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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 102

(Question No. 4967)

Mr Milton asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, upon notice, on 27 November 1986:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to an article in the National Times on Sunday, dated 31 August 1986, stating that marine researchers believe the development of large mines in Papua New Guinea poses a pollution threat to northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef.

(2) Have discussions between the Australian and Papua New Guinea Governments taken place regarding the pollution threat from mines, including that at Ok Tedi; if so, what was the nature and outcome of these discussions.

(3) Is he concerned about the possible long term effects on the ecosystem of heavy-metal pollution.

(4) What steps will he take to ensures that research is carried out to determine the long term effects of heavy metal pollution on the Great Barrier Reef and commercial fisheries.

Mr Cohen —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) Consultations with Papua New Guinea (PNG) regarding the possible pollution of Australian waters of Torres Strait from Ok Tedi mining operations have taken place at High Commission and Ministerial levels, and between officers. The matter was also discussed at the inaugural meeting of the Torres Strait Joint Advisory Council in July 1986.

The Council, which was established by the Torres Strait Treaty ratified by the Australian and PNG Governments on 15 February 1985, noted that there had been expressions of public concern in both countries but that there was to date no scientific evidence of pollution in the Torres Strait area resulting from the effects of mining operations on the Fly River discharge into the Gulf of Papua. The Council also recommended that close co-operation between the Australian and PNG Governments continue to be pursued actively and that both Governments take all necessary measures to ensure that pollution of the Torres Strait area does not occur.

(3) The Government is working closely with the PNG Government to monitor the situation so that, appropriate action can be taken if necessary.

(4) The Government is taking action that will allow it to determine whether there is any increase in heavy metal concentrations in Australian waters in Torres Strait. $20 000 has been allocated in the 1986-87 budget for a consultancy to design a baseline study to monitor the impact of the Ok Tedi Mine on Australian waters in Torres Strait. It is anticipated that the design consultancy will be completed by early 1987. The baseline study will be considered for funding in 1987-88. Studies undertaken on the PNG side of the border are being monitored.