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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2065

Senator DURACK(12.07) —As I have made very clear in this debate, the Opposition totally opposes this legislation. We registered our very strong opposition not only in the debate but also by voting against the second reading of this legislation. Nothing that has transpired at the Committee stage in any way has changed our implacable opposition to it. In view of the extent to which we have registered that opposition, I do not propose to seek to divide the Senate on this motion that the Bills be read a third time.

In conclusion to this fairly lengthy debate I say that we leave it with a very heavy heart not just because of the provisions of this legislation and the way it will be applied to an area a third of the size of Tasmania but also because the Commonwealth's remaining overriding power in the Northern Territory means that that Territory, even though it is moving towards statehood, is able to be treated in this very shabby way by the Commonwealth Government. This Government is certainly proceeding along that course in a very disquieting fashion.

From our point of view, what is of far more concern is the damage this legislation will do directly by locking up this vast area from proper mineral assessment. The Government is embarking on this course when it does not know-as the Minister has indicated already by criticising the estimates-the value of the minerals that may be in this area and forever lost if the Government's proposals are sustained in the future. I hope they will not be. If that occurred, we would be locking up this wealth in this national park without knowing the extent of it. It is extraordinary for the Government, for the Parliament, when making any judgments about the future economic interests of this nation and its people to turn a blind eye to what that wealth may be and what those interests may be. That is what the Government is doing here.

We want to make it perfectly clear-let there be no mistake-that the Government is making these decisions about this vast area without having any clear understanding about the economic consequences of what it is doing. In addition to that, of course, this legislation for a whole series of reasons is a dreadful precedent for any government or parliament to set. Basically, it flies in the face, as I think Senator Crichton-Browne mentioned, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which this Government has sought to enshrine in legislation in Australia by its Bill of Rights. The Government is considering enshrining that principle in the constitutional guarantees by amending the Constitution. Yet, at the same time, its actions in this legislation fly totally in the face of some principles of that covenant, to which the Government seems to be so attached, which guarantee that there will not be a misappropriation of property. What the Government has done here is quite in the face of the Constitution of Australia which provides for just compensation. Because the land and the rights happen to be in the Territory, these decisions can be made by the Government without any constitutional restriction.

This Government is taking away people's rights which, in some cases, have been exercised at great expense. In one case, a company has expended millions of dollars on exploration. In respect of a number of other rights in stage 3, it has now transpired that the Government intends to treat them in the same way and others will be greatly modified by the legislation. This is a dreadful precedent by any government and any parliament in this country. The Government and all those who have supported it, including the Australian Democrats, should be hanging their heads in shame at the precedent they have created.

There are some nonsensical words in the second reading speech about how the Government's actions should not be seen to be a precedent for future legislation. What hollow gestures they are. Once governments and parliaments do this sort of thing, how can they expect anybody in the community to trust them again? I hope that the legislation will be seen by the Australian people for the dreadful precedent that it is and for the dreadful threat that it poses to their liberties and rights which have long been acknowledged in this country; and in this case our constitution escaped for technical reasons. I hope that the people will see and understand what a tremendous threat this Government is to their rights and liberties.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a third time.