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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 289

Senator KILGARIFF(7.05) —The matter I raise in the Senate tonight concerns not only the people of the Northern Territory, whom I represent in this chamber, but the many people from all over Australia, and indeed the world-all those national and international travellers-who visit the Northern Territory. In the Territory tourism continues to flourish as one of our major industries, with thousands of people coming every year to see the spectacular beauty of northern Australia. They come too to see possibly Australia's most famous landmark, Ayers Rock, which, with the Olgas, is incorporated in the national park. There is also Kakadu National Park and the magnificent Katherine Gorge. They too have problems associated with Federal control. Honourable senators will remember that in Kakadu National Park, because the Koongarra and Jabiluka uranium mines were not allowed to develop, the Aboriginal people of the area, who were relying on royalties to bring about their own development, found that no money would be coming from the mining industry. They were promised funds from the Federal Government for tourist accommodation, international hotels perhaps, which would bring about employment, but this has not occurred. The problem at Katherine Gorge lies in the Aboriginal land rights area. The gorge itself is under claim. It is not those problems that I wish to discuss tonight; I merely point them out.

Visitors arrive in the Territory by a variety of means. Some fly to the Territory, arriving at either Alice Springs or Darwin airports. Some come as far as Alice Springs by rail, taking the famous Ghan journey. Unfortunately, at present the line goes no further than Alice Springs, but hopefully the Federal Government will honour its 1983 election promise to build a railway from Alice Springs to Darwin. All Australians will then be able to enjoy a comfortable rail journey from one end of the Territory to the other. In fact, it will be a trans-Australian railway which will enable people to travel from the south to the north.

Investment in Alice Springs tourist facilities has made huge strides recently. While private enterprise and the Northern Territory Government are investing heavily in the area, the Alice Springs Airport continues to be a blot on the landscape. This is another Federal responsibility. The terminal building at Alice Springs Airport is overcrowded and uncomfortable. The tarmac is not only overcrowded with aircraft, it is also dangerous. I can well imagine a person crossing the tarmac and being tangled up with a taxiing aircraft or one whose engines are running. The main airstrip of the airport is quite insufficient. I suggest that the Federal Government should get together with the Northern Territory Government to bring about some very necessary upgrading to protect the investment of private enterprise in the area.

The Ayers Rock national park is managed under the auspices of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is a Commonwealth authority. Most people will be aware that the Rock has been promised by the Federal Government to the Aboriginal people. This too is a controversial decision. There are many who feel that all national parks should belong to all Australians and that the Aboriginal people should participate in a board of management. Another suggestion that has been made to us in connection with the management of the national park is that the old abandoned motels, which are very much in the news now and which are located at the base of the Rock, should be demolished and the area restored to a bushland environment. It is suggested also that the Aboriginal camping areas should be cleared, in keeping with the aim of restoring the area to bushland, and that the Aboriginal people should be provided with a separate homeland base lease under which decent facilities such as housing, sewerage and water facilities would be made available. However, that is another concern.

The matter with which I wish briefly to concern myself tonight is the road which runs from the border of Yulara-that is, Ayers Rock-to the Olgas within the national park. This road is within the national park and, as such, is once again the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Yulara is a town on a separate Northern Territory lease and is adjacent to the national park. It is administered by the Yulara town management authority which comes under the auspices of the Northern Territory Government. To date, some $150m has been spent there in developing accommodation at all levels for both the interstate and international traveller. It is unique in Australia and a project that not only the Northern Territory people but also all people of Australia can be proud.

The road system to Ayers Rock-that is Uluru-has been well planned and a modern black ribbon highway circles the Rock. However, I am concerned with the extremely poor condition of the road within the park which runs some 18 to 20 miles to the Olgas. It is a hazardous road upon which to travel and numerous accidents have occurred because the road is not properly formed and is poorly maintained. It is an unsealed road upon which vehicles, including vehicles towing caravans, have often overturned or literally fallen apart. The cost, in terms of wear and tear on the tourists' vehicles, is enormous. Tour operators frequently complain bitterly of the damage to coaches which travel the road. To date I am unaware of any fatalities on the road. However, I have no doubt-hopefully this will not happen-that on the law of averages there will soon be not only a serious accident but also a fatality. We could perhaps see more than one fatality if the accident involves a coach. These days coaches carry a large number of people.

From advice I have received from the Government, I understand it is intended to put the matter of upgrading the road before the Joint Committee on Public Works for a review of the project. While I would have been satisfied to see this done two years ago, I now feel the road has deteriorated to such an extent that the level of upgrading presently proposed will not suffice. The Commonwealth has been very remiss in not accepting its responsibilities in this area. This year I am told that there is to be $100,000 made available for maintenance. Because of the poor condition of the present road this $100,000 will disappear within two or three weeks of construction work. There will have been little improvement and what little will have been done will deteriorate rapidly. The Mount Olga road will remain what it is today-a trap for the unwary and even a trap for the wary motorist.

I urge the Government to heed the calls of the tourist operators who have protested so vigorously at the condition of the road and the danger it poses. I call on the Government to take urgent action on this road before a fatality occurs. It appears to me that the Federal authorities, in putting the project to the Public Works Committee at this very late stage, are merely using a device to put off the expenditure of funds on this road. I believe this is most unfortunate. While the Federal Government insists on controlling the Rock and the Olgas within the surrounds of the national park it looks in other directions when there is a call for hard cold cash.