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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2891

Senator KILGARIFF(3.53) —We have now reached a very disappointing situation. It had been hoped that, despite changing Government policy, exploration and mining would have been able to continue to some degree in Kakadu National Park. We thought that some common sense eventually would have come forth. But we now seem to be sliding into oblivion. This is a very big blow to the Territory. I do not have to go over the words of my colleague Senator Durack, who has spoken very ably on the matter. Mining would have brought considerable revenue to the Northern Territory. It would have allowed the Territory to stand on its feet more. After all, the Federal Government is always accusing the Northern Territory of being too mendicant. How can it be but mendicant when the industries of the Northern Territory cannot be developed?

The matter goes beyond the mining companies. It also concerns the Aboriginal people who have clearly indicated their wish to become less reliant on the Government and to be able to make their way in the life of the Northern Territory, to be able to stand on their feet more. The way the decisions are going, they will have to keep living on handouts from the Federal Government. It is all very disappointing. We have discussed the matter of Kakadu often. Mining interests and the preservation of our national resources and heritage can live together. Multi-use is feasible, as we have seen in regard to Jabiru, Ranger and in other places. Mining in Kakadu now involves less than 2 per cent of the land area.

This morning we were discussing this very subject in our consideration of the estimates of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. I would like to repeat what I said then because it is certainly pertinent to the debate that is taking place now on the estimates for the Department of Resources and Energy. I said then that the issue of the status of mining companies holding interests in Kakadu had been raised in estimates debates and that conflicting views had been expressed as to the rights of those interest holders. I note that yesterday in Question Time the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), in answer to a question I asked him, emphatically stated that no compensation would be paid to mining companies who in the past had been assured by former Labor Ministers in the Whitlam Government that they would be allowed to explore and develop their interests. That is my understanding of what the present Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said not so long ago.

Given that the Minister is so certain that no compensation will be paid, I assume that he bases his view on some solid legal opinion to the effect that these mining companies have no right to compensation. I said this prior to the introduction of legislation in the other place amending the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Act. The proposed amendments have now been circulated. I asked the Minister to say whether the Government would be equally intransigent in the matter of compensating Aboriginal communities or organisations which have entered into agreements with mining companies-agreements which, incidentally, have been approved by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding). Amending legislation has now been introduced into the other place. No doubt it will eventually be forced through the other place and will come to the Senate. On the basis of experience, it appears that the Australian Democrats will support the Government to ensure that the legislation is passed. The amendments purport to prohibit mining in any part of Kakadu National Park. I note that there is an amendment providing that, notwithstanding any law of the Commonwealth or of the Northern Territory, no compensation is liable to be paid by the Commonwealth by reason of the enactment of the amendments. It is quite obvious that the Government does not need any legal opinion. It is now bringing in legislation which will hit the mining companies, which have made vast investments--

Senator Gareth Evans —Madam Chair, on a point of order: We are getting into the territory of discussing matters presently before the Parliament in legislative form. I know that traditionally there is lot of latitude in estimates debate, but I suggest that it is getting out of order.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —I ask Senator Kilgariff to keep the Minister's remarks in mind.

Senator KILGARIFF —Yes, Madam Chair. The Government wants everything its own way. It seems fairly clear from the incorporation of this provision that the Federal Government is well aware that mining companies which have had interests in Kakadu for a number of years-mining companies which have spent millions of dollars in exploration and which have been given undertakings, notably by Ministers in the Whitlam Government that they would be permitted to explore and develop those interests-would be entitled to compensation in respect of actual and, quite possibly, prospective losses. I am sure that this is not the end of the debate on the matter, but in respect of the Government's policy I ask: How does it measure up in relation to the usual situation which allows for the payment of compensation where the Federal Government resumes land in which individuals have an interest?