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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 1967


Senator SANDERS(11.42) —Yes, I was formerly unAustralian but I am now Australian, and I have the papers to prove it. And I think that is the whole point: I come from a place-the United States of America-which fought these battles years ago. At this time, in 1987, the people of the United States are very pleased and very proud that the so-called prohibitionists that Senator Jessop mentioned actually did fight hard to save Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoia and all the other national parks in the United States which were preserved in perpetuity. There was never any discussion of how much the minerals in Yellowstone were worth. Actually I will have to take that back, as there was in the early days. When Yellowstone was first set up in the late nineteenth century, it was run for seven years by an entrepreneur, a local concessionaire, who was selling off the timber and the minerals and anything he could. The United States Congress heard about this and got so incensed that it sent in the United States Cavalry with guns and sabres to patrol and to protect Yellowstone for 30 years.

That type of care is sadly lacking in Australia. In fact we do not even have the concept of national parks established here. We have national parks in the States of Australia which are not national parks in the true sense, but are simply State preserves set aside temporarily because nobody wants them, because the mineral industry does not want them, because the timber industry does not want them and, in Tasmania's case, because the Hydro Electric Commission does not want them. They are residual areas set aside as `national parks', but there is no real commitment to them, as we saw in Tasmania.


Senator Zakharov —There is by some governments.


Senator SANDERS —As Senator Zakharov says, there may be by some governments, but those governments are quite rare. In Tasmania we saw the Lake Pedder National Park rescinded by parliamentary action so that it could be flooded. Now, in a very cynical action, it has been returned to national park status. I am afraid that Australia is still very much in the throes of a cowboy mentality regarding its own development.


Senator Button —You would be a good person to judge.


Senator SANDERS —I am a good person to judge, having come from a cowboy country. The point is that Australians still have a rather colonial attitude towards the country and its resources. I suppose this is understandable. For years it was a colony of Great Britain and was considered to be just a large open-pit mine suitable only for exporting raw materials, as cheaply as possible, to the mother country. After World War II, when we were abandoned by Great Britain, we pledged our fealty to our great and powerful friend, the United States, and so transnationals from that country now have open slather with our natural resources. Only recently have the people of Australia started to object and to realise that this is wrong, that we should not be considered just a giant open-pit mine by the rest of the world.

Senator Collard made much of the fact that there is very little pristine wilderness left, and that is true. But I do not see how he can then go on to argue that, because we have already to some extent changed the nature of what is left, which is close to being wilderness, we should then allow open slather by the mining companies, which is basically what he was calling for. That does not follow. Senator Puplick carried on with his pie in the sky estimates of how much money we would lose if we did not mine every inch of Australia. Rip-off artists always maintain that billions of dollars will be lost if they do not get their way. We heard the Hydro Electric Commission say that the Tasmanian economy would go down the drain if the Franklin Dam was not built, that we would freeze to death in the dark if we did not get the Franklin Dam and that it was essential to our well-being. Of course we see now that even though we do not have the Franklin Dam we have hundreds of megawatts of surplus power. So the statements that we will lose massive amounts of anything if we do not exploit our natural resources simply do not hold up in the light of history.

I deplore the attitude of the right wingers over here. I cannot call them the Opposition any more. I wonder whether Senator Puplick really does speak for the Opposition, as he maintained he did. Its attitude is basically that, if people can get a buck out of something, they should get it. They should squeeze it out. If they can get a buck out of selling their grandmothers' molars, they should get it. I reject this entirely. This gives us a bit of a problem with this legislation. The problem is: Should we reject it or accept it? Should we reject it because basically it allows mining in a very sensitive area of Australia's environment? Of course to reject it would mean that we would have to side with the troglodyte Right, which goes against the grain. Furthermore, we would have to take a change in the environmental movement with a future government. The way what used to be the Opposition is going it looks increasingly unlikely that the right-wingers will take over government after the next election, but if they did we would be in far worse shape than we are now. This legislation is nowhere near strong enough as it allows mining in sensitive areas, but if we accept it the conservation movement can hopefully work with the Government and pressure the Government and make it do the right thing.

While I am on this subject, I see absolutely nothing wrong with the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, listening to citizens and trying to accommodate their wishes. In this case the citizens are environmentalists who want to stop the wanton destruction of the rainforests and the timber resources of Tasmania, the wanton destruction in Kakadu and the wanton destruction of the Shelburne Bay area in north Queensland. There is nothing wrong with the Prime Minister listening to the people, to the voters and to his constituents. Perhaps this is so rare amongst those on the Opposition side that they find it absolutely unthinkable, but it is what politics is all about-we listen to the people who put us in office. I think Bob Hawke is perfectly entitled to listen to this very large group. It is not a minority group. The number of people who are interested in saving something for their children is growing all the time. I wonder about people such as Senator Jessop. I presume he has children. I wonder whether he is really thinking of their future or only of his own short term political chances or perhaps the political chances of his Party, because what we are talking about here is nothing that will benefit us directly; it is for the future, for perpetuity.

The Bills before us, as has already been mentioned, are to set up an extension to Kakadu National Park stage 3 and at the same time to allow mining. To me this is incongruous in the extreme. It was incongruous when the original Kakadu National Park was set up with an excision for a uranium mine within the boundaries. This is absolutely insane. The Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry in 1977 allowed the Ranger uranium mine to go ahead on the East Alligator River, but it recommended that the total catchment of the South Alligator River be incorporated in a park. The fact that this very valuable catchment will now be impinged upon by mining is what is disturbing the environmental movement. If this entire catchment were preserved it would be a very valuable and rare thing indeed. It would be one of the few, if not the only, complete catchments of its type in the world included in their entirety, unpolluted, unaltered. Thus it would be a scientific treasure, a treasure for the country in general.

A catchment is an ecological unity. It should be an ecological unity. We cannot separate it into little bits and pieces and say that we will carry out industrial activity in the head-waters but preserve the untouched nature of the waters downstream. It simply does not work that way.


Senator Button —You aren't suggesting it is an ecological unity as defined, are you, Senator?


Senator SANDERS —As defined?


Senator Button —Yes.


Senator SANDERS —It is now.


Senator Button —But stage 3 is not necessarily part of an ecological unit.


Senator SANDERS —Not as it is outlined because it will have mining activities in the middle of it.


Senator Button —No, but even if it didn't.


Senator SANDERS —It would be, yes. A catchment basin is a definition of an area. As such, it has the same type of activity going on in the entire areas at this moment, which excludes mining. As soon as we allow mining the topsoil is disturbed and there is more erosion, even if we do not have the difficulties experienced with the extraction of gold, which causes a tremendous amount of environmental despoilation. The treatment of ore in gold mining requires the use of large quantities of dangerous chemicals such as cyanide. In the process contaminants such as sulphides are produced.

The mining industry has been campaigning on this issue all over the country. Basically the industry wants open slather, as it has always had. It wants no controls whatsoever. Any controls bother it. We see Peko-Wallsend Ltd in the forefront of this campaign. Basically, it wants a return to the working conditions and the economic conditions of the nineteenth century. It would like to limit the rights of the workers. It has limited the rights of the workers. It has fired many of them. It also would like to maintain its divine right to dig that which basically belongs to the people out of the ground and sell it at a profit. The industry has been waging an orchestrated campaign to gain access to all national parks for mining. At the moment it has access to something like 95 per cent of the country. It wants all national parks to be available for mining. It has taken advantage of the Government's concern over the balance of payments to push at this time despite the existence of considerable reserves outside national parks. It is obvious that it is a political campaign. It is not based on its desire, or even need, to make money on these operations at this time.

The mines in stage 3 would threaten the entire wetlands of stage 2, and the monsoon climate would create an impossible management situation. We were told when Ranger commenced operations that there would be absolutely no problems there with water. Of course, we know, and I think even members of the Opposition would have to admit, that there have been great problems with water at Ranger and that there are continuing and ongoing problems with water there. Can we believe the assurances of the Government and the mining industry that there will be no problems at Coronation Hill? We cannot. At Coronation Hill, the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd is proposing to put the tailings dam behind a sandstone ridge. On visual examination that sandstone already appears to be leaching, and the idea of a clay base for the dam is another technological fix that has been tried at Ranger, and failed. Gold mining also requires large amounts of water. In the dry season this will dramatically affect the flow of the South Alligator River. There will inevitably be ecological effects all through the catchment.

The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) has described stage 3 as clapped out buffalo country. We have heard that description over and over. This is akin to Robin Gray's description of the Franklin River as a brown, leech ridden ditch. It is a political statement, not a scientific statement or an environmental or ecological statement and I think it should be ignored.

The World Heritage Committee noted that the Australian Government intended to proclaim additional areas of the Alligator River as part of the National Park and recommended that such areas be included in the site. It noted the enormous value of a total untouched catchment, as I have noted. This is essential to the argument, to the totality of the untouched catchment. The area itself has considerable nature conservation value. There is a number of endangered species there, such as the hooded parrot and the peregrine falcon. The area is of great cultural Aboriginal significance. It represents a meeting of coastal and inland influences in the art of the area. It is of a different style to that of stages 1 and 2. George Chaloupka in 1980 documented the importance of the area to the Aboriginal people and stated that `this heritage is perhaps unequalled elsewhere outside Kakadu'. Stage 3 should be proclaimed as a national park. It should be included in its entirety. The Northern Land Council wishes to see the area included in the park after making appropriate land claims. We strongly support this position. We would like to see the whole thing brought into national park status.

This package of Bills will create a portion of the area as a national park and allow mining to operate in other areas. Our major concern is that they do not allow the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service to have control of the conservation zone. We would need further amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act to bring this about. One good aspect is the changes to the Lands Acquisition Act which will make the conservation zone available for claim.

We are concerned that a ministerial committee, including the Department of Resources and Energy, will actually have control of stage 3. It will be advising the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We would like to see the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service have more autonomous control over what goes on. We are also concerned that the Commonwealth has been negotiating with the Northern Territory Government to get it involved in day to day management. It is patently obvious that the Northern Territory Government has no will properly and environmentally to manage any area. I have been to the Territory and I have talked to the former Minister for Conservation, Mr Hatton, who is now the leader of the Northern Territory Government. He has absolutely no environmental concerns whatsoever. His concerns are strictly in terms of the mining industry.

The Bills before us are numerous. We have had a good look at them. We have been concerned about the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1987, which forbids the mining of any minerals in stages 1 and 2. We are a little concerned about clause 7, which is headed `No compensation payable'. It reads:

Notwithstanding any law of the Commonwealth or of the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth is not liable to pay compensation to any person by reason of the enactment of this Act.

On the face of it, I think that is a wonderful thing. I do not think that the mining companies deserve any compensation for this because it would be about the same as compensating a mugger for not assaulting me any more. Frankly, I think the mining companies have already got plenty out of these areas. They get far more than they deserve. They pay far too little for what they get from the ground and they do not restore the areas anywhere nearly as well as they should. However, having said that, it does worry us a little that this clause might be used by Peko-Wallsend or someone else to obtain an injunction against legislation being enacted, thus frustrating its environmental provisions. We have talked to a number of people, including the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans. We have their assurances that this is not the case, that because we are dealing with the Northern Territory and not a State there will not be a problem in this regard. I sincerely hope that they are right.

We had some concerns about the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987. We were particularly concerned that an environmental impact statement was not required under this legislation. I feel that environmental impact statements should be required for anything impacting on the environment in Australia whether it is a State or Federal issue. The amendments which we considered proved to be almost unworkable in terms of what we were trying to do. They had disadvantages in that they cut out some desirable sections. We were willing to proceed with the EIS amendment and we have had constructive discussions with the Government.

The Government has shown us the provision relating to mineral exploration in the conservation zone and the ways in which the environment will be protected. I feel that if the Government followed those rules, the environmental impact would be kept to a minimum. However, I am worried that the Government will not follow the rules. I am afraid that it is up to the environmental movement to make sure that it does so. Senator Jessop seems to feel that the environmental movement is highly paid by the Government. In fact, millions of people in the environmental movement have sacrificed a great deal of their time and money to make sure that something remains of the environment for the future. It will be up to the environmental movement and us, as much as we can, to keep the Government honest in this respect.

The remaining Bills are enabling Bills which simply allow the measure to go ahead. As I have said, we have agonised over the legislation. There is a temptation to reject it entirely and to demand that the Government stick to its original promise the first of which I noted was made on 18 November 1983 in the form of a media release issued by the office of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) which stated:

In taking these steps, the Government is implementing recommendations made by the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry in respect of Kakadu National Park. Of particular importance is the inclusion in the Park of virtually the whole South Alligator River Catchment, with its internationally significant wetlands.

I only wish that the Government had kept that promise. It has not done so. It has given us a difficult situation. It has given us part of a park, having ripped the heart out of the rest of it. It would be tempting to reject the legislation, but, on balance, that would have its dangers. I cannot hope that the Government will be sincere in its efforts. We must rely on the public pressure which will be brought to bear on the Government if it tries to backslide. Therefore, we will support the legislation. However, we have concerns about the Government's sincerity.