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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1737

Mr McVEIGH(10.05) —My purpose in joining in this debate on the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill and cognate Bills is a fairly simple one. I would like to bring a sense of bipartisan balance to a highly emotional subject and, irrespective of what my colleagues, in or out of coalition, from this side of the Parliament may have said in the debate, I want merely to say at the outset that I support the general thrust of the legislation. I have one or two comments to make which I trust the Minister for Arts, Heritage and En- vironment (Mr Cohen) will accept in a spirit of honest endeavour to establish certain principles. Surely the preservation of the environment is a matter on which we can reach general agreement. I endorse the Minister's final comments in his second reading speech when he basically said that the idea of the legislation is to preserve some parts of Australia not only for the enjoyment of the present generation but also for the future use of people. Many sections of the Australian community can plead guilty to adopting a highly emotional, unfair approach to the environment. Typical of this is an article by Mike Taylor in the Australian of 17 December. It states:

No one was pleased with the Cabinet decision-not the conservationists, not the miners and certainly not the Northern Territory Government, spokesman for which said High Court action would be taken to stymie the Commonwealth.

At the other end of the spectrum, conservationists made it clear that any political points the Government had scored on Tasmanian logging had been eroded by the decision.

It is about time that journalists forgot about writing that type of destructive comment. It ill becomes them to try to make political capital out of every situation. It appears to me that we have nowhere near enough land set aside in Australia for national parks. It is rather depressing to note that only 5 per cent of our total land mass is set aside for all national parks. There have been critics of what has been done in the Northern Territory, and only 2 per cent of Territory land has been set aside for national parks. I think all of us can associate with the words of the quiet stockman of We of the Never Never fame. He did not say very much; he was like members of the National Party-what he did say was always quality. He said, in a moment of unguarded speech, that unless something was done there would not be enough bush left to bury him. I want to be gracious enough to compliment the Federal Government for what it has done, but unless more is done we will not have enough land in which to enjoy our leisure.

It is very good that we do have governments, both State and Federal, that are prepared to take the tough decisions and ensure that parts of Australia that have not been destroyed will be available for those who follow to enjoy. I say that as someone who comes from some of the oldest farming lands in Australia. It distresses and displeases me to note what man has done to the environment. For example, I refer to vein-like scars all down the mountains and the hillsides, where land is no longer able to be ploughed. We are not 200 years old yet we have destroyed such land.

Let us also remove from our minds some of the myths that exist. I happen to be a conservationist on my own farm and I am proud of it. I will not accept that white men are the people to blame all the time. I am not seeking to criticise the Aborigines, but they were very fond of using the firestick so they also have to plead guilty in many instances to not being great environmentalists. I just say that to put the record straight because many people are only too quick to criticise the white man without also criticising the original settlers of Australia. I want to make it quite clear that any activity which jeopardises the natural integrity of the land needs to be carefully examined. That is where I support the general principle of the Minister's legislation. That is fundamental to environmental legislation in Australia. One must be careful and one must move slowly. One must not destroy overnight what has taken nature many millions of years to build up.

People will criticise the legislation, but let them be fair when they do so. People have visited the two pastoral leases-Gimbat and Goodparla. I have had the opportunity of flying over those areas in years gone by and I have had personal inspections. Over two decades there have been very poor returns from that land. It has been overgrazed, causing soil erosion within the South Alligator River catchment area. The current debate touches on issues of mineral development, pastoral activities, residential development, expansion of the tourist industry, commercial and recreational fishing, Aboriginal land rights, protection of sites, and Commonwealth and State rights.

Again, I want to inject a sense of balance into this matter. I have tried to convey my interest in and concern for the environment. I am not that much of an environmentalist that I do not believe in chopping down trees. How else are we to build buildings? However, if I chop down one tree, I plant 10. That is important. But I am opposed to those pseudo-environmentalists, as I see it, who object to the establishment of a town like Jabiru in the area. I had the privilege-one did not have to have a union ticket in those days-of driving the grader when it made its first move to develop the road system of Jabiru. We cannot have people if we do not have buildings. So let us bring a sense of balance into the debate. It is nonsense to say that only people are important. In building town sites and tourist areas, it is necessary to impose conditions that ensure that the environment will not be destroyed.

I can understand why the Minister seeks to widen the scope of the Office of the Supervising Scientist. Commonwealth funds are to be spent. I do not know whether those funds will come from the increased tariff on uranium exports. When I was responsible for the area I was very keen to move the operations of the Supervising Scientist from Sydney to the Northern Territory. I leave the issue for the Minister's consideration. I know that personalities are involved. With the additional responsibilities outside the Alligator Rivers area regarding uranium mining-that was touched on by the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth)-there may be a possibility of transferring the whole operations to the Northern Territory. I am concerned that there is to be no compensation for mining rights. I ask the Minister to have a further look at that. We are not talking about clapped out buffalo country. Previous speakers have indicated the wealth of historical significance in the area.

I conclude on a personal note. Too often a great Australian, Professor Derrick Ovington, is criticised unfairly and unjustly. I am proud to number him among my friends. I will not stand idly by and have people from my side of the Parliament criticise him outside. This man is a world authority. He is highly acclaimed and well recognised. It is about time that Australians approached the history and achievements of a man based on a sense of his achievements and fair play. Derrick Ovington is a tough advocate for something in which he believes very strongly-something that is a personal outpouring. I have absolutely no fear for the development of national parks in the Northern Territory, irrespective of a personal desire to see greater involvement by the Northern Territory, when the person in control of that is Professor Derrick Ovington. I salute the man. I acknowledge his worldwide status. I want everyone to know that I have the utmost trust in him. I will not stand idly by and see a great Australian, a great world authority, criticised unfairly by people who neither know nor understand environmental issues. The main reason I wanted to become involved in the debate was to let all people know my personal views of Professor Ovington.

Debate interrupted.