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Monday, 22 October 1984
Page: 2106


Senator MASON(3.15) —The Australian Democrats bring this matter of public importance before the Senate because, as the Government campaigns for the early election, it will have to face the community with an appalling record on the environment and an unsatisfactory record on its attitude towards the nuclear industry and nuclear war. The first 18 months of this Government have left a bitter taste indeed in the mouths of those hundreds of thousands of Australians who rightly expected the preservation of the environment to be a non-negotiable priority of the Labor Government. The election of the Labor Government saw the successful culmination of the Franklin River campaign which I think was a yardstick in Australian history. After three years of struggle that magnificent wilderness was to be preserved. It was a courageous decision-indeed, I repeat, an historic decision-that saw the need to preserve the environment triumph over party political considerations, and it without doubt had the majority of support of the Australian community, probably the first cause of its kind that ever had, for which reason it was also historic .

Such courage held great promise. With a successful government and the nation's most popular Prime Minister there was a window of opportunity for the Labor Government to make environmental preservation part of its much vaunted national consensus and indeed to be a model for the world in a basic and desperately urgent area of need for this planet. That window has now been slammed shut by a return to party politics and to party expediency. In doing so, this Government has made it clear now that its concern for the Franklin River was motivated by electoral considerations rather than being part of an overall commitment to the environment. In other words, it made that commitment prior to the previous election and it could not get out of it, but it is not prepared to continue that commitment logically and reasonably into the future.

The first disappointment has come with the circumstances of the compensation provided in Tasmania. Certainly Tasmania needed and deserved to be compensated. Nobody denies that, and certainly the Australian Democrats do not deny it; but that compensation needed to be for job creating and environmentally compatible projects, many of which were possibilities for Tasmania. Instead, this Government is paying Tasmania to build more dams in the beautiful south-west region. An amount of $200m out of a total of $277m compensation is to subsidise power schemes from the Anthony and King dams and hydro schemes. Both these dams are in areas listed on the register of the National Estate and both will destroy areas officially recognised as valuable regions of Australia's environment. That fact makes those compensation payments illegal. There is a legal obligation on the Government to conduct an inquiry into the environmental impact of its funding for projects in areas listed on the Register of the National Estate. It has not conducted that inquiry. It has indeed flouted the law. We call on the Government now to give a pre-election undertaking, a firm commitment, that it will obey the law. I look forward to the Minister, who will be speaking in this debate, giving that undertaking, which I assure him the Australian people will be waiting for.

The Government's contempt for the environment has been illustrated graphically in recent months by the disgraceful nature of the Daintree decision. The Government has done nothing about the fate of Daintree Rainforest, one of the most beautiful and remarkable parts of Australia's heritage and an area unique in the world, with the most beautiful rain forests coming down over the hill right to the coast. Geographically, visually and aesthetically it is part of the Great Barrier Reef because the Great Barrier Reef and its fringe areas come close into the beaches at that spot. The two systems there, the reef and the forest, depend on each other. The destruction of the forest would in time destroy the reef. This has been proven. Among other things, the run-off into the sea from cleared areas of rain forest land which has become unstable destroys the coral reefs. Already that process has begun in the Daintree areas. We can only hope that the damage will not go further and that it will not prove irreparable.

There has been a lot of talk and many conferences about rain forests over the last 14 months. All sorts of worthy things have been said, but they have not saved one single tree. The Minister for Home Affairs and Environment, Mr Barry Cohen, has strained mightily over this affair with words and memos and things of that sort and has brought forth a mouse. It is observably and plainly evident to the Australian people that that is what he has done. All I can say is that I hope he is proud of it. Perhaps he will reconsider this matter after the next election and understand that, if he does not care for the environment of this country, the people of the country do. We now have a generation, especially a generation of young people, who understand the threat to the planet and who regard it as one of the most important things in their lives, and rightly so. It is not merely a matter of idealism and optimism. It is a matter of deep conviction that it is necessary to preserve this planet, if we can, into the future in no worse a condition at least than we have found it.

The rain forests of north-east Queensland, including Daintree, are recognised as being of outstanding universal significance. The Australian Heritage Commission has recommended that the area be nominated for the World Heritage List. That is no small thing. If these forests were in Japan, where I was not so long ago, the Japanese Government would be spending millions of dollars, if necessary, to preserve them. There would be no question of anybody doing anything that might disturb them. The people of more developed and highly populated countries understand that once we lose these things from our heritage we do not get them back easily.

Not only has the Australian Heritage Commission recommended the area for world heritage listing but also four international experts have agreed unanimously with the assessment that the Daintree rain forests are worthy of being considered part of the heritage of this planet. What was the Government's response to this? It prevaricated, delayed and substantially ignored the devastation created by a 38 kilometre road torn through priceless rain forest. The area has been left in a virtually untrafficable state. The run-off, because it is near the coast, will damage the fringing reefs. Not only that, the Government also ignored the logging of core wilderness areas at Downey Creek in Queensland, and it has ignored the overall issue of our fast disappearing rain forests. That has occurred in spite of the fact that for three years there has been before the Senate a Bill, instigated by the Australian Democrats, concerning rain forests. It has recently been put forward with amendments which would provide a vehicle-it would not infringe on the sovereignty of any of the States-by which the Commonwealth and the States could negotiate to preserve these areas. I repeat that such areas are our national monuments.

I was recently in the Daintree area. There is an enormous pattern of milling which is concentrated basically on the thousand-year-old trees. Any reasonable community would regard them as national monuments. These trees are being torn down, devastating the forest for a hundred yards around. There is no regeneration of the fragile rain forest. Thorny gympie bush grows. Weeds grow where there was beauty. I do not think any single decision of this Government has involved such gross deception of the community as the charade of consultation with the Queensland Government to save the Daintree. This was political chicanery of the worst order. When the Government announced its $1m package to Queensland it knew already that the Queensland Government would not stop destroying the rainforests and that it had no intention of doing so. The Labor Government knew that Queensland Ministers had publicly declared their refusal to nominate the area for the World Heritage List. The Commonwealth Government knew that the proposal it was putting forward to the Queensland Government was cynical and spelt the ultimate and rapid doom for our rain forests.

What has the Government done since then? We know that Queensland refused to co- operate. The Queensland Premier wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) on 25 September this year. What has been the Federal Government's response? We have heard no more. The Government has been silent. I asked Senator Button a question in this place. He said that the Queensland Minister had refused unequivocally to co-operate. Mr Cohen made a later statement and said: 'We still hope that something will happen'. Since then we have heard no more. Nothing has happened. My prediction is that nothing will happen. The Federal Government has a duty and an obligation to nominate the rain forests of north-east Queensland for world heritage listing. It would be unthinkable for the Government to allow the destruction of an area which is recognised as the cradle of the world's flowering plants-it is one of the genetic pools of the world and an area of basic and fundamental beauty-for electoral considerations but, unhappily, that seems to be the case. The Labor Party is worried about the fate of one or two seats in Queensland. The consideration will be: 'Save your seats for the next election. Do not worry about the rain forest, let that be destroyed as so much else of beauty and value in his country has been destroyed'. If that is a reasonable way for any government to portend, especially the Labor Government which made such promises in this area before the election, I think we are living in a complete Alice in Wonderland world of politics.

If that was not bad enough, there was worse to come. The ultimate and totally obscene environmental threat is nuclear war. A nuclear conflict could obliterate every living thing on this planet and render the environment lifeless for thousands of years, perhaps for ever-a thought from which I personally flinch, from which I think every human being flinches. No human being wants to think about it, but unless human beings think about it, it will happen. That is the lesson of history. Trends and cycles of that sort which are ignored go their full cycle and so will this one unless enough human beings have the guts, courage and energy to do something about it.

Yet, just as this Government remains unmoved by the destruction of the Australian environment, the potential for world environmental catastrophe resulting from nuclear war has not encouraged any member of the Government to vote for change or to take any positive step for change. Every member of the Government has voted twice to defeat Australian Democrat Bills in this place to end uranium mining and prohibit the importation of nuclear hardware. It is quite likely that they will vote again in this place to prevent the passing of our Bill which puts the reasonable view that we should supervise whether nuclear powered ships should be in our ports. That means that every member of this Government has supported in the Parliament, by their vote, the continuation of uranium mining and the prospect of Australia one day having its own nuclear industry, including the world's biggest uranium mine at Roxby Downs, not an inconsiderable achievement for a government which has said it is opposed to nuclear war.

In spite of what Senator Grimes might say, the experts everywhere see a very clear link indeed between nuclear power and the proliferation of small, dirty nuclear weapons. Every day that passes makes that link stronger. Why? Because of improvements in nuclear technology, because both centrifuge and other methods, particularly laser methods, of enrichment are now becoming much easier, cheaper and more easily concealed. Instead of being an option open only to the major powers, enrichment of uranium is now rapidly becoming an option which will be open to any country and perhaps, at some stage, even to determined guerilla groups, so that they could get sufficient enriched uranium to make a bomb. I admit that it certainly would not be the most efficient bomb and that a plutonium bomb would be better, but we all know that an enriched uranium bomb works because it killed 140,000 people at Hiroshima 40 years ago. In the unfortunate-I say it is unfortunate-ironic, tragic Jekyll and Hyde nature of the nuclear power industry, we are creating a situation where that will occur again. The sands of time are running out very fast for us. Every new piece of technology, every step in the research on laser enrichment, which is going on in several countries, takes us closer and closer to the prospect of the proliferation of small nuclear weapons being beyond control and of its being of no use to the five present nuclear powers. The Australian Government is saying: 'We are going to control it somehow. We will bring sanctions on them'. It will be beyond that.

I am not speaking from the top of my head, I am speaking from careful research into this matter by my Party and by such places as the respected Peace Institute in Stockholm which is funded by the Swedish Parliament. These are facts. They are facts that are being ignored by this Labor Government to the detriment of the world and to the detriment of this country. No matter how many treaties we sign and no matter how many non-proliferation agreements we say we are contributing to, so long as this country continues to mine uranium we will be contributing to the increased risk of nuclear war. Small nuclear conflicts which will break out like bushfires throughout the world-each one as a result of the nature of the dirty, high fall out weapons being used-will increase the high level of radioactivity throughout the world.

No one is naive enough to believe, least of all the Australian Democrats, that Australia's ending of uranium mining will end the nuclear arms race; of course it will not do that. What it would do is provide the world with an example of moral leadership that could well prove decisive. It would be a step back from the brink. The courage of the New Zealand Government in banning nuclear armed warships from its ports is one such example. The Australian Democrats commend the New Zealand Government for that decision, which was a proper and reasonable exercise of its sovereignty. It showed a dignity which our Government does not show. The world desperately needs such leadership. With 50,000 nuclear bombs stockpiled by the super-powers, nuclear war would be only minutes away, at any time now, tomorrow, next week or next year. To do nothing in the face of that destructive power is to perpetuate the insanity that threatens to unleash one and a half million Hiroshimas-the bomb load the world now carries will achieve this-and extinguish life on this planet forever. What generation has held the responsibility that we hold? None has done so. What person has the right to come into this place or any place and not say that this is, by far, the most important consideration in the life of every human being, every man, woman and child on the planet. It is of that order of importance and it must be seen as being of that order of importance.

Unfortunately, doing nothing as opposed to saying plenty, has been the hallmark of this Government on disarmament issues. Australia hosts three United States of America bases which makes us nuclear targets. In our opinion, Australians have, at the very least, a right to know why they are nuclear targets. The Government claims to have told us the complete story about those bases. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), in response to one of my questions last week, stated:

I also restate the Prime Minister's assurance that the Government is satisfied that all functions and activities at the joint facilities require and have its full knowledge and concurrence . . .

Only the day before Dr Desmond Ball from the Australian National University's Strategic Defence Studies Centre was quoted in the media as saying:

There is one part of Pine Gap called the Signals Analysis Section which the CIA runs and which is off bounds even to American contractors.

Obviously no Australians are allowed in that room or are aware of its activities . Dr Ball continued:

We should have at least a couple of Australians in that room, just to make sure that the intelligence that is picked up and analysed there does not concern Australia.

The Australian Democrats would agree with that statement, but the Labor Government's blanket assurance is a blatant deception of the Australian people in light of those statements. The agreements covering those bases are due to be renegotiated in 1987 and 1988. They should be renegotiated so that no base in Australia contributes to the planning for, or conduct of nuclear war and there is no base over which Australia does not have total control and knowledge. We should have two requirements, that is, no nuclear war and we should have control . This is a simple matter of our basic sovereignty. It is only reasonable that, as an independent nation, we should make those demands. If the United States bases do assist world peace, so much the better, but the Government should not be afraid to tell us all what there is to know and to gain the support of the Australian people on a sound, rational and honest basis.

The policy of accepting visits of nuclear armed warships to our ports is contrary to the goal of avoiding nuclear war. Two decisions by the United States Navy this year make this threat even greater; that is the fitting of Trident II missiles and sea cruise missiles on board United States submarines and other ships. Those deployments hold enormous consequences for Australia because they are first strike weapons and, as such, they would attract a first strike against us. The Democrats would preserve the environment and we believe that the Government should support us.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.