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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2051

Senator DURACK —(Western Australia) (10.47)-The Opposition does not propose any specific amendments to the legislation because we believe that it is so bad, wrong and misguided that we should just continue to oppose it. There is nothing that we can suggest that would in any way conceivably improve it. The package of Bills before the Committee is intermeshed and that is why we agreed to the Bills being considered as a whole. That was the right approach to take. The Bills are, as a whole, giving effect to the Government's decision of September last year when it was under pressure from a rebellious back bench which in itself had caved in to the extreme environmentalists.

This collection of Bills against which we have just voted, and which we will continue to oppose, gives one sop to the mining industry. The Government has sold out to the extreme environmentalists whose views, I think, were best expressed in this debate by Senator Sanders who is totally opposed to mining in any shape or form, as far as I can see. That is why the Australian Democrats appointed him their spokesman on mining. For the most sordid of political decisions that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) took last year, the Government has adopted this package of legislation to lock out any further mining assessment of the whole area of Kakadu National Park. The area comprises 20,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory and is a third the size of Tasmania. The only exception-this is where the sop comes in-is what is called a conservation zone which represents a little over 2,000 square kilometres in stage 3 which comprise pastoral leases known as Gimbat and Goodparla.

As I understand it, although the Commonwealth is the freehold owner of this land, the Government intends to resume the pastoral leases under the Lands Acquisition Act. Senator Evans should listen for a moment to the debate. I know he wants to forget about his former opposition to this approach. We know that Senator Evans, until 15 September last year, pursued attempts at multiple land use for Kakadu National Park and that he had correspondence with a number of people, including Charles Copeman, in which he advocated that and expressed the Government's interest in it.

Senator Jessop —Very sensible approach.

Senator DURACK —It was a very sensible approach. Senator Evans now does not want to pay any attention whatever to the Committee stage of the debate. He did not want to deliver Professor Ovington's reply to the second reading debate. His own distaste for that exercise was quite clear. It is very demeaning for him, I know, to have to just repeat the words of Professor Ovington. Repeating anybody else's words except his own is very demeaning for him, particularly those that he does not agree with. If Senator Evans would attend, I want to ask a few questions.

I started off by saying that I understand it is the Government's intention to resume the pastoral leases of Gimbat and Goodparla and to then replace those interests under the Lands Acquisition Act whereby compensation and so on will be available, unlike other mining interests which will not get any compensation. In addition to the interests of pastoral leases over this area there exist under Northern Territory mining legislation a large number of mineral exploration rights and applications for such rights. This was the subject of a good deal of questioning by me at Senate Estimates committees in April and September last year. On 18 September last year at Senate Estimates Committee E, I asked a number of questions and I received this reply from Mr Ryan of Senator Evans's Department:

. . . there are 46 mining tenements in the Gimbat-Goodparla region and the legal status varies quite considerably. The BHP mining tenement area, for example, has been held to be okay, but, as far as we can deduce, a number of other instances will probably have to be settled in the courts. There are 98 exploration applications still standing for the area and the legal status of those is yet to be resolved.

Under Northern Territory mining law-for the benefit of Senator Coleman, who seems to misunderstand it-applications for exploration rights have legal status as such. That is very clear. I am sorry to say, Senator, that they have rights. I know it is very unfortunate for the honourable senator to have to acknowledge it, but they do have rights as applicants for exploration rights. In addition to the 98 applications there are 46 mining tenements which, even on Senator Coleman's views of mining law, would undoubtedly be recognised as rights. One of the difficulties is that Mr Ryan indicated that legal status of these 46 mining tenements is, in some cases, doubtful and may have to be settled in the courts. That was a state of affairs which had greatly concerned me, and still does. I would like Senator Evans to tell us now-he will remember, I hope, the discussions that have been held in these Estimates committees-whether this legislation is now going to simply wipe off altogether the 144 rights of some sort or other, some of which may well be dubious. Is this legislation now wiping off those rights so that the Government can start with a completely clean slate? Will it then impose upon that clean slate-this area where there will be presumably no pastoral lease and no mining rights-a new mining regime? I do not want to burden the Minister with too many questions at once. I then want to ask a number of questions about the nature of this new mining regime, but perhaps it would be better if we can get an answer from Senator Evans as to just whether I am right in that assumption-if I am not, where I am wrong-and whether that is, in broad terms, the position.