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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1822


Mr CONNOLLY(10.02) —The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Environment (Mr Cohen) has moved amendments to the legislation, which the Opposition supports because it is simple common sense that there should be no provision in the Act which in any way inhibits miners from carrying out their normal bona fide activities in the context of mines contained in areas which have previously been excised from Kakadu National Park. The point needs to be made that the very fact that the Minister has had to move the amendments, which, among other things, permit the transportation of anything in the Kakadu National Park along routes, including air routes and roads, which may be prescribed for the purpose of the Act-namely, for mining-and also the construction and use of pipelines and power lines in Kakadu National Park, also along routes prescribed for the purposes of the paragraph, makes a nonsense of his suggestion at the end of the second reading stage that he believed there was a case for single-use plans of management.

The point that the Opposition has tried to make in this debate is that the original plan of management for Kakadu stage 1, which was introduced during the period of the Fraser Government, specified that we were looking at a multiple-use plan; in other words, we were trying to achieve the best of both worlds-firstly, the protection of those areas of the National Estate contained in Kakadu which are now part of the World Heritage, which obviously deserve to be protected, and, secondly, at the same time, enabling the resources of the region to be developed under conditions which also protected the fundamental importance of the environmental factors of the region.


Mr Nehl —Can't hear, Mr Chairman.


The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member for Cowper will cease interjecting.


Mr Nehl —On a point of order, Mr Chairman: I sincerely hope that it is not a frivolous one. I was merely attempting to draw your attention to the very high level of noise in the chamber. I could not hear the speaker. I was endeavouring to be of assistance to you, Mr Chairman.


The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member for Cowper is of assistance to nobody if he makes unseemly noise such as that. The honourable member knows the way to draw the attention of the Chair to a matter and he does not help by doing it in the way he did.


Mr CONNOLLY —The Minister is well aware of the fact that all around the world, particularly in the United States of America and in some of the great national parks of that region, multiple land use policies have been effectively introduced. He should be well aware of the fact that in parts of the United States, for example, oil extraction, mining and a whole range of activities are allowed to be conducted provided that they do not militate against the primary environmental protection. For example, in the non-breeding periods of bird life and so forth mining, oil extraction and other forms of economic development are allowed to be carried out. Those things have been done overseas and they can be achieved in a sensible and straightforward manner.

The Minister also drew attention to the fact that we have been drawing some extraordinary statistics in relation to allegations as to what the mineralised wealth of the Kakadu region may well be. As I pointed out in my speech in the second reading debate, on 10 October 1986 I asked a question of the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones). His response on that occasion was quite straightforward. He said:

`My Department is aware of about 150 mineral occurrences, prospects and deposits in the Kakadu region . . .

He made it abundantly clear, as the industry has made it clear on so many occasions-this Government and the Minister in particular prefer to totally ignore this-that the mineralisation of this region, although such a limited degree of exploration has been carried out, is extremely high, irrespective of whether it is viewed by Australian standards or by world standards. The Minister went on to say, in his answer to my question, that the figure of $32 billion was an estimate-that was all-of what the values of the region may be. As I also said in my speech at the second reading stage, some estimates have gone as high as $400 billion. Whatever the figure may be, the fact of the matter is that we will never know it. This Minister has permitted the introduction of an arrangement, which he has put before the Committee in legislative form, which, for all time, will ensure that no-one will ever know what the real values of the region are. It will be very difficult in future to defend purely ecological values side by side with the fact that the Australian people must be supported in their ability to trade with the outside world in commodities which are obviously necessary.

I now refer to the specifics of the geological environments in this region. On the basis of the little intelligence that we have, we know that there are similarities here with Saskatchewan, Canada, which has uranium types; Zambian copper; Kalgoorlie gold, and, of course, Mount Isa Hilton lead zinc. The occurrence of platinum and palladium associated with gold and uranium at Coronation Hill may well prove to be an environmental circumstance not previously recognised elsewhere. The realities, therefore, are that the whole basis of the Kakadu region is, as I said previously, without doubt the richest environment for mineralisation known on the Australian continent. Despite that fact, we have seen in this legislation tonight, as we saw in October last year, a total inability and unwillingness on the part of this Government to live up to the fact that, although it has a responsibility to protect the environment, it does not have a responsibility to protect the environment in a manner which totally militates against any other multiple land use policy whatsoever.

In this region we have a mineral exploration in its infancy. As my colleagues and I have repeated, we do not know what is in the region because of the short period during which exploration has been carried through. Nevertheless, in that limited period which was available for systematic follow-up testing of favourable beds, the results have been extremely encouraging. For example, the Ranger 34 copper prospect has revealed a new mineral environment similar to the Zambian copper belt. The Coronation Hill polymetallic deposit of gold, platinum, palladium and uranium may also prove to be a new environmental development. The success rate of mineral discoveries in the short exploration period that was available was extremely high. Surely three in the three years makes that point more than clearcut. The discoveries were a major breakthrough in the understanding of the formation of a new type of uranium deposit-the unconformity type, similar to the prolific Canadian deposits known in Saskatchewan.

The geological environment of the initial discoveries of uranium in the Alligator Rivers and the South Alligator River mineral provinces has also shown to be favourable for the formation of gold, PGE and copper, but little exploration has been devoted to testing for those minerals. New technology is now available to systematically explore the soil and the sandstone covered areas that occupy the majority of the park, away from the near surface or exposed initial mineral discoveries.

The most important point is this: The old days when one had to do shot lines across the country and despoil everything in one's path as a means of determining what was below the surface are gone. We now have the capacity, through science and physical development, to be able to carry out research into potential mineral discoveries which cause no effective change at all on the surface and which certainly will not in any way influence the so-called values which the Minister apparently claims are to be found in the entire region of the Alligator River catchment area. He knows, as I know, that an area as vast as that, which is larger than many of the nations of Western Europe, cannot possibly be seen as being uniform in terms of its environmental and ecological significance.

As I have said before, it is certainly the view of the Opposition parties that we must do all that is practicable and all that is necessary to ensure that we protect those pristine elements of our ecological environment for future generations of Australians. But at the same time we have the responsibility to seek environmental protection which is balanced-balanced between the need for conservation and for protection, on the one hand, and the equal need and responsibility of governments to enable the development of Australian resources in a manner which is not inconsistent with effective management programs, on the other hand.

But what we have seen in the new management policy introduced in October last year is a total refusal by this Government to contemplate on any terms whatsoever the conduct of exploration or the development of resources in any part of Kakadu except that part which the Minister now very kindly gives us at the bottom end of the spectrum, some 34 per cent of stage 3 which he claims to be a conservation zone-a conservation zone which, incidentally, will still not be open to those who may find resources because the conditions which will be set on the development of such resources remain at this stage very much a figment of the Minister's imagination.

Amendments agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments; report-by leave-adopted.