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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1135


Mr HUNT (Flinders) (10:34): On a day on which this House historically has unanimously passed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012, it is a great honour and appropriate for this House to address the Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013. Let me begin by noting that it is my sincere hope and belief that the process started today on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012 will see that bill pass through the Senate and in turn lead to a question for constitutional recognition to be put to the Australian people through a referendum. It is my hope and belief that will ultimately be passed if good faith can be shown by all sides, which I believe will be the case. It is a very momentous occasion today and I am delighted that this House has played its part.

This particular bill addresses broader questions about engagement with Indigenous Australia, the preservation of our environment and the maintenance of our resources. The history of this bill is that in previous decades, prior to the creation of Kakadu National Park, there were at least three areas within what is now the Kakadu region that were considered for mining and exploration, primarily for uranium. These were the Coronation Hill area, the Ranger uranium mine and the Koongarra area.

At a personal level, having had responsibility for Kakadu National Park for two years as parliamentary secretary and having spent considerable time there under the guidance of traditional owners and the still Director of National Parks, the very professional Peter Cochrane, I can say that when people talk about the majesty of Kakadu they are also and in particular referring to the majesty of the Koongarra region. This really is what people refer to as 'Kakadu': Jim Jim, Twin Falls, Ubirr Rock, Koongarra and Yellow Water. Those places are some of the most majestic Indigenous land and natural features in all of Australia.

Against that background, our policy position—at least since I became involved, which was in 2005, with particular thanks to the work of Senator Nigel Scullion and the member for Solomon, Natasha Griggs—has been that we will be guided by the views of the traditional owners.

The traditional owners have made it absolutely clear not only that do they not envisage Koongarra ever being mined but that they now seek for it to be returned from its status as an island for potential development excluded from the rest of the national park and for it now to be reincorporated into the national park. We respect that decision, and, in fact, we welcome that decision.

I also note that this bill is symbolically important, but its basic aims, I am advised by the Northern Territory government, have in fact been achieved by the domestic legislation within the Northern Territory. To a certain extent I want to represent the views of the territory government that they feel as if it has been presented in a way which undermined their laws. Having worked with the Chief Minister's office and the mining minister's office, I appreciate enormously their contribution, but I do want to speak up for and represent their views that the Northern Territory law, in their judgement, was already adequate to protect Koongarra. Having said that, they have been very cooperative. The Minerals Council has supported this decision. Natasha Griggs and Senator Scullion have also shown great respect for the traditional owners, and that has been the coalition's position since at least 2005. It is one which I reaffirm on behalf of the coalition today.

In short, what occurred was that the Koongarra Project Area Act 1981 carved out the Koongarra project area and allowed for possible development. Over the years, there have been attempts to have this area given consent; none has been given. I believe that none will ever in the future be likely to be given, and nor would I like to see this area mined because of its majestic status, its environmental status, its iconic status and, above all else, because of its absolute centrality to the heart of Indigenous identity within the Kakadu and Arnhem regions. As part of this process I note that in 2006 I had the great privilege of signing off on the reincorporation of 29 other mining leases which were within the Coronation Hill area back into the Kakadu National Park. That was the completion of a long and, shall we say, challenging process which dated back to some very significant times. But our history and our heritage has been to recognise that the traditional owners should have the ultimate say.

Against that background, I am delighted to offer the coalition's support. I recognise that the territory has legitimate concerns about it being presented that there is inadequate protection when my belief and their belief is that it was already the case, but this bill ultimately gives voice to the concerns of Indigenous people and to the will of Indigenous people, and for that reason the coalition fully supports the Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013. I note in offering that support that this should not be taken as a licence on other areas and other issues. Each will be considered on its merits, but we have considered the merits, we have considered the will of the Indigenous people and we are delighted to add support to that as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012.