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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1631

Senator KILGARIFF(5.20) —The report `Application of Best Practicable Technology to Water Management at Ranger Uranium Mine' was produced by the technical working group set up to facilitate agreement between the Supervising Scientist for the Alligator Rivers Region, the Northern Territory Department of Mines, Ranger Uranium Mines and ERA-that is, Energy Resources of Australia-on the best water management system for the Ranger mine at Jabiru in the Northern Territory. It is a co-operative effort which involved the very considerable expertise of these organisations and authorities. They have come up with a number of conclusions and recommendations in relation to the best practicable technology in water management at Ranger.

Unfortunately, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, has seen fit to reject the options put up by the working group, for no discernible, scientifically valid reason. He has dismissed the findings and recommendations of the group out of nothing more than surely political opportunism, in a vain attempt to grab the greenie vote in an election year. Mr Cohen cannot pretend that the propositions put forward by the working group are inadequate or insufficient to protect the environmental integrity of the area. The group, for the purposes of this report, took the `best practicable technology' to be that technology relevant to the Ranger project which produces minimum environmental pollution and degradation having regard to a number of technical factors, including practices in uranium mining elsewhere in the world, cost, evidence of detriment or lack of it, project location, and the age and effectiveness of equipment and facilities at Ranger.

The working group was asked to look at the best practicable management system under two circumstances: First, with no restriction on releasing water into Magela Creek; and secondly, with restrictions on releasing water into Magela Creek. The present water management system was designed to include the possibility of release of water into Magela Creek. The assessment of the working group in relation to management over the next five years, was that:

Direct release into Magela Creek can be an environmentally sound and responsible practice; under the proposed regime no short or long term ecological effects will arise and there will be no harm to people, and that direct release of excess water accumulated within the existing restricted release zone, but excluding the tailings dam, be permitted.

This release would be subject to the control of the Supervising Scientist and the Northern Territory Government. Mr Cohen is not satisfied with this recommendation. He has opted instead to disallow the release of any water this year, and has insisted that the Ranger Mine deepen its water retention pond by the end of the year, at a cost of some $1.5m which is a lot of money. Mr Cohen has clearly done this, not on sound technical or scientific advice-at least I cannot see it and I have certainly looked far and wide-but I would suggest on political advice, to the effect that he must play up to the conservationist movement to secure its votes in the coming election, whenever that may be-perhaps later in the year. Mr Cohen has not even attempted to hide or defend this blatant act of political opportunism.

This is an appalling decision by the Minister and he should be condemned for his willingness to ignore sound, balanced and expert advice under pressure from the greenie lobby groups. It is not only I who feels strongly about this situation, because after all, the Government has set up these expert authorities to carry out these investigations and to make recommendations to it. As I say, the Government appears to have taken no advice from any other source. I ask that the following statement in the Northern Territory News of 31 March 1987 be incorporated in Hansard. I have referred it to the Minister.

Leave granted.

The article read as follows-



Anyone with technical knowledge would jeer at the Federal Government's decision on Ranger Uranium Mine water management, the NT Mines and Energy Minister, Mr Barry Coulter, said today.

Mr Coulter is angry about the option the Government has taken.

He described it as a political decision ``designed to stroke the ruffled pelts of ALP support groups in the extremes of the environment movement''.

The Federal Environmental Minister, Mr Barry Cohen, announced yesterday that Ranger must deepen its water retention pond, RP2, by the end of the year at an estimated cost of $1.5 million.

The Federal Government also refused permission for the release of any water this year.

Water management has been a long-standing problem at the Ranger mine.

Mr Cohen said the Government considered a Technical Working Group's report on water management.


``But we were not satisfied any of the options canvassed were fully acceptable,'' he said.

The Federal Government chose to have the pond deepened so the probability of water having to be released from the area was once in every 10 years.

The options rejected by the Government were to make no additional storage area which would leave the probability of water release at twice in every five years, or to build an additional storage pond and have a probability of once in every 50 years.

The Technical Working Group's preferred option was for the ``twice in five years'' release, Mr Cohen said the Government found water release almost every second year inappropriate.

Senator KILGARIFF —Finally, I suggest that the Minister review his decision in the light of the expert evidence that has been given to him.