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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2741

Senator MASON(10.15) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

Mr President, the purpose of this Bill is, clearly, to repeal the Koongarra Project Area Act of 1981.

As honourable senators will be aware, the Koongarra Project Area Act was submitted to this House on 12 June, 1981-the last day on which the Government then led by Mr Fraser had the number of senators needed to force any Bill it wished through the Parliament.

The Koongarra Project Area Bill was brought on illegally, with total disregard for the sections of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 which provide for at least 15 sitting days notice to both Houses of Parliament, and 60 days for public comment after publication in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette of any intention by any government to remove land from a national park.

This Parliament now has the opportunity to correct that act of piracy by repealing the Koongarra Project Area Act and thereby returning the Koongarra mining project area to stage one of the Kakadu National Park.

Honourable senators will be interested and, I am sure, relieved to hear that section 3 of the Koongarra Project Area Act has not yet been proclaimed. Section 3 is that section of the Act which actually excises the Koongarra mining project area from the national park.

It is therefore most appropriate that the Koongarra Project Area Act 1981 be repealed immediately, while its repeal is a simple and straightforward one.

Mr President, in the Koongarra area as it now stands, the Australian people have an invaluable treasure-an area of unique scenic, archaeological and ecological importance.

The Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry second report 1977-known as the Fox report-opposed the exploitation of the Koongarra deposit, and suggested that the South Alligator River catchment area was the most suitable large total river catchment for inclusion in the Kakadu National Park. Any mining at Koongarra would cause irreparable damage to the South Alligator River catchment area.

The Fox Commission also pointed out that the Koongarra area is:

. . . located upstream from the extremely valuable Woolwonga Wildlife Sanctuary . . . the Woolwonga area is so valuable ecologically that we would oppose in principle any mining development upstream of it.

If the Government allowed any damage to the Woolwonga area, which is now incorporated in Kakadu National Park, it would be abrogating its responsibilities under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and Australia's agreement with Japan for the protection of migratory birds in danger of extinction.

Even the original mining company's environmental impact statement described the Koongarra area as:

. . . containing a most diversified range of ecosystems, wildlife, wetlands and landscape formations not found elsewhere in the continent . . . the region has a number of Aboriginal sacred areas, relics and features. The ancient Aboriginal art work found in many of the caves and galleries of the rock outcrops has no equivalent in Australia.

Indeed, the archaeological value of the prehistoric sites of Kakadu National Park, of which Nourlangie Rock is one of the most important, is massive.

In a report on archaeological research in Kakadu National Park, leading Australian archaeologist, Dr Rhys Jones, and Tia Negerevich wrote:

. . . along the base of the great cliffs . . . are rock shelters which constitute one of the world's most important storehouses of information about the prehistory and the art of hunting and gathering man. In terms of the number and age of occupied rock shelters, and the staggering profusion and antiquity of the brilliant rock art sites, the Kakadu area can be compared with some of the classic archaeological locations of the world . . . in Kakadu, the Aboriginal owners are the direct descendants of the people who lived in the rock shelters and who painted the art . . . The conjuction of living Aboriginal traditions, and extremely diverse and rich landscape and the wealth of archaeological sites, some with proven antiquity back to 23,000 years ago, makes the Kakadu a key zone for research into the prehistory of Australia.

The writers liken the importance of the Kakadu sites to the Dordogne cave paintings in France, with the added factor of the direct descent of the traditional owners from the inhabitants of the area over 23,000 years ago.

The unique beauty of the Koongarra area, including Nourlangie Rock, the South Alligator River catchment area and the Nourlangie Creek catchment area, would be destroyed forever if mining were allowed to take place at Koongarra. Explosions from a mine site there might cause falls or slides of segments of Nourlangie Rock itself-one of the most significant archaeological sites in Australia. There would be a significant increase of dust in the atmosphere, and that, as well as other adverse ecological effects of such a mine, would cause direct degradation of the archaeological sites, as well as the indirect degradation caused by scars on the landscape from roads to the mining area, noise and air pollution, and pollution of the water table.

None of this must be allowed to occur. With the repeal of the Koongarra Project Area Act 1981, the area will be returned to its rightful place in Kakadu National Park. The area is of such obvious international significance that I am sure its inclusion in the world heritage listing for Kakadu National Park stage I would be merely a formality.

I remember the very strong views put forward in this place in June 1981 by Australian Labor Party senators when the original Bill was brought on. They were horrified that such a unique area should be excised from a national park so it could be destroyed in the commercial interests of a mining company-and a Canadian-owned mining company at that. On that occasion all Labor senators joined with the Democrats to vote against the Bill.

I am sure, with the Prime Minister and the ALP speaking so strongly against any new mining in this area lately, the Government will be consistent in its attitude, and will join with us once again on this issue to replace this beautiful area in the middle of Kakadu National Park and preserve it for future generations to enjoy and to wonder at.

Mr President, I commend the Bill to the Senate, and I look forward to its speedy passage through both Houses.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.