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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2052


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(10.55) —I think it is important to distinguish between existing mineral interests in the form of granted mineral leases and licences of one kind or another and those which are merely claims of rights; that is to say, applications for leases under the Northern Territory Mines Act. The Government's position is essentially one of recognising the granted leases and licence interests, but not recognising as protectable interests the mere applications. There is a lot of uncertainty about the legal status of those applications. There is a decision that Senator Crichton-Browne was talking about, which is not necessarily the last word on the matter.

Talking about the allocation of exploration interests in the conservation zone, it is proposed to develop a regime, probably de novo, to allow the exploration area to be divided up between various claimants in a way that is rational in terms of our longer term resource assessment exercise. The Government is consulting right now with the Northern Territory Government to see whether we can get some agreed ground rules for the division and allocation of the presently unoccupied conservation zone area in such a way as to allow claimants a level playing field, I suppose, on which to put their claim for access to that area. As soon as we have worked out what that regime is going to be-those discussions are proceeding quite amicably, I am told, at the moment with the Northern Territory Government and quite speedily and should not take very much longer-I will of course announce precisely what the regime is. That is all with reference to what are merely licence applications, and which do not constitute granted interests.

The situation so far as the 46 granted mineral leases and mineral claims in the area of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases is that 32 of those interests will fall within the proposed conservation zone and 14 will fall within the stage 3 extension of the park. In line with the Government's policy elsewhere in the park, all exploration and mining activities will be prohibited in the stage 3 extension. So the 14 interests that fall within the stage 3 extension are, for practical purposes, rendered nugatory. The existing titles in the proposed conservation zone-that is to say, the remaining 32-will be protected to the extent that they comply with the Commonwealth's environmental requirements. Exploration on existing interests will be subject to the same environmental assessment procedures as exploration in other areas of the conservation zone and will be subject to regulation under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. It would be illogical to have different regulations applying to existing as compared with new interests, but the interests themselves will be recognised and will be honoured.

The particular regulations applying to exploration in the conservation zone are being considered at the moment by the advisory committee which has been established to deal with this matter and which has a formal membership of the Department of Resources and Energy and the Commonwealth Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment, with participation by the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and the assistance of a whole variety of bodies and groups such as the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy, which is participating to this extent in the process. We believe that the regime that will flow from this will be a quite satisfactory one from everyone's point of view.

I might say, finally, that it is not intended that exploration on existing leases be held up pending the finalisation of these procedures. They will be brought under the new management regime when the environmental assessments are completed and the new management regime will take effect at the time the exploration licences are granted in respect of the new interests in the conservation zone, which is the point that I made at the outset. I think that is as much information as I can possibly give the honourable senator at this stage. I hope that answers all his questions.