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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2055

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(11.12) —I am very happy to give the Committee an assurance that the environmental monitoring of the exploration activity in the conservation zone will be absolutely stringent and directed squarely at preserving the values of the Kakadu National Park and in particular the South Alligator River system that is so integral to it. That is the whole point of declaring the extension of stage 3 and going through this elaborate conservation zone mechanism, to ensure that environmental interests are so protected.

I do not concede that there is anything in the proposed arrangements which would put those objectives in any way at risk. The reality is that the Commonwealth will retain complete control over exploration and mining in the conservation zone. The day to day management of the zone will be undertaken by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service acting in accordance with the provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act and regulations made under it. The exploration will be governed by a combination of regulations of the kind that I have just mentioned made under that Act and also terms and conditions attached to exploration titles. Of course, far more extensive terms and conditions, much wider in their subject matter, will be attached to any subsequent mining development that is approved after further environmental assessment.

Northern Territory authorities will be invited to assist in the consideration of the exploration applications and in the day to day management of the exploration program we will be calling on, among other things, the resources of the environmental monitoring group which is attached to the Northern Territory Department of Mines and which has a large body of experience in these matters. There has been an allocation of additional numbers to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. That was accomplished a few weeks ago under the Additional Estimates which are presently before the Parliament to enable the National Parks and Wildlife Service to discharge its additional responsibilities in this area. It will be a co-operative exercise in which the resources of a variety of bodies will be pooled and co-operatively managed. The Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service will have the formal controlling authority that follows from the language of the Act, which provides for a declaration to be made under a conservation zone arrangement. The functions of the Director are also set out in that statute and have application once such a declaration is made.

Because of the sensitive balance we are trying to achieve between the conservation interests on the one hand and the resources assessment exercise on the other, an arrangement has been worked out whereby the area will be controlled in accordance with basic policy parameters that are set by the Conservation Zone Advisory Committee. That body is equally composed of representatives of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment and the Department of Resources and Energy and it will reach decisions essentially on a consensual basis. We fully anticipate that it will not be a matter of anybody superimposing his will on the Director, who will in fact be physically present sitting in as part of the deliberation of that body; it will be a matter of sensible decisions being reached in that kind of atmosphere.

I have not mentioned the applicability of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, that separate piece of very important Commonwealth environmental legislation that will also have some application in this situation, to the extent that the Minister is capable at any time of requiring that a full environmental impact statement be made under that Act. The basic expectation is that at the exploration stage it is likely that the conditions set out in the regulations and attached to the licence, provided they are effectively monitored, will be a sufficient sort of controlling regime but of course it is necessary to make an assessment of each particular exploration program as it is submitted by a licence applicant in order to make a judgment as to how it is likely to operate on the ground.

If there is any doubt at all in the Minister's mind about the scope and nature of the proposal, any doubt at all that it might be more extensive than the normal run of the mill exploration program such as to justify special additional conditions being imposed that are not already satisfactorily there in the existing standard conditions, I have no doubt that the Minister under those circumstances will call for a full environmental impact statement and the full procedures of the Act will be put in train. But in the normal course of events we anticipate that the combination of controls, arrangements and regulations that I have mentioned, which are designed to facilitate the resource assessment exercise and not to stand impossibly in its way, will be a perfectly adequate body of arrangements to ensure the full protection of the area. I conclude as I started by saying that the Commonwealth is unequivocally committed to the full and complete protection of the environmental values of this area. There is no question of our allowing anything to happen which will put those values at risk in any way.