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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2054

Senator SANDERS(11.06) —We have had a lot of crocodile tears shed by the flat-earthers on my right about the loss of this area to the mining industry, the deplorable effect that this has had on the export earnings of the country of Australia, and so on. In fact, the mining industry has done very well indeed out of this. The mining industry should not have anything to do with stages 1, 2 or 3 of Kakadu-nothing at all. It should be truly a national park run by an enlightened Federal government and without any difficulties with local pressure groups. The mining industry will get absolutely what it wants through its wholly owned subsidiary, the Northern Territory Government.

I refer to clause 4 of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill (No. 2.). Clause 4 deals with procedures for regulating and monitoring exploration activities within the conservation zone of stage 3 of Kakadu to safeguard the environmental values of the zone as much as possible-or that is its avowed intention. I have obtained documents on this subject which were drafted by the Department of Resources and Energy. They came to me from the producers of the excellent national public radio environment program Watching Brief, and are dated 7 April this year. They deal with the arrangements made between the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government and reveal glaring weaknesses in the proposed procedures for the environmental monitoring and control of exploration projects. On the surface of it, the arrangements seem satisfactory, and certainly in the legislation they seem satisfactory.

The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 gives the Director of National Parks and Wildlife responsibility for administering, managing and controlling conservation zones under the direction of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment. So far, so good-that is fine. This clause does not change that arrangement. However, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife will be able to carry out his functions properly only if he has some of his own people on the ground at the exploration sites. That is the only way he can be assured of getting objective information about what is going on at the sites, and whether his directives are being carried out.

Is this the case? No, it is not. In reality, it looks as though the Director will not have any officers constantly monitoring exploration projects. According to a document entitled `Administrative Terms and Conditions for Exploration Licences in the Conservation Zone':

The Northern Territory Director of Mines will be responsible for the day-to-day exploration program and monitoring and compliance with licence terms and conditions.

The person responsible will be not anyone from the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service but the Northern Territory Director of Mines, and the Northern Territory Director of Mines has as his sole occupation the benefit of the mining industry in that area. There is no mention of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service being involved in day to day monitoring. It is entirely in the hands of the Northern Territory Government. It is well known that the Northern Territory Government is not interested in the environment. It is interested in mining, the more the merrier. It is farcical and dangerous to expect its officials to give the Director of National Parks and Wildlife adequate information on exploration activities to enable him to fulfil his duties to the environment. Another document, entitled `Kakadu Conservation Zone Advisory Committee', states:

Any problems regarding the day-to-day administration of the exploration scheme and related monitoring would be identified by the Director of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, or the Department of Resources and Energy.

This cannot be done properly without a commitment of Commonwealth officers to day to day monitoring. I call on the Government to provide extra funds to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure that it can have officers monitoring exploration projects continually.

My other misgiving relating to this clause concerns the Conservation Zone Advisory Committee, or COZAC as it is becoming known. COZAC comprises representatives of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment and the Department of Resources and Energy and a representative of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It exists supposedly to provide advice to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. The document `Kakadu Conservation Zone Advisory Committee' states:

As far as possible advice would be conveyed to the Director in Committee, although formal requests would need to be transmitted through the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment.

This recognises the reality that COZAC has no legal power to direct the Director; only the Arts, Heritage and Environment Minister has that power. However, according to my sources there is a tacit understanding that the Director of National Parks and Wildlife will be expected to take the advice of COZAC as orders. In other words, COZAC will give directives to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. This represents an unprecedented intrusion into the work of the Director and his commendable Service. Normally, he works fairly autonomously without direct political control. Now he has two government Ministers breathing down his neck just in case his enthusiasm for protecting the conservation zone inhibits the noble cause of exploring for minerals. The Australian Democrats and the environment movement will be monitoring this situation very closely. We may have to explore legal avenues to get COZAC off the Director's back should the Government's representatives on COZAC overstep their terms of reference.

The Australian Democrats consider the decision to allow any mining in the conservation zone to be shortsighted and destructive. If it must happen, we demand that the maximum possible protection be given to the environment. To the great discredit of the Hawke Government, the arrangements proposed in these documents are shaping up as a sellout to the mining industry. I ask the Minister to assure the Senate that this situation will be rectified to give the Kakadu environment the protection it deserves.