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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 1958


Senator COLLARD (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.43) —The Senate is today dealing with five Bills: The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987, the Environment 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. I suppose the first question that would come to one's mind is: Why are we dealing with a package such as this? I submit to the Senate that we are dealing with it for the same reason that we dealt with the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill just before we rose for the Easter recess. It really has nothing to do with environmental considerations or national park consideration. It really deals with an image problem that the Labor Party found, with its research, that the current Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has. As well as having a problem with the economic management of this nation, it was found that the current Prime Minister had a massive image problem, particularly with the young people, so it was decided after much consultation that he should be seen to be a bit of an idealist. What better thing could the Government pick on than the conservation issue because that was something dear to the hearts of the idealists of this world and particularly the young people of this nation? We have seen two things: Firstly, the pilgrimage to Kakadu National Park with half the Press gallery and, secondly, the trip to Tasmania with helicopters supplied for Senator Richardson. As a result of all that we have had these packages of legislation coming through the Senate to give some sort of credence and shore up the credence of the Labor Party and the Prime Minister's image problem.

The Kakadu National Park was listed as a national park by the Fraser-Anthony Government in 1979. Indeed, I outlined a lot of that in a speech on the disallowance motion of the second plan of management in this chamber on 20 October. My opposition, and indeed that of my colleagues on this side of the chamber, is recorded to the then plan of management. I laid down in that speech the four main reasons, as I saw them, for any national park. Indeed, I will repeat them: Firstly, to preserve as widely as possible the genetic pool of our flora and fauna; secondly, to preserve for aesthetic reasons locations of unique natural beauty; thirdly, to preserve for posterity areas of historical and cultural significance; and fourthly, for recreational purposes. I do not think that anyone would disagree with those reasons for setting aside national parks. If we look at those reasons and we look at Kakadu, we can see why the then conservative government set aside Kakadu as a national park. I would suggest that there are three reasons: The wetlands, the escarpment and the Aboriginal rock galleries. As far as I am concerned, and I am quite sure as far as anyone on this side of the chamber is concerned, those areas are sacrosanct. That is what it is all about.

When the boundaries for the national park were drawn up we had arbitrary lines around them. Those lines just did not encompass those areas of significance, that is, the wetlands, the escarpment and the rock galleries. Those lines put in place what was then known, and is still known, as a conservation area-or a buffer area, for want of a much simpler term. It is an area of protection for the areas of significance from the outside world. Under the original plan of management those conservation or buffer areas were subject to multi-use planning. In other words, they could be used for things other than national parks under very strict guidelines. It just so happens that in those areas we have probably one of the greatest mineral provinces left in Australia still in a rather raw state. So we now start to see why we are going through the exercise of preventing the exploration and mining of minerals in those conservation areas or buffer zones. The 1986 Bill sought to prevent the exploration and recovery of minerals within the Kakadu National Park.

The 1987 National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill creates stage 3 of Kakadu National Park out of 65 per cent of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases. The other 35 per cent is to be declared a conservation zone in which carefully controlled exploration and mining will be allowed. What mining companies would really accept that, having known that there was a conservation zone around stages 1 and 2 in which they were originally allowed to explore but have now been denied permission to do so? They have been denied that without receiving any compensation whatsoever. Here we are going down the track saying: `Okay, you cannot do that there fellows, but now under this new legislation we will allow exploration and mining in a conservation zone around stage 3'. How could mining companies really give any credence to what the Government is saying when they have already been denied what they were originally granted in the original plan of management? What is worse, they were retrospectively denied compensation.

In all of this it must be acknowledged that the Northern Territory Government, under whose auspices this matter comes, has had very little consultation with the Federal Government. The Northern Territory Government was promised consultation. These areas were placed on the World Heritage List without any consultation whatsoever despite the promise that that would happen. So we now see the shonkiness of this whole deal. We see a government which has gone off quickly in a cynical exercise to shore up its current Prime Minister. In a lot of these debates, not only in this chamber but probably more so outside, when conservation areas and national parks are mentioned the terms `primeval', `pristine' and `unique' are constantly thrown about. The use of these terms gives no real credence to what people think about this matter. During previous debates on this subject I have referred to comments made by Professor Ovington when he appeared before one of our Senate standing committees. He has said:

People talk about pristine or primeval places in this world. As an ecologist of 40 years standing I claim that this is a myth: There are not really untouched places in this world . . . Everywhere in the world you have some degree of human interference, but it varies in intensity. People forget that Kakadu has been managed as a land area by Aboriginals for perhaps 40,000 years. Their impact is there. But in assessing the value of the area you assess it for what it is, not with some kind of concept of pristineness.

So one of the follies of people putting various arguments on national parks and conservation areas is that some areas have never been touched and are not likely to be touched. It is as though people have in their mind the concept of a beautiful painting, and that an area has always been like it is and will remain so. Of course, that is a ludicrous concept to have at any time.


Senator Sanders —At this point in time anything that has not been bulldozed should be saved.


Senator COLLARD —I said right at the beginning that areas of significance are not to be touched, and nobody in this chamber of any political persuasion would want that to happen. We are talking about an area enclosed by an arbitrary line denoting conservation or buffer zones. Let me make that clear once again: Nobody who has contributed to this debate or previous debates is talking about areas of significance. We are talking about areas which are inside an arbitrary line and which are termed conservation zones or buffer zones. So we have an area which is small in the space of time, and a small speck in the total area of stages 1, 2 and 3. My understanding is that if mining were allowed to go ahead in those conservation zones it would involve but one per cent of stages 1, 2 and 3 of Kakadu National Park, and of course an insignificant area in the total land mass of Australia.

Governments do have responsibilities. They have responsibilities to provide food, fibre, jobs, export earnings and all those things which we have come to expect and take for granted and which enable us to maintain our standard of living. I submit to this chamber that the challenge for this Government, and the challenge for the Opposition, which will be the next government, is to provide those necessities and at the same time preserve for future generations. That is a standard, accepted definition of conservation right around the world, and indeed that definition has literally been enshrined. So we have here an admission of failure by this Government in that it cannot provide and at the same time preserve. It is an admission of failure because this Government cannot provide for the well-being of this nation and at the same time preserve for future generations. I suggest once again that, as well as being an admission of failure, this is a cynical exercise by this Government to prop up the image of the Prime Minister. We will not accept it, and we oppose this package of Bills.