and its future. A mineral resource inventory for the Kakadu region is something which I would regard as essential before there can be any question of locking up the area for eternity. Surely it is not only essential but also common sense. There should be a stocktaking of the value of minerals in the region so that we know what is there and what could be used for the benefit of Australia. But no, the area is to be locked up.


Senator Jessop —Isn't the Government interested in export income?


Senator KILGARIFF —I have mentioned that. One wonders why the Government is not at this moment at least carrying out an inventory in the light of our very difficult economic situation and the potential which exists to get us out of it. As I have said, with the enactment of this legislation a vast proportion of the Kakadu region will never be able to be explored and its mineral potential assessed. A mineral resource inventory for the Kakadu region is something that I would regard as essential. Yet no such inventory exists, nor will it ever exist if this Government has its way. This is a most peculiar approach not only to the development of the north but also to the inventory of minerals in Australia.

As one of the submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources pointed out, the present ignorance of existing resources could be a national embarrassment in the future. At present there has been very little testing for gold. Good potential exists for copper, lead, zinc, silver, cobalt, bismuth and antimony. At least 75 per cent of the favourable rocks in the area are untested. The mineral exploration industry in the Northern Territory has declined in actual terms from $32m in 1981-82 to $9.6m in 1984-85 and from 9.86 per cent of Australia's exploration in 1978-79 to 2.84 per cent in 1983-84, an extremely poor situation. This is in spite of the Territory's attractiveness, due to its high prospectivity relative to most areas of Australia and its largely unexplored status.

The Territory's dramatic decline in relation to the rest of Australia is a most telling statistic. It has little to do with world commodity markets and prices and everything to do with the discriminatory effects of Federal Government policies in the Northern Territory. A peculiar situation exists in regard to the development of uranium, on which the present Government has a three-mine policy. In the Northern Territory the Ranger uranium mine is being developed. Queensland Mines Ltd at Nabarlek is also being developed for uranium. The latest to be added to the list is Roxby Downs in South Australia, which is rich not just in uranium but in very many minerals, including gold. One wonders what the Government's policy is all about. One can conclude only that the policy emanates from political reasons.

Tremendous interest persists amongst mining interests to explore the region, but stable terms and conditions need to be set down before the industry will invest large sums of risk capital on ventures in the National Park. The mining industry is extremely wary of coming to any agreement in regard to the exploration of minerals when it considers the policies of the present Government. Far too much risk is associated with them. What is proposed in this legislation, far from providing stable terms and conditions, is a positive discouragement for mineral exploration and development. In stages 1 and 2 mining is out altogether. In stage 3 a conservation zone is proposed by this legislation where some mining activity would be permitted under certain very limited circumstances.

To begin with, the Federal Government plans only a five-year exploration and resource assessment program for this area, with a vague promise that at the end of this period further decisions will be taken on the area's long term future-not a very persuasive way to bring about exploration. The conservation zone will occupy about 35 per cent of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases. However, the remaining 65 per cent of the area is equally highly prospective and is to be locked away, as Senator Durack has said, as stage 3 of Kakadu National Park with no opportunity for resource assessment or development. Overall responsibility for monitoring the regime within the conservation zone will be assumed by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, yet when one reads the annual reports of the Service over the past few years one finds that every year the Service indicates that it has insufficient resources to manage its existing tasks. One can only wonder how it will carry out the additional tasks and responsibilities imposed by this legislation.

But that is not the end of the sad story. Alongside the Service is its country cousin, the Northern Territory Conservation Commission. That organisation has an excellent name which has been difficult to match, yet it is hunted from its own country by the ANPWS, the Federal Government's organisation. So at present we are seeing big government once again assuming the role of responsibility for this land when very clearly it is a State role, a Northern Territory Government role, which should rightly be carried out by the Northern Territory Conservation Commission. With the expertise it has it can carry out that role very adequately. I doubt whether the ANPWS could match the expertise of this Territory organisation. Although the Northern Territory Government is apparently to be invited to assist in the conduct of an exploration program there appears to be no mention of the Territory being involved in the mining program at Coronation Hill. In this legislation there is absolutely no recognition of the rights of the Territory Government to be involved in the assessment and development of resources within its borders.

The regime proposed by the Commonwealth in these Bills is cumbersome, bureaucratic and expensive. The Federal Government is, however, proceeding in spite of the fact that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) recognises the adequacy of Territory legislation. The terms and conditions attaching to exploration titles correspond very largely with those attaching to exploration titles under Territory legislation.


Senator Jessop —How many jobs would be involved up there?


Senator KILGARIFF —The honourable senator mentions a very sore point. Obviously, we are looking for northern development, for northern employment. The Aboriginal people are looking for employment. Yet this is locking away these minerals and bringing about a situation where the development is going to be retarded and job opportunities are going to be far less.

Getting away from these impediments to mining and development stemming from the changes to national parks and wildlife legislation, there is another piece of legislation in this package which has great potential to impact upon mining in the area. I refer to the amendment to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act which will permit a land claim to be lodged over the Gimbat-Goodparla area. Presently Commonwealth public purpose land is not claimable. If a land claim to this area is successful the land is to be leased back to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Federal organisation. Whilst this may preserve the area as a park, it flies in the face of the Commonwealth's often repeated assurances of Aboriginal self-determination. Veto provisions under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act will of course apply to this area so, given past experience of attempting to reach mining agreements under the land rights Act, it is quite possible, indeed more than likely, that no exploration or mining will occur. I repeat that that is going on past experience.


Senator Jessop —What effect would that have on the Aboriginal community, Senator?


Senator KILGARIFF —The effect on Aboriginal communities, as has been indicated before, is that very many of them now wish to have joint ventures; they wish to get out of the pocket of the Commonwealth Government. They wish to have self-determination and not live on handouts. As I was saying, the inadequacy of the number of agreements for exploration and mining development reached under the Aboriginal land rights Act is a testament to its failure to provide a means of reconciling competing interests in land. It is not necessarily a reflection of any lack of willingness on the part of the traditional owners to enter into exploration or mining agreements; far from it. As I have said, many traditional owners are keen to exploit the resources of their land. The bugbears in the system have largely been the main land councils, and I do not refer to the Tiwi Land Council. Of course, this Federal Government will not countenance the prospect of traditional owners entering into agreements with mining companies in relation to the development of uranium mining on Aboriginal land. These impediments will now stand in the way of exploration and development in the Kakadu stage 3 region.

I return again to the motivation of this Federal Government in this matter. One can only assume that the aim of this entire exercise is window dressing-very expensive window dressing if I may say so, but window dressing nonetheless. This package of Bills is a sop to the left of the Australian Labor Party and a cynical attempt by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to grab the greenie vote. It could well go down as the most expensive vote grabbing exercise in this country's political history, as Senator Durack mentioned earlier. Coming from a Prime Minister who so prides himself on his electoral credibility makes it all the more hypocritical. If this whole issue had been properly investigated, the area in question surveyed and found to be far less valuable than it is believed to be, this might not be such a bitter pill for Territorians to have to swallow, but we know, as most of the rest of Australia does, that the Federal Government has not even bothered with the pretence of investigating the area. All we have is the supposedly expert opinion of our Prime Minister who spent a few days in Kakadu, posing against dramatic backdrops, shaking the hands of the local Aboriginal population for the benefit of the media entourage and generally demonstrating his oneness with the land. Yet again the Territory suffers, and of course the nation suffers. We see billions of dollars worth of resources written off to buy the traditional conservation vote, despite the fact that the Federal Government says that the Northern Territory is wanting in financial self-help. Indeed, the Federal Government is effectively tying the hands of Territorians behind their backs. I believe that the bad news for the Government is that the conservationist vote will not be enough to counter the vote of millions of Australians who regard the national economy, particularly at this stage, as a more critical issue and who will take the opportunity to express that view at the ballot box in the coming election.


Senator Jessop —The conservationists are prohibitionists.


Senator KILGARIFF —The honourable senators brings up a very interesting point because there are very many examples now in the Northern Territory of where mining can occur and where the terrain can be adequately protected. As I say, this can be seen in many areas today in the Northern Territory. One instance is the old uranium town of Rum Jungle near Batchelor. The rehabilitation of the country there is something to be seen. Anyone who sees the rehabilitation that has taken place there can be proud of it. The terrain affected by the mining that has taken place at Nhulunbuy, the development of the bauxite deposits, is adequately protected. The mining at Groote Eylandt is another instance.

It is a pity that we have this legislation before us today. It does not take into consideration the necessity for the development of mining. As I have said before, the most disappointing thing is that the Government is going to lock up this country without any real investigation. I certainly do not support this legislation.