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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2654

Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is addressed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. What effect will the progress of court proceedings instigated by the mining company Peko-Wallsend Ltd have on the Government's declared policy that there will be no mining in Kakadu National Park? What action does the Government propose to take in light of current developments to fulfil the commitments expressed in that policy?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am happy to repeat the categorical undertaking given in the Parliament on 10 October by the Prime Minister-which I suspect that he might be in the process of repeating right now in the other place-that the Government will not countenance any mining in Kakadu National Park stages 1 and 2. The action that has been taken in the courts by Peko-Wallsend to endeavour to delay the processing of the World Heritage listing application for Kakadu stage 2 cannot and will not succeed in its basic objectives.

It is the Government's intention to legislate at the first available opportunity to make it clear beyond dispute that no such mining activity can or will take place anywhere in the existing Kakadu National Park. We will legislate regardless of the course that may be taken by the company's present legal action, an action based on its claimed right to engage in mining activity under the present terms of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act.

As to the timing of the Government's proposed legislation, we have been giving consideration to introducing such overriding legislation later this week as the clearest possible demonstration of our intention to prevent mining in the existing park. However, it would be inappropriate to introduce such legislation until the High Court of Australia has indicated its attitude to the application for special leave to appeal which is now before it and will be heard and possibly determined today.

I make the further point that as a practical matter it would simply not be possible to pass the necessary Bill through both Houses before the World Heritage Committee has completed its present meeting, so, at most, we would be introducing legislation, not seeking to enact it this session. If such legislation is introduced this week it would accordingly be our intention to lay it on the table until the new year and have it debated in the first week of the autumn parliamentary session.

There should not be any concern, however, about the park being put at risk in any way pending the enactment of the legislation we now have in mind. I remind the Senate that the mere seeking of listing of the park for World Heritage status, which occurred on 17 September, provides the foundation under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act upon which the Governor-General can issue a proclamation prohibiting any action that he has reasonable grounds to consider threatens the values of the park.

Also relevant in the shorter term is that Peko-Wallsend has given a formal undertaking to the Northern Territory Supreme Court that it will not enter the park for exploration or mining purposes pending the determination of one of its numerous other court actions-this one is against Mr Cohen and me under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act-which will take some time to finalise. Let me make the further point that even if as a result of these various current legal manoeuvres the final listing of stage 2 by the World Heritage Committee is delayed until the 1987 meeting of the Committee we can give a categorical assurance that the protection of the park will not be jeopardised in any way. The Commonwealth has ample legislative power to protect the park fully in every respect, and we are determined to so act.

Finally, let me say that the Government will continue to meet any challenges that may be made to its decisions in relation to Kakadu, whether they come from Peko, the Northern Territory Government or anyone else. We will not be diverted from our clear and unequivocal commitment to preserve for future generations of Australians the unique natural and cultural heritage of Kakadu. We are fully confident of our capacity to honour that commitment.