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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 1974


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(12.30) —The Senate is debating cognately a number of Bills that touch upon stages 1, 2 and 3 of Kakadu National Park. They are 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. As we know, the thrust of this package of legislation is, to all intents and purposes, simply to do three things: To lock up perhaps $70 billion worth of resources in the Northern Territory within the boundaries of the park, to grant the opportunity to the Aboriginal community to claim land in Gimbat and Goodparla, and to confiscate development rights and deny compensation to those mining companies which quite properly, quite legally and quite legitimately were granted exploration permits and titles in those areas. This legislation retrospectively takes away their rights. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) is referred to in the second reading speech as follows:

The background to this legislation is the landmark decision-

a landmark it is-

made by the Government in the latter part of last year, concerning Kakadu National Park and the adjoining Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases. Essentially the decision involved prohibiting mining in the park, incorporating about 65 per cent of the lease areas into the park as soon as possible, and establishing a conservation zone over the remainder of the lease areas so that a carefully controlled program of mineral exploration and resource assessment can be undertaken.

In other words, two-thirds of an area described by the present Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) as clapped out buffalo country has now been elevated to an area judged to be of world significance in terms of its natural beauty and its uniqueness. It is now to be removed from the area that might be explored or exploited and from which the resources that all Australians need may be obtained. This package of legislation provides a basis for implementing the Government's decision. To quote from the second reading speech:

The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1987 will enable some 4,000 square kilometres of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases to be included in Kakadu National Park, and a conservation zone to be declared over the remainder . . .

This is 4,000 square kilometres of land so unique, so beautiful and so fertile that it will not even maintain stock. Its contribution so far is to maintain scrawny, scrappy feral buffalo. Its other present attribute, as I say, is that it contains perhaps one of the most significant gold and platinum deposits in the world, not to mention the molybdenum and uranium deposits that have not been explored. The second reading speech continues:

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill will ensure that the Gimbat and Goodparla areas are available for Aboriginal land claim.

Having reclaimed their heritage, as they would have us believe, for financial reasons they will then lease the area back to the Government. They claim it by right and, having done so, lease it back. The land clearly has some intrinsic basic relationship with them but as long as they get it, as long as they can claim it and as long as they can extract royalties and benefit from tourism in the area, they are quite happy to give it back to the Government, back to the Australian people, back to the taxpayers. They are happy as long as they are getting their share of the gold coins. The second reading speech goes on:

The Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1987 will enable exploration and mining rights to be granted in the conservation zone after lodgment of a land claim, and allow such interests to be granted if that land should become Aboriginal land.

So the sequence of events is this: The area is declared a park and is given to the Aboriginal communities; the mining companies come along and explore it, at least in the conservation area, and judge what resources it has; and the Aboriginal communities can do a deal with the mining companies so that they end up with the money and everybody else ends up with the land. The speech goes on to say:

The establishment of Kakadu National Park has not been a precipitous action, but has involved careful government considerations based on detailed investigations, inquiry and public comment over many years. In December last year, the Government announced its intention to further extend the park to include 65 per cent of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases.

I do not know what public comment the Government has drawn upon to make its determinations; I do not know with whom it has co-operated and with whom it has had discussions. I know that the Northern Territory Government has been treated with total disdain and total disregard, treated as irrelevant. The views it has put have been categorically and absolutely ignored. Not one of its recommendations has even been contemplated, never mind considered and implemented. The Northern Territory Government has complained on many occasions that it has been treated as some poor mendicant Territory government that is immaterial and inconsequential in the determinations and deliberations of the Federal Government in relation to its decisions in respect of the Kakadu region. The Federal Government made up its mind as to what it was going to do in spite of propositions put to it by an overwhelming number of people, and it pursued for ideological, philosophical and hell-bent purposes the decision it intended to make from the beginning. Its co-operation is a facade. If that is what Hawke calls government by consensus, I would hate to see him in a confrontation. The speech says:

The legislative amendments will allow the new part of Kakadu National Park to be claimed. Land in the park successfully claimed will be leased to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife by the relevant Aboriginal Land Trust . . . The Government also recognises the importance of fully assessing the mineral resources of the proposed conservation zone, which is a largely unexplored area-

as, of course, is all of Kakadu-

and highly prospective, particularly for gold and platinum.

That is something we now know because companies were not inhibited, and prohibited, from exploring, in the way they are now in stages 1 and 2. Who knows what might be in stages 1 and 2? The general opinion of those in authority, with authority and with expertise and skill suggests that stages 1 and 2 are major uranium, gold and base metal provinces by world standards. Accordingly, so we are again told, a five-year exploration and resource assessment program is planned for the zone. Here is the caveat. The speech states:

Following the assessment, the Government will be in a better position to take further decisions on its long term future.

I ask honourable senators: What company being responsible to its shareholders would spend millions and millions of dollars, as is required, exploring areas on the basis that the Government might grant it title, but then again, it might not? What company being honest unto its shareholders could possibly contemplate those risks? I have to say that the risks are pretty short. We have only to look at the history in the case of Geopeko, which was granted mining tenements and exploration permits in stage 2 which are now being taken away. Now we have legislation before us which says the companies shall have no compensation. And this Government says it is seeking to encourage private enterprise, exploration and exploitation! With that track record could honourable senators imagine any responsible company wanting to invest money in that area?


Senator Kilgariff —Democracy!


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Yes, democracy! The Australian Labor Party's definition of democracy is government by divine rule. The speech states:

The regulation-making power in the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act to prohibit operations on existing interests will only be used as a last resort, if the company does not accept additional terms and conditions which may be required as a result of an environmental assessment.

When the Government talks about last resort it really means first resort. There is no right of appeal. Unilateral decisions are imposed upon mining companies. In a benevolent fashion we are further told:

The Government recognises that the proposed treatment of existing interests in the conservation zone may alter the rights of companies with such interests. However I give an assurance, on behalf of the Government, that this is not to be taken as a precedent for the treatment of existing mining rights on Commonwealth land generally.

It is the old story of suspending the Constitution or suspending the laws just for today. We are told that the rights, responsibilities and obligations can be varied, can be changed and may be altered; the rights of the companies and the interests therein may be changed, but it is not to be taken as the norm. How often does this have to be done before it becomes the norm? We are told:

Any mining at Coronation Hill will proceed only under strict arrangements for the protection of environmental and Aboriginal heritage values.

I find that quaint. Senator Zakharov and I are members of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. It took evidence from the Aboriginal Sacred Sights Protection Authority that there is a major sacred site, an area of major significance, on the top of Coronation Hill, a bula, one of the most sacred areas to Aboriginals. Now that we have had a closer look at the matter and taken more detailed and better evidence we learn that the sacred site is not there but at Sleisbeck 50 kilometres away. The Aboriginals who are purported to have signed the claim in the first place have no memory or knowledge of the original claim. `Senator Crichton-Browne, we do not know what you are talking about. What do you mean we made an application?' Given that they are illiterate, all they did was sign a piece of paper put under their noses by the sacred sites authority. The sacred sites authority came to the conclusion that Coronation Hill looked like a pretty good prospect for gold, platinum and other base metals. Now the truth is out I hope that discipline is imposed. The sacred site is 50 kilometres away in an area so far found to be barren of minerals, metals, uranium and other base resources.


Senator Zakharov —That is an appalling allegation and an appalling implication.


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It is not an allegation; it stands up in evidence. The people whose names are on the application are now saying that Coronation Hill is not a site of significance to them, yet a sacred site is registered as being on Coronation Hill.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.