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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 1953


Senator MACKLIN(10.13) —Before the adjournment last night I was making some comments on the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987, the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Amendment Bill 1987, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987 and the Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1987, particularly from the point of view of the relationship between tourism, as an economic unit within our overall structure, and mining. I was making the point that, when talking of linking mining and development, as we have tended to do, we should also realise that there are opportunity losses in mining in various areas of Australia from the point of view of the attractiveness of those areas as international tourist destinations.

I was also making the point that we have to balance the economic return from a tourist development and the economic return from a mining development within a framework that is sensible. We are all very much aware that tourism in Australia, essentially in terms of contribution to the economy, is still relatively much in its infancy. Without a doubt in years to come, we will see larger and larger contributions being made by tourism to the whole economic fabric of this country. It is vitally important, therefore, that we undertake now a very clear national plan that would preserve and enhance those natural advantages that we have over other countries. Australia is a preferred tourist destination because of its stable political climate, because of its very efficient internal transportation system, and because of very mundane things such as actually having clean water, which, unfortunately, is not something shared by many countries around the world. We are a very attractive country in all those infrastructure terms.

However, on top of that, we probably have in one single continent the most outstanding natural features, the most astonishing selection of world heritage items, that anybody could see anywhere in the world. We probably have the basic ingredient for an extraordinary tourist operation, provided that we ensure that the developments that we put in place, during the next decade in particular, do not run counter to that general thrust. Hence, it is important that in considering something as attractive as the Kakadu National Park, we weigh up not only the jobs and the returns from mining versus the outstanding natural and environmental values that Kakadu incorporates, but also the balance of economic returns from mining against both the environmental values and the economic returns that Kakadu represents as a tourist destination.

For all too long in this country, the debate has been carried by the economic rationalists who argue jobs and money as though there is only one side to the equation. There is not, and that will not progressively be so in the future. So many of the environmental battles around Australia have been fought on that dichotomy. It is about time that we began to realise that, on the other side of the equation, there are enormous economic benefits if that environment is properly managed for tourism and its associated downstream developments.

One could also throw on to the scales, on the side of the tourist industry and the protection of Kakadu National Park as an untouched wilderness, added items that are only now beginning to emerge around Australia. I refer to the 1982 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation report on toxic wastes. We are only now beginning to realise the further costs that have to be borne by the community from previous types of development in mining areas. In my State of Queensland there is a graphic illustration of that in a suburb near Brisbane, where black ooze came out of the ground during a recent development. It turned out to be dumped toxic wastes in a mine which had been covered over, the land sold and houses built on it. Now, years later, that type of operation is coming back to haunt us.

Unfortunately, it is a failure not only of the previous Government, but of this Government, that there have been statements that some action would be taken on the 1982 report, when in fact none has been taken. As I said, we can throw that on to the economic scales when considering development. There is not only the immediate cash in hand return, but the downstream costs now occurring in Brisbane and increasingly around Australia that are being borne by the public purse. While the mining companies walk off with the profits, the public purse picks up the costs.

In addition, one could also throw in whether there has been the massive return to the public from mining operations that we have been led to believe. In recent times some very interesting studies have been done of the infrastructure costs which are met out of the public purse. In my own State of Queensland extraordinary amounts are paid for the development of roads, railways, ports and electricity generating facilities. Many companies make use of this infrastructure. I exempt mining in terms of its use of railways because it is excessively taxed in Queensland, but in terms of, say, its use of electricity with its incredibly low, giveaway costs I doubt very much-recent studies have tended to substantiate this point of view-whether at the end of the day there is a net gain to the community. That seems to be an extraordinary and wild statement to make. But I believe that when one looks at the figures in the cold light of day one tends to the view that mining has not been the bonanza for the public purse and the community that we have been led to believe. When we are looking for new development in Australia we should give far greater emphasis and sympathy to the development of tourism which, if properly managed, is a benign, labour-intensive industry which can provide a flexibility in terms of the areas of northern Australia which are sparsely populated which most other industries-for example, mining-cannot provide.

In this debate there are far more economic considerations than were suggested, for example, last night by Senator Kilgariff from the Northern Territory. He said that it was either mining or nothing. That is a simplistic analysis which no longer bears fruit in the Australian economy or in international terms. When one considers that the United States has now made tourism its central economic driving force, it does not make sense in any shape or form to suggest that there is only one lot of returns on one side of this argument. I am confident that with the preservation of at least stages one and two of Kakadu National Park-I wish it were also to be the whole of stage 3-and part of stage 3 for generations to come, those taking part in debates in this chamber in 20 or 30 years time who have had the opportunity to look at the balance sheet will see that the people who made the decision in this legislation had the foresight to realise that the world and economic realities were changing. We should make sure that we have a diverse economic structure and move quickly to position Australia as best we can in the growing market of the international tourist traveller.