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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3952


Mr CHYNOWETH(11.05) —At the outset, on behalf of the Chairman and all members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, I would like to thank the secretariat for the excellent work that it has done in helping us and assisting us to compile this report. Before I get on to the report itself I would like to mention to the nation exactly what Ranger is. I think this is most important. Many people do not realise that it is a company called Energy Resources of Australia Ltd and that Ranger is a subsidiary company. The directors are: Mr Morokoff, Mr Copeman, Mr Ito, Mr Mueller, Mr Bethwaite, Mr Hamer, Mr Lean and Sir Rupert Myers. One of the names to look at is Mr Copeman.

If we read further in the company listing we learn of the history of Energy Resources of Australia. It was incorporated as a proprietary company in the Australian Capital Territory on 8 February 1980. It received public status on 11 July 1980. The company was formed to acquire all rights to the Ranger project which in 1969 was discovered to have a major uranium ore body. The company was a new flotation and is owned by Peko-Wallsend Ltd. The Electrolytic Zinc Company of Australasia Ltd owns 31.8 per cent, overseas equity participants own 24.2 per cent and the general public own 14.2 per cent. The main names to look at in the list of those who actually own this company are Mr Copeman and that particularly notorious company called Peko-Wallsend. I am quite certain that honourable members are aware that Peko-Wallsend was the company which owned Besco Batteries and which sacked over 300 people, giving them only 30 minutes notice.

This is the sort of company that owns the Ranger uranium mine. It is a very aggressive company. It was also involved in the Robe River dispute where people were just dismissed and locked out, and it has taken a very high profile in the New Right in Australia. Mr Copeman has been very active in making certain that this company's views are well known. When we arrived at Ranger one of the first things I noticed as we went through the gate was a huge board listing all the injuries and accidents that had happened over the past month or so, and there was one for every day. I have worked in heavy industry and I know what it is like. A lot of accidents happen, but never before had I seen a safety record as bad as the record of that company.

When we went to have a look around-it was not as if we went there as a surprise team or anything like that-I thought the company could have taken a little time to clean up the place and make it look as though it was a reasonably run sort of organisation. However, as the Chairman of the Committee has mentioned, a huge pile of sulphur was just spread all over the ground and the tractors had gone into it. Sulphur, which is used in the processing of uranium, was just spread everywhere. Other bags containing chemicals were just out in the open. The paper had worn off and these chemicals had run all over the ground. There were forty-four gallon drums which were all rusty and leaking, and plastic containers of ferric chloride were also just out in the open. Ferric chloride is a very highly corrosive acid. I used to make printed circuit boards and I used to use ferric chloride actually to remove the copper plating on the backs of these boards. It is very corrosive, but it was just lying around there. As has been mentioned, there had also been reports about pipeline breakages and spillages. Even though this particular company makes a profit of only $1m a week it had actually cut out a section where the pipe had broken and put back in the old, worn pipe. These sorts of practices are unbelievable. These sorts of things do not go on in heavy industry. But this company, in its quest for more money, more wealth-more greed-just wanted to use as little as possible in the way of supplies and material to ensure that it would make a profit for itself and its shareholders.

Peko-Wallsend has a unique position in Australia. Ranger is the only large uranium mine which is allowed to exist in the tropics and that company should look after it. It is not looking after the land on which it has its lease. This is wrong. I have pointed out in a speech on the adjournment debate the various problems that I noticed in the short time that I was there. I do not know whether the company has taken any steps to counteract or repair these problems but I doubt that very much. I think all it is interested in is causing disruption within the Australian system and the Parliament by its recent aggressive actions. Honourable members would all be aware that Peko-Wallsend went into the Kakadu National Park and defied the Federal Government and the national park concept by exploring and bringing to a climax its right wing profit-motivated views to try to get more money and to try to open up this beautiful area of Australia so that it could get in there and ruin it.

I am not completely against mining. I believe that mining has a very important place in Australia. But a lot of these assets in Kakadu do not have to be mined now. No doubt they will be mined in the future by some sort of machinery-let us say robots-which will dig underneath the ground and will not destroy the national park. I can see this happening, but now is not the time to do it. We should leave these minerals in the ground. They are an asset and they will not go away. People are so concerned about the mining of uranium and gold, et cetera. I have never known minerals such as gold really to come down in price. I think gold will always be expensive as it is getting rarer and rarer. We have a great asset there. It is money in the bank and, with inflation, it will go up all the time. People should look at these sorts of things and stop being so greedy. They should stop thinking of just today and think of the future, especially the future of our children who want to go and have a look at this beautiful area. I have been there several times. I am very fortunate as I have seen it, but I want my kids and their kids to see it in its pristine state, or as near to that state as possible.

I would like to finish, as I do quite a bit, with a nice little poem from a book entitled `Kakadu Man' written by Bill Neidjie. I think he was recently in Canberra promoting this book. The poem which I have chosen is short and I think it explains the true feeling and empathy that Aboriginals have for the land. I only wish that white people had this same feeling and love for our country. The poem is entitled simply `Land'. It reads:

We want goose, we want fish.

Other men want money.

Him can make million dollars,

but only last one year.

Next year him want another million.

Forever and ever him make million dollars . . .

him die.

Million no good for us.

We need this earth to live because . . .

we'll be dead,

we'll become earth.

This ground and this earth . . .

like brother and mother.

Trees and eagle . . .

you know eagle?

He can listen.

Eagle our brother,

like dingo our brother.

We like this earth to stay,

because he was staying for ever and ever.

We don't want to lose him.

We say `Sacred, leave him.'

Debate (on motion by Mr Cunningham) adjourned.