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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2889

Senator DURACK(3.32) —I had wanted to turn to another subject, but in view of some of the comments that Senator Evans has just made in relation to Senator Sir John Carrick's remarks, I must support the views that Senator Sir John Carrick has expressed and confirm that from discussions which I have had overseas with people in the enrichment business, there is clearly a very great market for and a very great interest in, continuing the project of enrichment in Australian using the centrifuge system. However there are certainly other technologies being looked at. The point is that Australia ought to be looking at those now. If there are alternatives, they ought to be looked at and not ignored, which is what the Government is doing.

I wish to raise with Senator Evans a number of matters that I asked questions about at the hearing of Estimates Committee E on 18 September, in relation to the Government's policy for stage 3 of Kakadu National Park, which was the subject of a statement by the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen), on 16 September. I refer for this purpose to that part of the statement which deals with the rather ramshackle policy which the Government stated in relation to stage 3. The Government drew a very clear distinction between the policies it was going to proceed with in relation to stages 1 and 2-those, of course, are a matter of ongoing debate which I do not wish to raise now-and stage 3. In relation to stage 3, on 16 September the Government announced an in principle decision to extend the park to stage 3 and to extend it into undefined areas of the pastoral leases of Gimbat and Goodparla and at the same time announced that it would allow the Coronation Hill mine to proceed and that that would be excised from any area that may be declared stage 3 of the park.

The Government was quite unspecific as to whether it meant the whole of these pastoral leases or a portion of them, and if it is only a portion, what portion. This all had to be the subject of subsequent decision by the Government, but the Government did commit itself to one firm proposition, namely, that an assessment of the mineral potential of stage 3 would be made prior to any final decision of the Caucus. The Ministers, on behalf of the Government, said in that statement that the assessment of mineral resources would be done by the Bureau of Mineral Resources and with an unspecified form of involvement by the private mining industry. When I asked for some more specifics on that at the Estimates Committee hearing on 18 September, Senator Evans said:

. . . there will be further assessment over an appropriate period in the future, again conducted by a combination of BMR geologists doing their own research and a probably greater quantitative involvement of the private sector pursuing exploration licences in the ordinary way, some of which licences or leases would need to be newly granted because existing lease and licence interests do not by any means cover at the moment the area of real mineral potential in the stage 3 area.

It immediately emerged, not from any information that Senator Evans gave the Committee, but from evidence that was given by an officer of his Department of Resources and Energy, Mr Ryan, and indeed it has emerged at previous hearings of this Estimates Committee, that there were some very considerable doubts and difficulties about the legal status of almost all the private mining titles, whether to mine or to explore in the pastoral leases of Gimbat and Goodparla stations. I think somewhat to the chagrin, or perhaps even to the surprise, of Senator Evans Mr Ryan made it quite clear that this would be quite a long process and would probably have to be resolved in the courts. But of course the cavalier instincts of Senator Evans immediately came to the fore and he mounted his white charger and said: `We do not need to worry about it, we will fix all these things up'. He said that in his day legal problems were easily resolvable. When I asked him in what period of time did he foresee that happening, he replied: `I imagine it will be a matter of a few weeks, barring unforeseen circumstances'. Something like nine or 10 weeks have passed since then and we are now at the end of November. I want to know what the present state of play is. Has the Government resolved these problems? If so, in what way and to what extent will the private mining industry be able to participate in a proper assessment of the mineral potential of stage 3 before a decision is made about the proclamation of a national park in any portion of these pastoral leases? I would also like to know whether the Bureau of Mineral Resources geologists have got on with the job and made any further assessment. Of course, the reality is that the only way there can be a proper assessment of the mineral potential of this region is by traditional exploration by the private mining industry. In view of recent events, I must say that I am also somewhat concerned about whether the Government really does intend to involve the private mining industry or give it the opportunity to play any part at all in the assessment of stage 3. Events have moved quite remarkably against the private mining industry in recent days. When I asked Senator Evans a question in the Senate yesterday, he said that all will be revealed by the Government in the next couple of weeks. He failed to give me any assurance that the policy of the Government which was laid down on 18 September is still the policy or to say whether changes are being made to it.

Furthermore, a Bill to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act was introduced into the House of Representatives by Mr Cohen this morning. That will give effect to the no mining in Kakadu National Park policy announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and Senator Evans the other day. It will mean no mining, no exploration and no compensation for those who have already been engaged in mining the areas of stage 1 and 2. It would appear that the legislation will apply to stage 3 when it is proclaimed. I would like to know whether that is the intention of the Government. On the face of the Bill, that seems to be the intention. But I suppose that the Government could make some exceptions if it were really genuine about the policy of allowing and indeed encouraging the private mining sector to participate in the exploration of stage 3. It is not just a matter of expunging existing titles or cutting off any prospect of applications for mining titles in the case of stage 3, as has been done in such a peremptory and arbitrary manner for stages 1 and 2. As Senator Evans pointed out at the Estimates Committee E hearings, if the mining industry is to play any part in the assessment of stage 3, new exploration licences have to be given. It is a matter of giving new licences in the area, not expunging licences as this legislation proposes.

If the Government is to carry out its stated policy that there will not be any further proclamation of stage 3 until that has been done, I would be most intrigued to know how it proposes to go ahead with that policy or whether that policy has been changed again since 18 September. Furthermore, we have had statements, I think, from Senator Evans but certainly from the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, that, now that the nomination of stage 2 has been withdrawn and will be resubmitted next year, a portion of stage 3, or the pastoral leases that are potentially part of stage 3, will be included in the nomination for world heritage listing. So that now seems to be utter confusion about the rights of the private mining industry in stage 3. There seem to have been a considerable number of events that would throw grave doubt upon what Senator Evans said on 18 September. I wonder whether he is prepared to throw any further light on this matter.