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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1324

Senator TEAGUE (4.57 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise with very real concern about the declaration under section 9 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, which the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Mr Tickner, made on 12 May with regard to the area of Goolwa in my state of South Australia and Hindmarsh Island, where the River Murray has a significant bend or elbow. The Aboriginal word for elbow is `Goolwa'; hence the name of the town that is based there.

  The declaration by Mr Tickner stands for some 30 days. This tabled paper in front of me says, `This Declaration will cease to have effect on 14 June 1994'; that is, in about a week's time. In this period of 30 days, the effect of the declaration by the Commonwealth minister for aboriginal affairs has been to stop the building of a bridge between Goolwa town and Hindmarsh Island at the point fully investigated and planned by the state government of South Australia and, in fact, very close to where the current ferry operates and has been operating for many decades.

  The reasons for the declaration of the Commonwealth minister are not in any way set out in the tabled declaration. Rather, it is a bold legal statement that is published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. This is the kind of blank cheque that the parliament has given to any Aboriginal affairs minister to act in matters where he is concerned that Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage needs urgent protection.

  It is a pity that those of us with a direct concern in this matter have not had any even informal disclosure by the minister of what the reasons for his action have been. The only publicly available reasons appear to me—and I have been following this for many months, indeed, for several years—to be the location of an Aboriginal midden at about the point where the bridge footings are to be constructed. This is one of 6,000 midden, as I understand it, in that region. Another reason is that this point, which is a national crossing point between the land and the island, was perhaps a place of Aboriginal congregation where Aboriginal people met in some decades last century, but that has not been the case at any point in this century.

  I am further concerned, because in the development of plans for the bridge, the state government is required to make an environmental impact statement which must look at not only environmental matters but also Aboriginal heritage matters. There was a green light given in the early investigations of this matter.

  The reasons for there being a bridge include, firstly, that there is a large marina development of very real significance to the state of South Australia and, indeed, to recreation use of the river and the whole southern region about the Murray mouth, Lake Alexandrina and other important and valuable areas of the state. This highly professionally planned marina required a volume of traffic between the marina and the mainland—the marina is built on the island—which led some years ago to most careful discussions with the state government of South Australia for approval for a bridge to be built, partly at the expense of the state of South Australia.

  A firm contract of agreement was determined by the former Labor government led by Premier Bannon and, as I understand it, in particular determined by the then Minister for Tourism, Minister Wiese. This contract or firm undertaking entered into by the previous Labor government was carefully examined by the incoming Liberal government, following the last state election and Premier Dean Brown; the Minister for Transport, the Hon. Di Laidlaw; the minister for the environment, the Hon. David Wotton; and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr Michael Armitage, were all involved, as were all members of the government of South Australia, to see what obligations remained upon the South Australian government with regard to the bridge.

  To help them in their investigations, they asked a former Supreme Court justice, Sam Jacobs, to carry out a thorough investigation of the whole matter. He had access to all papers related to the contract for the development of the bridge, all the environmental impact statements, community consultations, engineering plans, cost estimates and everything to do with the bridge. Justice Sam Jacobs has a very high reputation in South Australia as an honest broker and a very competent man. He was the one who was asked by the former Labor government to carry out the royal commission into the State Bank of South Australia. His report is well known in this parliament, as well as in South Australia. That was the principal matter at issue at the last state election.

  Nobody has criticised the abilities or the bona fides of Justice Jacobs in carrying out his work. It was this same Justice Jacobs who was asked by the Dean Brown Liberal government to investigate the arrangements with regard to the Goolwa-Hindmarsh Island bridge. His conclusion was unequivocal—that there is a contract existing for the state government of South Australia to complete the bridge and, moreover, to complete it as soon as practicable. Accordingly, the state government of South Australia, the Minister for Transport and other ministers let contracts for the building of the bridge. The footings were begun earlier this year and the bridge was about to be constructed.

  It was at this point, after many years of the process being determined, that two different groups emerged with a last minute—more than 11th hour—attempt to veto the bridge. One involved those with broad, but not fully specified, environmental concerns—environmental concerns that everybody shares in this area because of the bird life, the salinity of the river, the preciousness of the habitat on Hindmarsh Island and so on. No-one has a monopoly on concern about the important environmental heritage that is wrapped up in the island and in this lower end of the River Murray system.

  The second area of this 11th hour intervention came from some individual Aboriginal persons who claimed to speak on behalf of Aborigines of the area or their descendants or, perhaps, to have some claim to be representative of the Aboriginal people in that area. It is very difficult in this part of Australia where there has not been continuous occupation of land by Aboriginal people and their descendants for the representativeness of such spokesmen to be evaluated.

  As a result of these last minute attempts to intervene, the state government again re-examined the matter and Ministers Armitage and Laidlaw, and Premier Brown, went ahead with the building of the bridge. The very last veto that then was attempted was the one we have tabled before us today by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Mr Tickner, acting under section 9 of the act.

  I happen to be a South Australian senator who supports the just claims for land of Aboriginal people. I was present when my good friend Premier Tonkin handed over the title for the Pitjantjatjara land to the Pitjantjatjara community in a creek bed north of Ernabella. This was some 12 years ago. For five years I have been a member of the Council of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Senator Collins, who is in the chamber, would note that I support the land claim made by the people at Daguragu and Kalkarindji near Wave Hill, which has led to the Gurindji people having land of their own possession in perpetuity. I am conscious of the land claims for which there has been solid evidence—and I have supported such claims.

  I am also on the record in the Mabo debate as saying that the High Court decision in the Mabo case was justified, and I believe it still. If I had been on the High Court of Australia, I would have put up my hand to give a title of land to the Torres Strait Islanders on Murray Island in the way it was given in the Mabo case. For the credibility of my evaluations of Aboriginal land claims and for the credibility of Aboriginal people themselves in making such claims, I am therefore speaking out here in the Senate to ask the minister, `What is the credible set of facts that would lead to any significant Aboriginal heritage being endangered in this bridge matter in my state of South Australia?'

  Nobody has made it clear to me that there is anything of Aboriginal heritage apart from one in 6,000 middens or a generalised place of Aboriginal congregation in the last century. There is no Aboriginal sacred site to my knowledge—that anyone has told me about—that has anything to do with the bridge. This was the finding of the environmental impact statement that was carried out not only by the developers of the marina but also by the state government of South Australia. I refer to Roger Lubers, consultant archaeologist of Adelaide, and Neil Draper, the senior archaeologist of the Aboriginal heritage branch at that time, who were consulted with regard to this land.

  I must draw my remarks to a close. I am very familiar with this part of South Australia. All my life I have known Goolwa very well. I know Hindmarsh Island; I have been there scores of times. I happen to be an environmentalist who appreciates the area. I sail beyond the first barrage, past the Murray mouth and down into the Coorong where, with my family and friends, I am delighted to leave undisturbed what is for me one of the precious parts of the heritage of South Australia. But I am of the view that unless there is a marina, unless there is a road, a hotel or a shop that can provide for people visiting that area in a responsible fashion, we will not be opening up the possibility of not only international and interstate visitors, but also South Australian people being able to see for themselves this marvellous part of South Australia's heritage.

  If we were so conservative as to put a wall around every area of national park so that no-one could get into it, we would be defeating the purpose of a national park. I am most vigilant to ensure that anyone who uses the national park, the Coorong, in South Australia does so in the most responsible and careful way.

  I know the area well. I have ridden on the ferry between the island and Goolwa scores of times. If I were scratched a little bit I, along with some of my family members, would put my hand up and, as a strictly personal view, say that I actually quite like the quaint ferry that delays us 20 minutes—or, in a busy time, 40 minutes—in getting across to the island. In our busy life it is something which slows us down and leads us to get acclimatised to the island, the boat, the sailing and the walking that we are about to embark on.

  But that is not the view of the people of Goolwa; it is not the view of the state government of South Australia; it is not the view of the developer of the marina; and I believe it is not the view of the majority of the people on Hindmarsh Island. There is a clear minority view among some residents on the island, some `environmentalists' and some `Aboriginal spokesmen' against the bridge.

  I conclude by urging Minister Tickner to tell me the reasons, even if it is on a private basis, so that I can be satisfied as one senator. But more than me, the interested parties in South Australia should be told the reasons. What is the Aboriginal heritage that is at risk in this matter which has escaped five years or more of investigation?  If there is no disclosure and if this declaration is continued beyond 14 June for any reason, we will have a conclusion that can rightly be reached. We would say that this was the most intrusive power of any government or any minister to upset a development that may be to the benefit of thousands of Australians—a project that has involved many millions of dollars of work—without reasons being given to all of the parties involved.

  This coming Friday there happens to be a mass rally in Goolwa by its residents. I understand that this rally is being organised by the mayor of the town, without reference to the developer of the marina on the island. It is to call for the building of the bridge. The majority of those who have contacted me want to see that bridge built for public reasons. The state government wants to see it built because it is under a legal obligation to build it. The developers of the marina want it built because they are the ones who have urged that there be that regular access without the 20 minute delay at the ferry. I want to know from Minister Tickner—a person with whom I have had some bona fide and genuine meetings over many years—the reasons, so that they can be communicated to that rally of South Australians on Friday.

  I know that Senator Campbell wishes to speak because he sees parallels with what has happened to a crocodile farm development in Broome in Western Australia, because of the action of the minister in a declaration of this kind. It sent a particular business broke.

  I see that Senator Coulter, another South Australian colleague, but from the Australian Democrats, is in the chamber. I know that he has visited the area. Of course we acknowledge the conservation and heritage considerations of Democrat senators. I notice Senator Chamarette in the chamber who has also visited the site of this bridge. Some locals have said that there is some sense of competition between the Greens and the Democrats as to who might get the running on stopping this bridge.

Senator Collins —You do appreciate that it is now 10 or 15 minutes since you said you were about to conclude?

Senator TEAGUE —I will sit down in a couple of minutes. Senator Collins is 100 per cent correct. I ask senators from the Greens and the Democrats to speak not only to a minority of protesters but also to the representatives of the residents of Goolwa, the residents of the island—speak to them there; speak to the heritage people in the state government of South Australia, the ministers of the South Australian government, and, not least, the developers of the marina who have a direct responsibility for the original environmental impact statement.

  It is my understanding that Senator Coulter and Senator Chamarette in their brief visits to this area, whilst making statements to the press, have not spoken to those groups that I have just listed. I appeal to anyone involved in this kind of debate to ensure that we have credibility for any intervention by government on conservation or Aboriginal heritage grounds. If there is such a significant Aboriginal heritage or conservation matter involved let it be understood and declared—not just some general, vague appeal. There are precedents now being developed by the Commonwealth government's use of this declaration which are insidious to the free development, according to law, of matters of very real importance to the people of my state, South Australia; Senator Campbell's state, Western Australia; and other developments. We have to be fair, we have to be just.

  My conclusion is that the bridge should continue and I hope that even before 14 June this declaration will be withdrawn and that the bridge, which is in the process of being built, will be completed. I seek leave to incorporate two documents in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The documents read as follows

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984


I, ROBERT EDWARD TICKNER, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, being satisfied that:

  (a) the area described in Schedule 1 is a significant Aboriginal area; and

  (b) the area is under serious and immediate threat of injury or desecration; declare, under subsection 9(1) of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, that, for the protection and preservation of the area from injury or desecration, an act of a kind specified in Schedule 2 must not be carried out in the area without my written consent during the period of 30 days commencing on the day on which this declaration is published in the Gazette.



The area in the State of South Australia in the County of Hindmarsh, Hundreds of Goolwa and Nangkita and which is shown on the published 1:10,000 Map Sheet No. 6626-3 as bounded by a straight line between Australian Map Grid Coordinates Zone 54 299000 East 6068870 North thence South East to 299650 East 6068360 North thence South West to 299629 East 6068270 North thence North West to 298959 East 6068750 North thence to rejoin at the commencement point.



Any act that will, or is likely to, injure or desecrate any part of the area described in Schedule 1, including:

  (a) bulldozing, grading, drilling or excavating; and

  (b) any act done for the purpose of constructing a bridge in any part of the area.

Dated 12th May 1994.

Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs


Issued by the authority of the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984

Declaration under Section 9

No. 6 of 1994

This Declaration is made under section 9 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984. That section empowers the Minister to make a Declaration that an area is a significant Aboriginal area and is under serious and immediate threat of injury or desecration.

This Declaration prohibits the commission of any act that will or is likely to injure or desecrate any part of that area which consists of the construction site of the proposed Hindmarsh Island Bridge extending from part of Goolwa to Hindmarsh Island and inclusive of the Goolwa Channel as described in Schedule 1 of the Declaration. Any such act includes bulldozing, grading, drilling or excavating and any act done for the purpose of constructing a bridge in any part of the area.

This Declaration will cease to have effect on 14 June 1994.

Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources

Minister for Family and Community Services

Minister for the Ageing

Honourable David Wotton MP

Media Release

18 May 1994


The Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, David Wotton indicated today that he was satisfied State heritage issues had been adequately addressed concerning the proposed Hindmarsh Island bridge.

The Minister called for a report from the Department's State Heritage Branch after doubts emerged late last week about the assessment of the impact of the bridge on places entered on the State Heritage Register.

"I received the report today and am now satisfied the State Heritage Branch was properly and adequately consulted and that the state heritage issues were adequately addressed," the Minister said.

"The State Heritage Branch was consulted on three separate occasions about the potential impact of the bridge on historical values in the area. It undertook a full survey of the potential impact on historic values of the area, including historic buildings.

"Each time, it was concluded by the State Heritage Branch that the bridge would not have an adverse impact on historic values which make the areas significant.

"The bridge does not propose to demolish or alter in any way, the historic fabric of any building or structures."

The State Heritage Branch has advised that in September 1987, part of central Goolwa—including the waterfront area—was declared a State Heritage area. The bridge alignment is along one boundary of the State Heritage area and a portion of the approach is proposed to lie within the area. There is no other physical impact.

"The story in the Advertiser on 17 May says there are seven places on the State Heritage register in Brooking Street but this is incorrect. There is only one," the Minister said.

"The so-called development recommendations referred to in the Advertiser article were not written by the State Heritage Branch and have never been adopted or endorsed by it."