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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1630


Senator DURACK(5.15) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This paper was commissioned by the Government to give advice about the recurring and continuing problem of water management on the Ranger mine site, which is not part of Kakadu National Park but is surrounded by the park, and the release of water from that mine into a major creek flowing past the mine and ultimately to the sea through the national park. This question has been addressed in great detail over a long period. It was addressed by the Fox Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry, which was one of the major environmental inquiries in Australia. Certainly that inquiry was needed before any decisions could be made about the establishment of that mine.

Ever since 1981, when the mine came into production, there has been an accumulation of water on the mine site or the Ranger reserve zone, as it is called, and ultimately that water must be disposed of. In the wet seasons-fortunately some of these, including the last one, have been fairly dry-there would be a major problem of accumulation and disposal of water on the site. Some of the water is used in the operations of the mine. There is a storage pond for ordinary water that is accumulated and there is also a tailings pond for water that has gone through the mining processes. In fact, the tailings dump has to be used as a repository for some of the excess water and that, in itself, is creating an environmental danger in the long run.

This is a technical report which has been presided over by the Supervising Scientist for the Alligator Rivers Region. He is the chairman of this working group, which includes officials of the mine and the Northern Territory Government. These people have given the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government this report-both governments have had it since December. The report has made some very important findings on purely scientific grounds and I wish to quote them. The report says:

Direct release to Magela Creek-

that is the creek that I mentioned-

can be an environmentally sound and responsible practice . . .

Land irrigation is an environmentally acceptable method of water disposal . . .

That is, pouring out water in the dry season in the same way as we water our lawns. It continues:

The use of evaporation as a sole method of disposal is not consistent with the best practicable technology.

It also says that treatment of water to be discharged into Magela Creek is not necessary. That is a very important finding. This water does not have to be treated before it is released in a wet season because in such a season there is a great flow of water down these creeks. This flow dilutes whatever contamination there might have been in the water from the mine. Finally the report finds:

The addition of storage should only be considered if it could be done at a low cost and with little environmental impact . . .

The group believes that the best practice on scientific grounds is to enable, at suitable seasonal times, the disposal of this water so that there is no problem of accumulation. Because the Government has been too weak and constantly caving in to the extreme environmental lobby on this issue, it has allowed this problem to develop. That is why it set up this technical working group. Now this group has itself given an expert report. The report further suggests that perhaps with the deepening of the storage of water at the mine it would be possible to release water only once in every 10 years.

That is not good enough for the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen), who commissioned the report. In effect, they have rejected the report. They have refused permission to release any water this year. Although that may not be necessary this year, it may be necessary next year. They have instructed the Supervising Scientist, the very man who has given them this advice, to develop acceptable options aimed at ensuring that the water management is fully consistent with the protection of the environment. Here we have these two non-scientific Ministers refusing to accept the scientific advice which they commissioned themselves and which is given by the Supervising Scientist, who has a large establishment as the watchdog for the Alligator Rivers region. They reject that report and they want--


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.