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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1729


Mr BLANCHARD(9.16) —I rise to support the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2), the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Amendment Bill, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) and the Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill which are the subject of a cognate debate. These Bills are interrelated and interdependent and thus need to be addressed together. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) has tried to draw out some specious arguments about locking up the land. I will address that specific point later in my speech to the House. The honourable member also made play of the fact that it is proposed that the management of the Kakadu National Park will be a single land use approach rather than a multi-purpose land use approach. It is important to realise that it is often easier to establish a single use management process in an area of land rather than a multi-purpose land use approach because in that case one interest competes against another interest.

I will concentrate my remarks on two of the Bills in particular, the first being the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987. This is just one of a number of Bills required to give effect to the Government's decision to extend the present Kakadu National Park to include the pastoral leases of Gimbat and Goodparla. The Bill, in part, allows a conservation zone to be declared over part of Gimbat and Goodparla and permits Aboriginal land claims over the areas declared as part or conservation zones and permits the declaration of park and conservation zones over areas subject to a land claim.

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 1987 provides for an Aboriginal land claim to proceed over all land within the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases which is declared part of the Kakadu National Park or as a conservation zone under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. It also provides for an arrangement whereby the relevant Aboriginal land trust is to lease back any successfully claimed land required by the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service for the purpose of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. The Bill also provides for arrangements in relation to the operation of exploration and mining rights granted over Aboriginal lands under the Land Acquisition Act 1955 in the conservation zone.

I remind the House that the national park movement, as was pointed out by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) in his second reading speech in November last year, was born more than 100 years ago in Yellowstone in the United States of America. The Yellowstone National Park was dedicated in 1872 and was set aside for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States of America. At the same time, regulations were invoked for the preservation from injury or spoilation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities and wonders which were to be retained in their natural condition for the benefit of posterity. Australia was the second cab off the rank when seven years later the then New South Wales Government proclaimed the world's second national park, the Royal National Park. This country, therefore, has a long association with the ideals and philosophies of the national park movement. In a very dry continent it is very important that that has occurred.

One hundred years after the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park the second world congress on national parks affirmed that national parks must be strictly protected against efforts to exploit their natural resources for such purposes as commercial timber cutting, mining, hydro-electric works and other dams, public works, commercial fishing, sport and commercial hunting, and farming and grazing of domestic animals. That is a long list, it is true, but in my opinion it is an essential list if we wish to retain part of our natural heritage. Fortunately, this Government recognises that national parks deserve the best protection, conservation and management it can give.

Kakadu National Park stage 1 was proclaimed in April 1979 by the Fraser Government. This followed the 1977 Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry which had recommended that a major national park be established in the Alligator Rivers region. Stage 2 of the park was proclaimed by the present Government in February 1984. In December 1985 both areas were proclaimed as a single park. Credit must be given to the Fraser Government for acting on the recommendations of the Ranger inquiry. It is a great pity that the present Opposition is being negative in its opposition to the present Bills. I am sure that some of my colleagues on this side of the House will wax eloquently on the spectacular and varied scenery of the Kakadu National Park. What is important to me is that the area, as the honourable member for Bradfield said in his speech, has a wealth of ancient and recent Aboriginal art-one of the priceless heritages of this continent. This heritage cannot be lost; it must be preserved for future generations.

The management of the Kakadu National Park is to be carried out in consultation with the Aboriginal traditional owners. The cultural and other traditional values which are of so much importance to Aborigines in these parks will receive maximum consideration in the management process. This is in marked contrast to what is happening in the Northern Territory. Despite the comments of the honourable member for Bradfield, the situation there is not as he painted it. The local management committee at Watarki (King's Canyon) Park will become a mere advisory body. It possesses no veto of exploratory mining; it has only restricted powers to protect sacred sites; it has no veto on the establishment or location of capital works; it has no absolute say, as originally promised by the Northern Territory Government, in decisions about concessions in the park; and it has only consultative rights on educational and interpretive programs. There are a number of other areas in which it has only limited rights.

While the Northern Territory Government has been regressive in moving to emasculate the powers provided to local management committees and to reduce them to mere ciphers, this Government and the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service are proceeding to substantially improve the rights of Aboriginal owners in national parks and to embody these changes in legislation. It is no wonder that many traditional owners consistently express a preference for Federal management and involvement. Certainly in my perambulations in the Northern Territory, in speaking to large numbers of Aboriginal groups in the past two years, I have found this expression of interest to be quite strong. They know that they will get a fair go, which they are not getting at present from the Northern Territory Government. Unless the Northern Territory Government changes its stance, they are unlikely to get it in the future. We could all learn a lot from the Aborigines. Their culture was based upon co-operation and conservation, rather than competition and exploitation. They kept in balance the natural food supply of the continent; they were true conservationists.

Digressing for a moment, Alvin Toffler wrote a few years ago that modern man suffers shattering stress and disorientation because he is subjected to too much change in too short a time. The result is what he called `adoptional breakdown'. We must remember that the shock suffered by modern man is minor compared with the shock to Aboriginal people of the white colonisation of Australia. The entire structure of their culture, built up over thousands of years, collapsed within a short time. I mention that because we must learn from our past mistakes. If we do not, we are on a sorry path indeed. We must also understand and recognise that the Aboriginal people have a special spiritual relationship to the land.

These Bills will allow Aboriginal land claims to proceed over all land within the Gimbat-Goodparla pastoral leases, which are declared part of the Kakadu National Park. If, as I anticipate, the land claim is granted, we can be assured that the traditional owners will be worthy custodians of the land granted on behalf of all Australians, black and white.

The argument has been raised in this debate by the honourable member for Bradfield that these Bills are against the interests of the mining lobby and thus are against the national interest. That is a nonsense. The argument that land rights in some way inhibit mining exploration and development is a furphy. The miners seem to think that what is good for the miners is good for Australia. Bob Challen of the Northern Territory Chamber of Mines recently stated that the actions of conservationists and land rights protagonists have been to prevent mining. This is just not true. The downturn in mining activity over the past decade has been due more to declining commodity prices than to any impact of land rights legislation.

Unfortunately, on the economic front, market analysts in Australia and overseas do not foresee much improvement before the end of the century. The mining interests want to lock up the land to prevent its use by other miners and other land users, including Aborigines. For example, Mount Isa Mines Ltd has mothballed a minimum work program at the giant lead zinc deposit at McArthur River at Borroloola which it has carried out for over a decade and is highly unlikely to commence production this century. The mineralisation in question is difficult to work with and not economic, given current technology or prices. Leaving aside MIM's commitment to mine its Mount Isa deposits, its strategy of sitting tight on this deposit has effectively frozen out other companies seriously competing for the base metal prospects reputedly available over much of southern and central Arnhem Land. Furthermore, MIM's original interests were powerful enough to cause serious disadvantage to Aboriginal claimants over Borroloola Common and the Sir Edward Pellew island group. Since that time, MIM's pastoral lease holdings in the mine area have effectively locked out the aspirations of the Gurdanji and the Binbinga people for living areas in the region. The latter people have missed out completely on benefits others have received through the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

This Bill will allow traditional owners to pro- cess their claims over all land within the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral lease areas which is declared part of the Kakadu National Park or a conservation zone under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. I agree that it is a Bill worthy of support in this House and I therefore support it.