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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1781


Mr HOLLIS(4.28) —I am pleased to speak in this cognate debate. At the outset I commend the honourable member for Groom (Mr McVeigh) for the fine contribution that he made to the debate in the House last evening. Whenever there is discussion of Kakadu National Park the debate inevitably centres upon whether or not it should be mined, in the national interest, of course. Should the Opposition-if that is what it can be called-ever get its way, its planned spending cuts would almost inevitably mean that this would happen for it proposes that the section of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service presently operating in Kakadu National Park be handed over to the Northern Territory Government.

It is one of the great absurdities and illogicalities of the whole debate of the future of Kakadu National Park that so many people use the term `the national interest' as if our national interests can be measured only in terms of the revenue raised through mining activities. There are those who equate our national interest with the jingle of money and the exploitation of all our material resources. These people are the living dead. They are the people in whom the spark of human spirit has been extinguished. They have allowed themselves to become so obsessed with material gain that they can see the world only in terms of what can be cut down, bulldozed or dug up-all for the sake of making another few dollars. Such people are to be pitied for they walk through life and trample over life completely oblivious to the beauty and majesty of the natural environment and all the wonders that it contains. Being blind to the glory of the natural environment and because the spark of human spirit seems to have been extinguished within them, they do not realise how important it is that people, simply because they are people and not machines, have places to where they can go to enjoy the natural beauty of the environment and so restore and further develop within themselves this spark of human spirit.

There are a number of places within Australia to which people can go to experience the wonder and the beauty of the natural environment. Of these, the most important are our wilderness areas, areas largely untouched by the harsh contact of our mechanised society and very often areas which for countless centuries have felt the gentle touch of the first Australians, the Aborigines. Of all such places, beyond all shadow of a doubt, Kakadu National Park is one of the most important-not only for Australians but for people throughout the world. It is essential to our own national interests and to international interests that this area be preserved and protected as it is. That is what this legislation aims to do.

In recent centuries with the spread of European industrialisation, the world has witnessed the destruction of one wilderness area after another until very few remain. It has become increasingly important that Australians, in union with other concerned peoples, play their part before it is too late to preserve what little is left. There is no better place to start than Kakadu National Park.

The concept of the national park was born over 100 years ago with the dedication of the Yellowstone National Park in the United States in 1872. At that time it was described as an adventure in the humanities based upon reverence for primitive landscape, beauty and all organic life. The words of Senator George Vest of Missouri, who did so much hard pioneering work to establish Yellowstone, are as true today as they were a century ago. He said:

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

These words, I suggest, serve as a timely reminder to Australians, including perhaps many sitting on the Opposition benches, who are quite happy to see their friend-if that is what he is-the Premier of Queensland quite happily selling off priceless parts of our national heritage to the white shoe brigade. No doubt it is part of the bargain which he hopes to catapult him to power so that he can sell off the rest of Australia.

Lest I be accused of adopting an anti-mining stance, let me point out-the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) who is at the table will recognise this-that there are within my electorate of Throsby several coal mines, the presence of which I value. I also represent the interests of many coal miners who are my constituents and I do so gladly. The Minister also represents many constituents who are coal miners. It cannot be said that the Hawke Government is anti-mining. The proof of that lies in this package of legislation now under consideration. This legislation represents an attempt-a successful attempt at that-to accommodate the best interests of several very diverse groups of people. These are the Aboriginal owners and residents of Kakadu, the uranium miners and other mining interests, and the many Australians and overseas visitors who wish to enjoy the environmental charm of Kakadu.

There are those who argue that the entire Kakadu area should be open to mineral exploration and mining. They tell us that by closing the area to all mining activity we are denying the Australian people valuable income and export dollars. In reply to this argument, it should be said that, first of all, it is the mining companies rather than the Australian people who stand to lose much of this potential mining revenue. This Labor Government has been elected to serve the best interests of the Australian public, not simply those of the mining industry. It is the responsibility of this Government, and indeed of every Australian Government, to look after the best interests of the mining industry only insofar as that industry is working in the best interests of the Australian public.

I put it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, purely in economic terms, it is in the best interests of the Australian public that Kakadu be used for long term revenue raising through the tourist industry rather than short term revenue raising through the mining industry. The figures speak for themselves. Tourist use of Kakadu National Park has been developing at a remarkable rate. In 1982, 46,000 people visited the Park. By comparison, the Park in 1986-when I visited it-was visited by 131,000 people; almost three times as many as in 1982. This year, it is estimated the Park will receive 177,000 visitors which represents a 35 per cent increase on last year's figures.

Just as remarkable is the increase in the number of overseas visitors to Kakadu National Park. The figures here show a comparable increase. In 1982, the Park was visited by 5,200 overseas tourists; last year, by 14,000; and this year it is estimated that there will be 20,000 overseas visitors. This represents a 33 per cent increase on last year's figures. Kakadu National Park is most definitely on the list of places to be visited by international tourists, and we can expect the numbers to increase at the present rate for some time.

As I have already said, Kakadu National Park is of the utmost importance to all Australians and to the international community by virtue of its unique environmental beauty and interest. It is a most important part of our national heritage and should be respected as such. It is of great importance to all Australians also because of its wealth of Aboriginal art sites and other sites of great significance to the Aboriginal people of the area.

It was the Australian Heritage Commission, in its annual report of 1975, which suggested that, in the long term view, the Aboriginal heritage of our nation will prove to be of even greater significance and importance to all Australians than our European-style heritage, an opinion which I personally endorse. I would suggest that the people of this nation can only properly call themselves Australian, and rejoice in a uniquely Australian culture, when they come to fully appreciate the central significance of this nation's Aboriginal heritage and learn, insofar as it is possible, to view this ancient land and landscape through Aboriginal eyes.

Perhaps more than any other part of Australia-other than Uluru, which I would put on a par with Kakadu-Kakadu National Park, precisely because it is so rich in Aboriginal sites and lore, offers us the chance to do just this and should be treasured as such. This can, of course, only happen to the extent to which the Aboriginal people of Kakadu are willing to share with us the riches of their culture and heritage. I am fully aware that there are limits beyond which they cannot go.

I am delighted to say that the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and, since it came to office, the Hawke Labor Government has at all times sought to work in full consultation and close co-operation with the Aboriginal people of the area, through the local Gagudju Association and the Northern Land Council. The Gagudju Association was originally formed as a means of receiving and disbursing royalty payments from the Ranger uranium mine, but since it is made up of traditional owners of the area it has proved to be a most suitable means of liaison between the Federal Government, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Aboriginal people of Kakadu.

At present, three senior traditional owners are permanently employed at Kakadu by the Wildlife Service as consultants and guides. The Service also employs a number of Aboriginal rangers and senior rangers who have been trained locally under the Aboriginal ranger training program. Decisions involving capital works and all significant managerial decisions are made in consultation with the Gagudju Association, and in some cases with the Northern Land Council as well. Examples of such consultation are the siting of access roads and walking tracks, which must be located in such a way that they do not transgress areas of special significance to local Aborigines. Likewise, the opening up to visitors of the art sites at Obiri Rock and Nourlangie Rock has been done only after careful consultation with the Aboriginal owners.

For some time now, considerable public attention has been focused on the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases which Judge Woodward recommended should become stage 3 of Kakadu National Park. Much of this attention has centred on the Coronation Hill area and the possible threat to Aboriginal sites from mineral exploration and mining.

Under the legislation currently before the House, provision is made for part of the Gimbat and Goodparla leases to be included in Kakadu National Park, while the remaining area will be declared a conservation zone. Mineral exploration and mining will, under certain circumstances and conditions, be allowed to continue in the conservation zone only. These provisions are put forward in recognition of the legal rights of existing lease holders. The Government places special importance on the fact that Coronation Hill in particular is rich not only in gold but also in strategically important platinum group metals. Let me emphasise that any mining at Coronation Hill, or elsewhere in the conservation zone, will proceed only under strict arrangements for the protection of environmental and Aboriginal heritage values.

The traditional owners of the Coronation Hill area are the Jawoyn people who have chosen to conduct their negotiations in large part through the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Protection Authority. I understand that every effort is being made to work in consultation with the Jawoyn people to ensure that no significant sites are damaged or destroyed. The Jawoyn people and other traditional owners of the Gimbat and Goodparla lease areas have the right under the legislation presently before the House of making claim to lands in these areas and no doubt will do so. It is expected that, in the course of land claim hearings, the location and significance of a number of sites will be dealt with, thus preparing the way for further discussions on how best to preserve and protect them. I will personally follow these developments with the greatest interest and concern. I commend this legislation to the House.