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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 657


Senator MACKLIN(10.05) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The aim of this Bill is to preserve Moreton Island and its invaluable conservation, recreational, archaeological and scientific qualities for current and future generations.

In terms of the current controversy, therefore, the enactment of this Bill will put into place both the State and Federal environment policies of the Australian Democrats which have clauses seeking to prevent sand mining on Moreton Island.

The Bill does not prohibit sand mining as such in Australia but only sand mining in nominated areas such as Moreton which environmentally are of international significance.

It has been necessary to introduce this Bill at this time because of the Queensland Government's decision on 2 February 1987 to approve sand mining on Moreton Island. The State Government defended its decision by arguing that only limited areas were to be mined and that the proposed areas were already degraded and would be fully restored after mining. Apart from begging the question whether any restoration process can ever duplicate a natural process, the Australian Democrats do not believe we should have to wait around for 500 years to note the results of this type of experiment.

Until the Queensland Government's February announcement, Moreton Island had been protected by Commonwealth export bans. Public comments from Associated Consolidated Minerals Ltd, the company presently involved in mineral exploration, indicating that it intends to mine and sell Moreton sand minerals within Australia means that the present export bans are no longer relevant in protecting Moreton.

Moreton Island and probably Fraser Island will be mined unless the Commonwealth Government shows that it is prepared to exercise its constitutional powers and responsibilities.

The Australian Democrats have often been presented as anti-mining. However, to argue that Moreton Island is an outstanding example of a remaining unspoiled coastal environment on the very doorstep of Australia's third major city is not to take an anti-mining stand. It is simply to state a fact.

Moreton Island is of major scientific importance not only environmentally but also archaeologically and biologically. The environmental and aesthetic values of Moreton Island are comparable to those of Fraser Island with which the Commonwealth Parliament is well acquainted. However, Moreton Island has a particular importance that is worth mentioning. As the More- ton Island Protection Committee noted, it is a natural area of outstanding recreational value-an area made all the more valuable by its important landscape which would warrant consideration on a World Heritage List.

It is important to realise that this unique sand island may still be regarded as a natural wilderness area. On this basis alone, the Australian Democrats believe Moreton Island should be preserved intact. Mining 6.4 per cent of Moreton Island will not leave many of its unique and varied attractions intact. The big and small sand- hills; nearly all of Ocean Beach, the rolling heathlands surrounding `Blue Lagoon', the West Coast and the spectacular high dunes north of `Mount Tempest' will be downgraded. Thousands of years of aboriginal history will be gone forever. According to Mr Brian Coghill, an Aboriginal Site Recorder with the Aboriginal Resource Unit at the University of Queensland, there are 199 Aboriginal sites located in the mining leases down to Eagers Creek, and a further 70 sites to the southern end of the mining lease. Mr Coghill points out that it is only reasonable to assume that there are many more sites buried underground. The best mining technology cannot restore such features.

The Australian Democrats are not the only ones who believe this. One of the heartening aspects of the Moreton Island conservation campaign has been the tremendous public response it has had, particularly in Brisbane. Conservation groups, in particular the Moreton Island Protection Committee, have worked very effectively in sensitising members of the public to the many and varied features of Moreton which make it unique as a natural wilderness area. The Moreton Island Protection Committee has worked for over seven years to raise money to publicise the island and its features. Their work has encouraged the public to visit the island and so their task has become progressively easier as more people came to appreciate Moreton. It is estimated that 200,000 people visit the island each year to enjoy Moreton's unspoiled natural values. This is probably one reason why a poll undertaken by the Institute of Applied Social Research in 1981 revealed that 68.1 per cent of people within the Moreton region were opposed to sand mining.

The Moreton Island Preservation Bill is only one way of halting mining. It is possible that the Government, in response to a request from Aboriginals, could use the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act 1984. The Act enables the Minister to preserve and protect, through declaration, places and objects of particular significance to Aboriginals and Torres Strait heritage Islanders in accordance with their traditions. Such a declaration can, of course, be challenged in the Federal Court on a variety of grounds.

The Australian Democrats have preferred to go down a separate route for four major reasons. The first reason is that my Party does not believe the initiative for protecting the environment and areas and objects of significance to the Aboriginals should be left solely to Aboriginals. In 1967, the Australian people voted to change the Constitution so that the Federal Government could pass laws to protect Aboriginal culture. This Parliament, therefore, has a moral and constitutional obligation to act to prevent damage or desecration to Aboriginal sites.

A second reason is that declarations under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act are essentially at the discretion of the Minister. If one looks at the Government's record with respect to the above Act then the inevitable conclusion is that there is not a great likelihood of the Government invoking the Act. Of the 27 applications lodged under the Act the Government has acted on only two occasions.

A third reason for the Democrats introducing specific legislation is that any administrative decision can easily be overturned by a future government. Granted the Liberal and National parties' apparent commitment to lifting the present export ban on mineral sands from Moreton, it is important from the standpoint of long term protection of Aboriginal sites that specific protection be enshrined in legislation.

A fourth advantage of special legislation is, of course, the blanket protection afforded to Moreton by this Bill as opposed to declarations under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Heritage Act. It would be possible for a company to mine those parts of Moreton not identified by a ministerial declaration. This Bill avoids that problem.

This Bill relies on three constitutional powers, namely, the corporations power, the trade and commerce power and the Territories power. The Bill is drafted to deal only with acts done by corporations but the Territory power has been relied on to extend these provisions to corporations incorporated in a Territory. The Franklin Dam case is acknowledged as having considerably widened the scope for the Commonwealth Parliament to pass laws relying on the corporations powers. As Mr G. J. Lindell noted in the Federal Law Review:

. . . a clear consequence of upholding the validity of section 10 (4) of the [World Heritage Properties Conservation] Act is that the Commonwealth Parliament can pass laws to prohibit acts done by a trading corporation for the purposes of carrying on its trading activities. Moreover, the prohibition can take effect to further purposes which are not relevant to the subject matter of the corporations power, e.g. in the case of the Franklin Dam case itself, the protection of the environment . . .

There are other powers that could be used to expand the Bill. The banking power and the insurance power could probably be used to prohibit a bank carrying on banking business or an insurance company lending money to or covering by insurance activities of or connected with the carrying on of activities prohibited by clause 4. The postal powers and broadcasting powers could also be used to prevent those mediums being used to further prohibited activities. I doubt whether these powers are necessary, although I am happy to accept amendments from the Government if it feels this is necessary.

Apart from setting out a series of unlawful acts in clause 4, which really cover mining and processing to the finished product, the Bill provides methods of enforcement, namely, injunctions and fines against the offending corporation and fines for officers and employees knowingly involved in contraventions of the Act. These follow established patterns.

Clause 6 (3) sets out persons who can apply for injunctions and is based on section 14 (3) of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983.

I have also taken into consideration the possibility of the Queensland Government or a State instrumentality mining on Moreton Island for use within Australia. If a State mines, processes and sells all within the State, then the Bill will not prevent this. However, the Bill will prevent a corporation assisting with some of the steps, for example transport, processing and selling.

The Australian Democrats are aware that legislation such as the Moreton Island Preservation Bill will provoke protest from the Queensland Government. But we firmly believe that issues relating to the quality of our environment are an integral part of the national interests which can only be realised and objectively assessed by a national government. We consider that it is wholly appropriate for the Commonwealth to use its constitutional powers to halt mining on Moreton Island.

As Phillip Toyne of the Australian Conservation Foundation noted earlier this year in an address to the Australian Democrats Annual Conference in Sydney:

The environment is simply too vital and too basic to our existence for it to be left in the hands of the States and it is now time for the national government to care for the nation which, since the arrival of white settlers, has been savaged environmentally.

I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Mr Brian Coghill and Dr Peter Lauer of the Anthropology Museum at the University of Queensland. Mr Coghill generously made available his detailed survey maps of Moreton Island which provide the precise locations of the Aboriginal sites.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Robertson) adjourned.