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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 1955

Senator ZAKHAROV(10.24) —I start with a word of mild protest. The speakers list for the debate on the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987, the Environmental Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Amendment Bill 1987, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987 and the Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1987 was drawn up yesterday. The debate began last night. Senator Townley, who was to speak before me, was not present at the time. He is not present this morning. Therefore I have had to go ahead of my agreed place in the list, which denies me the opportunity to answer some of the questions which may be raised by subsequent speakers, particularly by my fellow members of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources which at present is look- ing at Kakadu, Senator Townley and Senator Crichton-Browne.

Leaving that aside, before I go on to the body of my speech, I would like to refer to some of the arguments put forward by previous Opposition speakers. Senator Durack referred to the interference by the Commonwealth Government since 1973. In the intervening period we have had seven years of Liberal Party rule, or what was then coalition rule. I would have thought that during that time, the Liberal Government could have stopped the trend of events in relation to the declaration of Kakadu National Park and so on.

Senator Durack also implied in his speech, as I heard it last night, that when we are talking about the conservation zone we are referring only to Coronation Hill. The map of the conservation zone shows that Coronation Hill is in fact only a very small section of that zone. The zone in fact covers 35 per cent of the projected stage 3. Senator Durack was referring to the size of stage 3. The mining lobby and the Northern Territory Government told our Committee that that conservation zone covered the most highly mineralised section of stage 3-the Gimbat and Goodparla leases. I hope that I am quoting Senator Durack correctly when he said that the greatest beneficiaries from mining in modern times are those employed in it. I would remind the Senate that it is not those who are employed in mining who receive the greater part of the wealth that is created from that mining. I have known many mining and construction workers but I cannot remember ever hearing them giving thanks to, say, Peko-Wallsend Ltd or even the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd for giving them the opportunity of working in those places.

Senator Durack also raised the question of a poll that was done last year by the Australian Mining Industry Council. This poll was clearly intended to produce the result that it did. The two questions asked were:

Are you in favour of or against carefully controlled exploration in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory to establish its mineral potential? Provided areas of scenic and other significance were not disturbed, would you be in favour of or against the mining, under stringent environmental conditions, of any large deposits of gold, platinum or other minerals found in Kakadu National Park?

I would defy anyone to claim that those were unbiased questions. In fact, one of the representatives of the Mining Industry Council told me that the questions had been asked in that way to get a particular result, and of course that is what they did. The sample size was only roughly half the normal sample size used, say, for a gallup poll, and if that is the sort of evidence that the Council is relying on to claim what public opinion is, I think it is a pretty poor effort and it ought to know better. Senator Durack referred to another poll taken this year, which I have not had the opportunity to look at, but I do not think it is very relevant to this issue because I understand that it concerns the mining of uranium for peaceful community purposes-I think that was the wording. Uranium is not claimed, at the moment anyway, to be the major prize in the Kakadu stage 3 area.

Senator Durack said further that the one and only motive of the Government was to capture votes of extreme environmentalists. Yet the future declaration of stage 3 was seen as desirable by the Fox Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry and its recommendations were substantially accepted at that time by the Fraser Government, and it did act on the first part of the recommendations. I have talked to a lot of community groups over the last 18 months since taking the chair of the National Resources Committee and I would not consider any of those groups to be in any way extreme environmentalists-whatever that may mean to Senator Durack. I have found that there is a great deal of support in the community for the conservation of the Kakadu area. It surprises me that the Opposition does not understand that mining without full safeguards can wreck an area for tourism.

Senator Durack —I was only quoting the news polls. Have you read them?

Senator ZAKHAROV —Yes, I have. That is what I was quoting. I have read them in full and I have discussed them with the people who drew them up. I have a background in market research and in social sciences, so I know what I am talking about; I doubt whether the honourable senator does. Senator Kilgariff referred last night to locking the area off for eternity. In purely financial terms, leaving aside other considerations, we have to weigh short term gains from mining against long term gains from tourism. In terms of jobs alone, tourism is a great deal more labour intensive than mining. That may solve some of the problems in the Northern Territory. He talked about tying the hands of the Northern Territory Government behind its back. Rather, it will have the opportunity to capitalise on an asset which is known all over the world, not only because of Crocodile Dundee-although I understand that overseas interest has continued to rise since the release of the film. I think that Senator Macklin has dealt very adequately with that argument.

The final statement by Senator Kilgariff to which I refer relates to the rehabilitation of Rum Jungle. Our Committee was taken to Rum Jungle by those who wanted us to see what they said was a very good example of rehabilitation. I have not seen the other sites to which Senator Kilgariff referred. I would not call Rum Jungle an example of rehabilitation. It is certainly a patching up, with perhaps a permanent band-aid. It cost the Australian Government a great deal of money.

Senator Gareth Evans —Twenty million dollars.

Senator ZAKHAROV —As my colleague points out, it cost $20m. It certainly has not restored the area to what it was. It has, we hope, prevented further pollution of the river system in the area, but it certainly has not been rehabilitated, as most people would understand that term. It looks a little like an overscale golf course; it is certainly not what Rum Jungle would have looked like before mining took place.

I refer now to the substance of the Bills. This is a package of five Bills which implement the Government's decision to declare stage 3 of Kakadu National Park and to declare the remainder of the Gimbat and Goodparla leases as a conservation zone. These Bills will go a long way towards maintaining the integrity of stages 1 and 2 of Kakadu National Park by protecting the catchment area and the upper reaches of the Alligator Rivers, which in turn feed the wetlands which, with the escarpments, are the environment which forms the basis of a national park of world heritage standard. The water which falls on the slopes of Coronation Hill and the surrounding escarpment finds its way to the world heritage listed stage 1 of Kakadu National Park. This legislation completes a process which began with the recommendations of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry that the park be established, followed by the declaration of stage 1 of the park in 1979 by the Fraser Government.

I might have been happier personally if the whole of the Gimbat and Goodparla leases had been declared national park rather than 35 per cent of the area being declared conservation zone. The main difference, of course, is that mining and mineral exploration are specifically prohibited in a national park, but mineral exploration can take place in a conservation zone, and indeed is taking place now, particularly relatively large scale exploration by Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd and its partners at Coronation Hill. Varying claims have been made about the value of the mineral deposits in the area, but even after allowing for inflation for political reasons it is clear that there are substantial deposits of gold and lesser amounts of other precious metals. The present legislation will allow exploration to go ahead in the conservation zone without pre-empting a decision on the mining if and when the deposits are approved and the mining is deemed to be able to proceed with minimal environmental or cultural damage.

In answer to a question without notice I asked on 17 September last year, Senator Ryan replied on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen). I quote from that reply, in part:

The location of Coronation Hill is extremely significant in relation to the catchment and world heritage wetlands. The Government is most conscious of the significance and intends to ensure that the fullest and most sensitive environmental examination takes place. If, at the conclusion of this examination, mining development is to take place, this will occur only on conditions which provide the highest level of environmental protection, not only in the particular area, but for the conservation values of the park as a whole.

Although the conservation zone does not in itself provide totally for the preservation of the integrity of the park, the provisions of the Bills provide maximum possible protection while still allowing only the mineral potential to be explored-I repeat, `explored'-at this stage. Of course, there are both supporters of mining companies and conservationists who believe that exploration inevitably leads to mining, while some of the traditional owners believe that allowing exploration is quite separate from allowing mining. Only time will tell the outcome. However, since the decision to allow exploration has been taken, I believe that these Bills go as far as they can to protect the immediate environment and the adjacent national park consistent with that decision.

I wish to look briefly at the contents of the Bills in this package. I have not put them in any order of significance. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987 enables the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases to be available for Aboriginal land claim. This step is necessary because the leases were previously crown land leased to a succession of graziers. Any land successfully claimed by an Aboriginal land trust will, under this legislation, be able to be leased back by the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for park purposes. This arrangement is working very successfully at Uluru. The legislation will allow land in the conservation zone also to be subject to Aboriginal land claims and will provide, in such cases, for arrangements to carry out exploration or, if that is the decision in the future, for mining rights. Thus the rights of Aboriginal people in the area will be enhanced by the legislation. Sacred sites will be protected under the present arrangements for registration and protection through the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority.

The Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill provides for the granting of mineral exploration or mining rights in the conservation zone or areas which are or will be vested in any Aboriginal land trust. The Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Amendment Bill will enable the Supervising Scientist for the Alligator Rivers Region to advise the Government on environmental aspects of exploration and mining in the Kakadu conservation zone. This legislation is necessary because the Office of the Supervising Scientist was originally set up solely to monitor the effects of uranium mining in those areas which had been excised from Kakadu National Park for the purposes of that mining which, at the moment, means the Ranger uranium mine. So this Bill extends the area which the Supervising Scientist supervises; where he monitors the environmental consequences of mining to cover Kakadu National Park stage 3 and the conservation zone.

The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill and the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) will amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act in two main areas. They will prevent mineral exploration and mining in Kakadu National Park, including those interests which existed prior to the proclamation of the park. This is in keeping with Australian Labor Party policy, which has been well known to all parties concerned and is consistent with the policies on which this Government was elected. It is also consistent with the policies of ALP governments in the major States. The Bills will also enable the conservation zone to be declared over Gimbat and Goodparla, something which we might have expected the Opposition to be happy about. It could well have been declared a 100 per cent national park instead of 65 per cent. The Bills also allow for the promulgation of relevant regulations to control activities, including exploration for minerals, in the conservation zone. They allow for proper environmental impact assessments to be made and for the regulation of any possible future mining within the zone. The legislation also clarifies the relationship with the Northern Territory Government and its relevant departments, so claims that the Northern Territory is being left out are not true.

I have dealt very briefly with the provisions of these Bills. The importance of the package goes far beyond the relatively small number of clauses which are included in the Bills themselves. This package enables the realisation of the near completion of a process which started with the Ranger inquiry and the resultant actions of the then Liberal-National Government in declaring Kakadu National Park, stage 1, setting up the Office of the Supervising Scientist and establishing the framework for the development of Kakadu National Park, thus enabling the opening up of the area to control tourist activity.

I wish I had had time to dig out various quotations from Liberal Party Ministers of those times supporting the broad thrust of what this Government has done. This Labor Government has now consolidated a national park of world standard and ensured that future generations, not only of Australians but also overseas visitors, will be able to appreciate what we have now-the falls, the wetlands, the art and the wildlife. It is also a park which will improve as the degraded areas, which have unfortunately been referred to as `clapped out buffalo country', are rehabilitated as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has shown very adequately can be done on its experimental station at Kapalga where there are two similar fenced off, large areas. The rehabilitation in two years since the fencing has taken place to keep the buffaloes out has been absolutely phenomenal.

There are still details to be finalised about the structure of management and the advisory mechanisms for the area, but I am convinced that under the capable management of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has done a magnificent job so far, even given inadequate resources at times and sometimes hostile neighbours, Kakadu National Park will become a national asset which will return not only prestige to this country but also an income, including overseas income which, unlike the return from mining, will continue into the distant future and will not exhaust its resources. It is exploitation without exhaustion, I would say. As I have said before, tourism is labour intensive and this offers far more job opportunities even in the short term, than does mining. I commend the Bills to the Senate.