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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3821


Mr COHEN (Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment)(10.05) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 to prevent exploration and mining for minerals, and related operations in Kakadu National Park. The Bill applies to all mineral interests including those interests which existed prior to the proclamation of the park. The Bill also provides that no compensation will be payable by the Commonwealth to any person, body politic or body corporate by reason of the enactment of this legislation. I shall deal first with the Bill itself, then outline the general history of national parks, and of Kakadu National Park in particular. I shall then cover some of the more recent events which have led the Government to introduce this legislation.

The scheme of the Bill is as follows: Clause 3 of the Bill amends the section of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act which currently preserves existing mineral interests from the provisions of the Act, park regulations and plans of management. Other existing interests will remain preserved. Clause 4 of the Bill prohibits the carrying out of operations for the recovery of minerals in Kakadu National Park, including mining, prospecting, exploration, milling, refining, treatment and processing of minerals and other related operations. There is no Commonwealth requirement for any compensation to be paid by the Commonwealth as a result of the enactment of this Bill. Clause 5 makes it clear that no compensation will be paid to anybody.

The national park idea was born more than 100 years ago at Yellowstone in the United States of America. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was dedicated and set apart for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. Regulations were prepared for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities and wonders which were to be retained in their natural condition. It is worth considering the socio-economic conditions of the time in the USA. It was a period of severe social and economic stress after the Civil War. At such a time one might have expected that all thoughts would be on exploiting every available natural resource for profit. Yet it was in these circumstances that the grand concept of the world's first national park emerged. It was described as an adventure in the humanities based upon reverence for primitive landscape and beauty and all organic life. It is worth quoting the words of Senator George Vest of Missouri at the time:

We should show the world that they are wrong when they say that Americans are interested only in the `almighty dollar'.

Only seven years after Yellowstone was proclaimed and before Australia was a nation, the world's second national park was proclaimed near Sydney, New South Wales-the present Royal National Park. So the national park philosophy had early roots in Australia. Down through the years the ethic and principles enshrined in the national park idea have been reinforced nationally and internationally, as the demands of increasing population made inroads on the rest of our environment and its resources.

In 1969 the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources agreed that national parks should be places where the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate as soon as possible exploitation in the whole area and to enforce effectively the respect of the ecological, geomorphological or aesthetic features which have led to establishment of the park. In 1970 Australian Ministers responsible for national parks agreed that a national park should be a relatively large area, permanently dedicated for public enjoyment, education and inspiration, and protected from all interference other than essential management practices, so that its natural attributes are preserved.

As recently as 1982 the Third World Congress on National Parks, representing 68 countries, reaffirmed the decision of the Second World Congress in 1972-the centenary of Yellowstone-that national parks must be strictly protected against efforts to exploit their natural resources for such purposes as commercial timber cutting, mining, hydroelectric works and other dams and public works, commercial fishing, sport and commercial hunting, farming and grazing of domestic animals. I have recounted these national and international affirmations because I believe it is important to realise that this Government is not alone when it declares its determination to conserve the magnificent natural and cultural values and the integrity of a national park and World Heritage area such as Kakadu.

I want to make clear what this Labor Government, the Hawke Government, has done and is going to do about national parks in the interests of today's and tomorrow's citizens, including the young people sitting in the gallery now. Our philosophy is that the major national parks in this country deserve the best protection, conservation and management we can give them. To this end we are pursuing a program in association with the States and Territories to achieve the highest possible standards in the conservation of flora, fauna, landscape and genetic resources within large ecologically viable reserves which meet internationally recognised criteria of security of tenure. We oppose any activity in national parks which adversely affects the prime function of the park, namely, nature conservation. We believe that through wise management national parks can contribute greatly to the welfare of the nation by virtue of the recreational opportunities they provide.

We have extended the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from 14 per cent to 98.5 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef region, and accelerated the preparation of zoning plans in order to have the whole park zoned in 1988. I believe all Australians can look with pride to the progress and achievement in both conservation and development within the national parks proclaimed under Commonwealth legislation. The professional planning, management and development of these national parks is setting high standards of excellence acclaimed by international experts. We have broken new ground in the training and involvement of Aboriginal people in national park management on lands with which they have traditional ties, and this achievement in itself is attracting international interest and acclaim.

The establishment of Kakadu National Park began with the 1977 Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, which recommended that a major national park be established in the Alligator Rivers region. As a matter of fact, I was the shadow Minister for Environment in 1978 when legislation to that effect was introduced. Stage 1 was proclaimed by the Fraser Government in April 1979, and stage 2 by the Hawke Government in February 1984. Both areas were proclaimed as a single park in December 1985. The establishment of Kakadu National Park was not a precipitate action but involved careful Government consideration and was the culmination of detailed investigation, inquiry and public comment over many years. It was done with the support of both sides of this House. Kakadu is characterised by an unrivalled combination of spectacular and varied scenery, a diversity of native flora and fauna and a wealth of ancient and recent Aboriginal art. Kakadu has become recognised as something very special-an Australian place of national and international significance. This international significance was recognised by the Fraser Government, which nominated stage 1 for inscription on the World Heritage List in 1981 and funded park operations and a program of capital works. Madam Speaker, I table a summary of the expenditure by the Commonwealth Government on Kakadu National Park since its proclamation.

Honourable members will note that the Hawke Government has increased considerably the Budget allocation for management of Kakadu and for capital works, which have made Kakadu one of the great parks of the world. Since this Government came to power more than $15m has been spent on the park. The Government increased the appropriation by 32 per cent to $3.7m in 1983-84 and by a further 91 per cent to $7m by 1985-86. In the current financial year a further $7.7m has been allocated and there will be even more over the next few years. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a copy of tables relating to Kakadu National Park expenditure.


Madam SPEAKER —Is leave granted?


Mr Connolly —I do not recall the tables being shown to the Opposition prior to the Minister seeking leave.


Mr COHEN —I apologise for that, but there they are.


Madam SPEAKER —Subject to the normal guidelines, if leave is granted the papers will be incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The tables read as follows-

MAJOR CAPITAL WORKS COMMENCED IN KAKADU NATIONAL PARK

(Expenditure may span more than one year)

1979-80

Major expenditure items during the year:

Staff housing ...

$712,861

Jabiru Headquarters ...

$323,965

Compound/Carpark ...

$300,730

Obiri Road ...

$105,243

Communications ...

$287,202

Road Maintenance ...

$7,476

Mobile Accommodation ...

$55,097

1980-81

Major expenditure items during the year:

Radio Communication Network ...

$255,443

Headquarters Building ...

$442,737

Obiri Rock Access Road ...

$103,000

Staff Housing ...

$532,447

Day Use and Camping Facilities ...

$60,710

1981-82

Major expenditure items during the year:

Modular shelters...

47,145

Park furniture...

41,336

Water supplies...

264,643

Staff housing...

855,774

1982-83

Major expenditure items during year:

Fire/Intruder Alarm System to Headquarters Building...

31,382

Nourlangie Camp Water Supply...

81,340

Roadworks at East Alligator and Jim Jim Districts...

511,548

East Alligator Electricity Upgrading...

44,505

Staff housing...

122,290

1983-84

Major expenditure items during year:

Fuel Storage Compound...

143,815

Water Supply Ablution Blocks Muirella Park/Jim Jim...

146,108

Water Supply Muirella Park/Jim Jim...

371,892

Roadworks...

100,583

Staff Housing...

746,210

1984-85

Major expenditure items during year:

Access Road to Nourlangie Rock...

485,490

Access Road to Muirella Park...

513,902

Staff Housing...

204,000

Access Roads to Jim Jim...

124,265

Water Supply at South Alligator and Wildman River...

48,500

1985-86

Major expenditure items during year:

Nourlangie Rock Link Road...

699,308

Nourlangie Rock Walkways...

70,173

Boat Ramp and Car Parks East Alligator...

503,630

Headquarters Display...

38,762

Staff Housing...

1,263,959

Water Sewerage and Roads South Alligator District Centre...

592,327

Roadworks-Arnhem Highway Entry Station...

85,104

1986-87

Major expenditure items during the year:

Roadworks at East Alligator District...

499,005

Ablution Block at East Alligator including civil works...

340,000

Toilet Block at Ubirr...

164,516

Toilet Block at Nourlangie Rock...

200,000

Carpark & Lookout at Mt Cahill...

200,000

Sandy Billabong Access Road...

150,000

Boatramp & Day Use Area at South Alligator River...

800,000

Jim Jim Falls Access Road Upgrading...

680,000

Yellow Water Bird Centre...

500,000

Balkanini Access Road, Nature Walk & Bird Hides...

650,000

KAKADU NATIONAL PARK EXPENDITURE

Year

Salaries

Operations

Capital

Total

1978-79...

N/A*

96,997

328,416

425,413**

1979-80...

N/A*

374,594

1,560,584

1,935,178**

1980-81...

N/A*

599,974

2,331,198

2,931,172**

1981-82...

N/A*

637,222

1,608,803

2,246,025**

1982-83...

676,634

712,001

1,391,495

2,780,130

1983-84...

674,709

980,944

2,027,489

3,683,142

1984-85...

917,733

1,254,727

2,251,819

4,424,279

1985-86...

1,098,127

1,522,717

4,408,045

7,028,889

Proposed Expenditure

1986-87...

1,170,344

2,285,000

4,248,372

7,703,716

Total...

4,537,547

8,464,176

20,156,220

33,157,943

* Data not available

** Excluding salaries


Mr COHEN —In addition to our financial contribution to the development of Kakadu National Park, we have had prepared new plans of management for both Kakadu and Uluru national parks, in close consultation with the Aboriginal traditional owners. In both cases the cultural and other traditional values of importance to Aboriginals in these parks are receiving maximum consideration in management. Unfortunately, some members, such as the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Everingham), who, so far as I am aware, has not even visited Kakadu National Park for some years, have chosen to denigrate the inherent natural values of the area.


Mr Everingham —Oh, come on! That's a lie.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will withdraw that comment. Order! The Minister will sit down. The honourable member for the Northern Territory will withdraw that interjection.


Mr Tuckey —On a point of order: Will the Minister take his seat as instructed? It is a requirement of the Standing Orders.


Mr COHEN —Why don't you sit down?


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will sit down. The honourable member for O'Connor will also sit down. The honourable member for the Northern Territory will withdraw.


Mr Everingham —No. I am certainly not going to withdraw that. What the Minister said is a lie.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member is defying the Chair. In the run-up to the end of this session, I suggest to the honourable member for the Northern Territory that he would be wise to withdraw.


Mr Connolly —I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.


Madam SPEAKER —I am talking to the honourable member for the Northern Territory. I do caution the honourable member for the Northern Territory.


Mr Everingham —If the Minister wants to say things--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will just give the two words: `I withdraw'.


Mr Everingham —I am not going to accept that statement.


Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will withdraw his interjection.


Mr COHEN —May I just make a point? I said `so far as I am aware' he has not visited. If he had visited, I am wrong.


Mr Everingham —Well, why didn't you ask me?


Mr COHEN —It is not a lie to say--


Madam SPEAKER —That matter is not at issue. The honourable member for the Northern Territory is choosing to defy the Chair. The House must not support defiance of the Chair. Does the honourable member for Bradfield have a point of order?


Mr Connolly —I would just make the point that the Minister was being deliberately provocative. While there is nothing specifically in the Standing Orders on this point, it is most unusual for second reading speeches to contain personal attacks on the credibility of members of the House.


Madam SPEAKER —I would accept the point the honourable member brings up. However, the Chair is not speaking to the honourable member for the Northern Territory on the content of the Minister's speech. The Chair has asked for a withdrawal and has given a certain latitude. In fact, the Chair has almost implored the honourable member for the Northern Territory to withdraw. However--


Mr Tuckey —Madam Speaker, may I present a compromise in this issue? If the Minister were to delete those remarks from his speech, I am sure--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I point out to the House that what is contained in the Minister's speech is of no interest to the Chair. The Chair asked the honourable member for the Northern Territory to withdraw words which have been considered by previous Speakers of this House to be unparliamentary. The honourable member for the Northern Territory has been asked four times to withdraw. I think I have given him plenty of latitude. He is refusing to withdraw. I now ask him again: Please withdraw.


Mr Everingham —He said that I have never been to Kakadu in the past three years.


Madam SPEAKER —The question of what the Minister said is not relevant. The Chair is asking for a withdrawal.


Mr Everingham —It is to me.


Mr Connolly —I raise a point of order. With respect, Madam Speaker, the words uttered by the Minister are relevant because they caused the reaction from the honourable member.


Madam SPEAKER —Exactly. But what the Chair is now facing is the honourable member for the Northern Territory totally defying the Chair. The House must not support defiance of the Chair by its members. If the honourable member has refused his last opportunity to withdraw, I name him.


Mr Young —Madam Speaker, I think, from what my colleague the Minister tells me, that he may have made a comment for which, if it is inaccurate, he is quite happy to apologise. If that were to happen, I think the honourable member could withdraw.


Mr Everingham —If the Minister were to apologise, I would withdraw.


Mr COHEN —I was trying to say that. I said `so far as I was aware'. If I was incorrect--


Madam SPEAKER —Will the Minister put it succinctly?


Mr COHEN —I apologise.


Mr Everingham —I withdraw.


Madam SPEAKER —I thank the Minister and the honourable member. I also thank the Special Minister of State.


Mr COHEN —Let me say something that I am aware is correct. The honourable member has also made some outrageous allegations that all the Commonwealth Government has done is to provide a few portable barbecues. Such a claim is patently incorrect. I table a list of projects completed or under way. One would have thought that the honourable member would have been promoting tourism by stressing the scenic and natural values of the area and praising the tourist facilities created at Kakadu in order to gain patronage for the hotel developments he encouraged in the Northern Territory.

It has been argued that the Commonwealth has no right to be involved in the running of national parks in States and Territories. Honourable members will perhaps be aware that a number of other countries with a federal system have a limited number of national parks run by the national government, as well as state or provincial parks run by the states or provinces. The United States of America, Canada, Malaysia and the Federal Republic of Germany are examples. For instance, the great parks of North America-the Banff, Jasper and Kluane national parks in Canada, and the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Everglades national parks in the United States of America are all under national administrations. Under the States co-operative assistance program, officers of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service have been working closely with State officers on a number of national park projects considered by States and agreed by us to be of national significance. The Government is also working in close co-operation with Tasmania to develop the Tasmanian World Heritage area. Examples are also emerging where a national park seems to be of such stature as to merit joint proclamation and co-operative management by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and its State counterparts.

I believe the time is coming when it would be desirable to examine ways of strengthening co-operation with willing State and Territory governments for parks which are jointly identified as being of truly national significance and which meet recognised international standards. Already at least one State has approached the Government with a proposal for joint proclamation of such a park. Kakadu National Park was acknowledged by the Fraser Government, and has continued to be acknowledged by the Hawke Government, as belonging to all Australians. Its protection must be a national priority. Nevertheless, three years ago the majority of Australians would not have known where Kakadu was. The publicity given to the area by the film Crocodile Dundee and by the actions of the conservation movement to protect the park from marauding mining interests such as Peko-Wallsend has now put Kakadu on the map.

Data on the known uranium mining potential of Kakadu are publicly available. However, Government policy on mining uranium is clear-no uranium mines other than Nabarlek, Ranger and Roxby Downs will be allowed to proceed. Present indications are that Kakadu embraces areas which are generally considered to be moderately prospective for gold, platinum and base metals. However, the Government does not possess any reliable data on either the total potential value of such mineral deposits or the overall benefits and costs of mining in the park. Tourist use of the park has been developing remarkably; it is increasing at between 25 per cent and 30 per cent a year. The number of visitors increased from 58,000 in 1983 to 75,000 in 1984 and 100,000 in 1985. Incidentally, although the honourable member for the Northern Territory may have been there in recent years, I was shocked to find that quite a number of former colleagues of his in the Northern Territory Parliament, including the Minister for Tourism, had not been there. That was a surprising admission to me. I was staggered that the Northern Territory Tourism Minister had not been to Kakadu National Park. This year more than 130,000 visitors are expected.

The Government is ensuring that the development of tourist facilities is keeping pace with this increase, including the development of roads, caravan parks, camping grounds, motel accommodation and interpretive facilities. As a result of these developments Kakadu has become an even more attractive tourist destination. On my visit in September a decision was made to proceed with a new bird life interpretation centre at Cooinda, which will cost the Commonwealth around $400,000 and which will be one of the top interpretative centres in Australia. The attractiveness of Kakadu to tourists will survive only if the character of the park is preserved. A park dotted with mines would not be a pretty sight-never mind the risk to the ecology. There are those who argue-and I must say that, to his eternal disgrace, a man who is now totally discredited in the environment movement, Harry Butler, is one of them; he has a record now of being nothing but a stooge for the mining interests of Australia-


Mr Connolly —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: The Minister is defaming the name of someone who is respected in the environmental community in Australia. He is now being attacked in this Parliament, with no opportunity to defend himself. This is not a parliament in which individual citizens should be attacked in that manner.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr COHEN —As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, there are many people, including Mr Butler, who argue that one can put a circle around the environmental treasures in the park, be it the rock art, the wetlands or the escarpment, and say that those are the important parts which should be preserved. That shows a total lack of comprehension of what an environment is all about-the interaction between different parts of the ecology. Of course it is an obscenity to suggest such a preservation program for Kakadu. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has made it quite clear on a number of occasions that mining in Kakadu National Park would be an obscenity. Further episodes such as the recent actions of Peko-Wallsend will not be countenanced. This Bill will ensure that the park will be totally protected from the actions of miners and will remain a top tourist attraction.

I wish to conclude by emphasising my long-standing and deep awareness of the great pride which Australians take in their unique national heritage. I believe that the Australian community accepts a commitment to ensure that this heritage is not jeopardised for short term gain by inappropriate development in national parks. I believe that this country-not only under this Government, but also under the Fraser and Whitlam governments-has a record in preserving its environment that is second to none in the world. In my travels overseas I have not found any other country that has as much interest as we have in preserving the environment. We are setting an example to the rest of the world. Perhaps we could have done more and perhaps we could have done it better, but what we have done is an example to the world. The community will applaud the Government's actions in preserving for future generations of Australians the unique natural and cultural heritage of Kakadu. Before I conclude I wish to say how delighted I am to have in the gallery today the Prime Minister of England, Jim Hacker, or his alter ego, Paul Eddington. I commend the Bill to the House, and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.