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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 2970

Mr DOWNER —Madam Speaker--

Government members-Oh!

Mr DOWNER —Is something the matter with them today, Madam Speaker? I refer the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment to Senator Evans's admission yesterday that the Federal Government has repeated its folly of four years ago and conducted spy flights last weekend over the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests area of Tasmania. How many planes and/or helicopters were chartered for the purpose of spying on Australian territory? What was the cost of chartering the spy aircraft? Will the Minister give an explicit assurance that no defence aircraft were used for this outrageous exercise in domestic espionage?

Mr COHEN —The Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Act 1987 was proclaimed and came into operation on 8 May and three commissioners were appointed that day. Prior to the commencement of the Act, the Prime Minister wrote to the Tasmanian Premier informing him of the commencement date and seeking the Tasmanian Government's co-operation. The Prime Minister advised the Premier that it might be necessary to ensure compliance with the Act for Commonwealth officers to visit the protected areas and that such visits could involve aerial or surface transport activities. The response of the Tasmanian Government has been that it would not co-operate in any way. Not only that, but the Premier has threatened to arrest Commonwealth officers.

It ill becomes the honourable member for Mayo to talk about law and order after the behaviour of the Tasmanian Government. The Commonwealth has a clear commitment to protect these sensitive environmental areas in Tasmania. However, in taking any action the Commonwealth will abide by the law. As Tasmanian law prohibits persons entering the areas under review without a permit, the only option which the Commonwealth has is aerial surveillance. There is no question of so-called spy flights.

Opposition members-Ha, ha, ha!

Mr COHEN —Contain yourselves. There has been no subterfuge, no clandestine activities, and the Tasmanian Premier was advised in writing of the Commonwealth's intention. No Royal Australian Air Force planes have been involved. A properly equipped civilian aircraft was chartered from Melbourne last weekend to take photographs of the area in question. I will be happy to give the precise figures to the honourable member later. There is no secret about them, but I do not have them with me at the moment. This followed general familiarisation operations by helicopter late last week. Further flights will be taking place over the next week or two to monitor developments in the forest.

I want to stress that this action by the Commonwealth is forced upon us by the total non-co-operation of the Tasmanian Government. The Government is seeking to stop illegal actions which may be irreparably harming areas of world heritage value. Aerial surveillance is the only course open to enable Australia to give effect to its international obligations.