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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1329

Senator COULTER (5.19 p.m.) —I rise to correct a number of things which Senator Teague has just harangued the Senate about in connection with the Hindmarsh Island bridge. I suppose one could summarise his 20- to 25-minute speech by saying that financial considerations of developers should always take precedence over the environment and Aboriginal concerns. That is really a summary of what Senator Teague said because he has tried to imply that those people who are concerned about the environment and those people who are concerned about Aboriginal heritage in South Australia have come very lately to this battle. So let me take Senator Teague back through a little history.

  In 1984 a developer not unlike the Chapmans chose to go into the last remaining wetland on the lower part of the upper Murray. He cleared that wetland by burning it off and getting backhoes into it before getting any permission whatsoever, and he totally destroyed a very important area. I then went along to see the then South Australian state minister for environment, Dr Don Hopgood. I am taking Senator Teague back to 1984; I am not talking 1994. I pointed out to Don Hopgood, the then environment minister, that already we were having serious problems with pollution of the Murray, that there was a limit on the number of marinas that could be built on the Murray and that, although the houseboats that often go into the marinas discharge their sewage ashore—albeit just on to the bank where it goes through a septic tank-type system—and the nutrient runs back into the river and adds to the nutrient in the river, things like the shower water and the washing-up water with potatoes peels, detergents and all those sorts of things go from the houseboats into the river. There was a serious problem with these sorts of things going into the river, and there was a limit to how many marinas could be put on the river.

  Dr Hopgood, the South Australian minister for environment in 1984, assured me that that was the last marina that would ever be built on the Murray in South Australia. I want to put that on the record. Of course, Don Hopgood did not remain the minister for environment. He retired. The Bannon government, as we now know, went ahead and gave permission for a marina on the lower part of the Murray on the Hindmarsh Island side, increasing the impact on that Murray River system. Many people concerned about the environment have complained long and hard about the environmental impacts.

  I must say of Mr Chapman that it was not part of his original proposal to build a bridge. In fact, that was foisted on him by the then Labor government. The Bannon government wrote that into the agreement. One must ask serious questions as to why, in the dying stages of a Labor government which had run up $10 billion worth of debts in the state, the minister for tourism in that Labor government chose to write that requirement into an agreement which was not necessary. I think it raises very serious questions about the propriety of that Labor government and whether there were not other reasons why that was entered into. Nonetheless, that was entered into. From then on there has been steady and very considerable opposition to the building of this bridge.

  Senator Teague seemed to be arguing that all we were talking about was the impact of the bridge on the actual footings where the bridge was being built. He totally ignored the fact that, as the population pressure on Hindmarsh Island is increased and as people are given access to the far end of Hindmarsh Island, the pressure on that whole very important area down the Coorong, Younghusband Peninsula, Sir Richard Peninsula and so on is increased.

  One of the things Senator Teague seems to be ignoring is that fragile environments can take only so much population pressure before they start to break down. We cannot simply go on increasing the population pressure on these environments, expecting everybody to have the same enjoyment that Senator Teague spoke about so eloquently. It simply will not happen.

Senator Teague —It is a matter of judgment.

Senator COULTER —My judgment is that that area is sufficiently fragile, it is already under considerable pressure and it simply cannot take that increased population pressure. Those are my remarks to do with just the environment.

  The Aboriginal people in that area were abused by the settlers of South Australia from the very earliest days. I think Senator Teague would have read in his history books how poisoned flour was issued to the Aboriginal people on the Younghusband Peninsula area in an attempt to exterminate them. The area was a rich area—one very rich in Aboriginal heritage, and it remained so. It was very sacred, particularly to the Aboriginal women. The whole area is of great importance to them. So it is not simply the disturbance to the area where the footings of the bridge will go; it is the whole issue of having thousands and thousands of people going on to Hindmarsh Island, subdividing the area, inevitably going through the 6,000 Aboriginal middens—there is probably more than that—and burial sites that Senator Teague mentioned and simply despoiling the area by that intense human habitation.

  I think that Minister Tickner has quite rightly exercised his powers under this act. I hope that the report for which he has called and which he is required to examine before he gives a final declaration will find that this bridge should not be built and that it would indeed interfere excessively with that very important Aboriginal heritage site.

  Quite contrary to Senator Teague's claim that the environmental people and the Aboriginal people are Johnnies-come-lately in this battle, this battle has been going on for a long time. If the state Labor government, as it was then, had been true to its promise to me in 1984, permission would never have been given in the first place for that marina on Hindmarsh Island. I understand the marina, before Minister Tickner's decision to call for this report was made, was actually in receivership, so it is extremely doubtful whether there is a great deal of economic benefit in this for either the developer or the people of South Australia.

  For these reasons I conclude by saying that I think the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs was right in seeking to go down this path. I hope that the report that the minister has called for will confirm that this action should be turned from a temporary stay of execution into a permanent stay of execution and that the area should be protected more firmly, both as a conservation area and as an area of very great Aboriginal significance.