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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 879

Senator HAINES —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. Is it a fact that the Commonwealth is considering allowing an ongoing arrangement that would let the Ranger uranium mine release contaminated water into stages 1 and 2 of Kakadu National Park at regular intervals? If so, how can the Government claim that it will do all it can to protect Kakadu National Park, while setting up a regime allowing water containing sulphur, uranium and other contaminants to flood stages 1 and 2? How can the Government justify accepting the recommendations of a working group-composed of the Office of the Supervising Scientist, the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy, and Ranger-which did not consider the social implications of release of contaminated water, although `best practicable technology' is defined under the Northern Territory Uranium (Environmental Control) Act to include `social considerations'? Finally, why did the Government ignore the opposition expressed by representatives of traditional owners through the Northern Land Council in making a decision about water management of Ranger?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has made no decision on this matter yet. Any decision that is made will be one that is entirely consistent with the concerns of this Government and the community generally to ensure the environmental protection and preservation of the Kakadu region in an absolutely unsullied state. It is inconceivable that we would make any decision here which had adverse environmental implications. Beyond that, it is entirely premature for me to nourish in any way the speculation by Senator Haines-prompted, no doubt, by other entirely speculative and for the most part totally inaccurate newspaper articles that have appeared in recent weeks-about the possible course of decision-making in this process.

However, I will respond further to one specific aspect of her question, and that is the definition of `best practicable technology'. Of course social factors are part of the definition of `best practicable technology' and of course the Government would not accept a recommendation from the Office of the Supervising Scientist or anyone else as to what 'best practicable technology' was unless it was satisfied that social criteria as well as purely technical and scientific ones were satisfied as part of that definition.

Senator HAINES —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Given that partial response from the Minister, can he say when his decision on the matter is likely to be made?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It would make sense to have a decision before the dry season is under way because just about any of the options for dealing with the future of water release in Ranger-certainly most of the options under active consideration at the moment-would require some dry season excavation works and it would make sense accordingly to enable those to get started as soon as possible. I would hope that a decision on this matter would be made within a matter of weeks.