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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1333

Senator CHAMARETTE (5.41 p.m.) —It has been rightly acknowledged that I have come fairly recently to this issue. My reason for involvement came towards the end of last year when people who were very concerned about what was happening in relation to the Hindmarsh Island bridge development heard about the, at that stage, potentially successful intervention over a Ramsar protected area in Western Australia; that is, the Creery Wetlands. I received a delegation of people who showed me maps and pictures of the area and explained their concerns regarding the impact of development in terms of not only the activity of migratory birds but the essential significance of the area to Aboriginal people. They expressed those views and they requested my urgent intervention on and support for the issue. I believe they had also gained support from Senator Coulter and others who were aware of their concerns.

  I think the history of this project is worth evaluating. It does seem to me that some points have been missed in discussing it. I want to add my words to those of Senator Coulter in saying that from the start the impact of development on this area seems not to have been looked at sufficiently seriously both from an environmental and from an Aboriginal heritage point of view.  It appears that the planning process actually involved getting the proponents of a private development on Hindmarsh Island to agree to provide public infrastructure at their expense—a bridge—in order to obtain planning approval for their development. This had not been their original intention. Indeed, contained in their EIS for the project was expert traffic consultant advice that a bridge was not necessary.

  In a later document an EIS for a bridge was promised. This was never required or provided by the planning process. At that stage the development was a fairly simple one which might have required an additional ferry. I want to put on the record that none of the protesters from the community, who are deeply concerned about the bridge development, are unwilling to negotiate in relation to developments that are sensitive to the ecotourism concerns and the Aboriginal concerns regarding that highly significant area.

  However, having originally desired from the proponents of the development the commitment to a bridge, the council and the government then put forward that proposal for a bridge, but at public expense. A situation has emerged in which the present government, which some feel is seeking to hedge the risk of litigation, is actually driving innocent, honest citizens to bear the brunt of, basically, intimidatory tactics. Conservationists were arrested and held over under secondary boycott provisions of the Trade Practices Act on the day before that act was changed. It has led to people who believe very strongly in the proper pursuit of the developmental process coming under severe threat and intimidation.

  Having become involved in this issue, I visited the area. There was a gathering of about 200 people from all different sections of the local community who were desperately concerned that the development should not go ahead. As I mentioned previously, six arrests had occurred at the time that building construction went ahead in an area that is known by the local people to be an Aboriginal burial site.

  I express concern that the intervention by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Mr Tickner) came so late in the process. It would have been far more useful to have an earlier intervention on this matter. While I think it is very welcome that an area of such significance should have that stay of execution order on the construction, and it deserves the kind of detailed consultation with local people that is now being arranged, I do feel that it has come a bit late in the day. I concur with people who feel concerned that it is perhaps occurring at a very late stage.

  Nevertheless, if I have the right to make comparisons, as Senator Campbell has made comparisons, I mention a very similar case—the Swan Brewery development in Western Australia. I must confess that it is with extreme gratitude that I realise that the construction of the bridge has not gone ahead, unlike the very undesirable state of affairs in Western Australia where a shell of a building has actually been constructed over an area of acknowledged significance for Aboriginal people. In this case the construction of the bridge could go ahead and it could be very damaging, but it has not gone ahead as yet. I think it is imperative that this stay of execution be supported, and whatever time is required for proper investigation and consultation to occur should be made available.

  In terms of the environmental issues, I think enough has been said. It is a unique area which is highly significant. Damage will occur unless the planning that goes ahead takes into consideration the amount of traffic that is already going onto the island through the ferry system and how much that would change if there were a toll bridge and an opening up of that island area.

  Senator Campbell also acknowledged that this area was one of the most densely populated areas of Australia prior to European settlement. Its significance in terms of Aboriginal middens and burial sites is well known. Senator Teague expressed bewilderment at the lack of comment on the significance of this site. Basically, that is the reason that I am now speaking. When I visited the site and spoke with local people, I discovered that the Aboriginal significance actually has to do with women's dreaming. There are constraints over the women; they have never spoken out openly in the past about their sacred areas. There is a reluctance over, if not a taboo on, speaking publicly in the presence of men about the reasons why this area is extremely sacred and important to them.

  That is why I commend the minister for Aboriginal affairs for having appointed a woman to do the research into this area. Without that appointment, I think the full amount of information would not come to light. We would not be able to see what the true story is for Aboriginal people of that area. So that explains the surprise that some people have felt about the new outspokenness on the part of the community, and many women in the community, regarding this matter.

  I also stress that a wonderful thing has occurred in the community as a result of this sharing of environmental and Aboriginal concerns; that is, the reconciliation potential. There has been a recognition of the ecological importance of the area because of the international Ramsar agreement regarding bird migration paths.

  The collective effort of the Ngarendjeri and other Aboriginal peoples, the local residents of Goolwa and Hindmarsh-Kumarangk Island, the trade union movement and environment organisations to protect our heritage is an all too rare example of Aboriginal-white Australian reconciliation in action. I have here a very moving submission from a person by the name of John Rice, whom I met when I attended the protest. He goes through the issue of the bridge at Goolwa, saying how much larger it is than a monetary or development issue because it contains elements of physical, cultural, spiritual, emotional and moral aspects. I stress that it is a very valuable and moving synthesis of the reasons why this issue is not simply a South Australian, environmental, Aboriginal, heritage or tourism issue but is a national issue that deserves the importance it is currently being given by the minister's order. To save the time of honourable senators, I seek leave to incorporate that document in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows—

  The issue of a bridge at Goolwa across to Kumarangk is far larger than a monetary issue. It contains elements of physical, cultural, spiritual, emotional and moral aspects.

  Physical—Kumarank is the last buffer zone between the wild south seas and the mighty magical Coorong. It is a precious and fragile ecosystem unique to the world. Much of the wildlife has already suffered immeasurably, e.g. ibis, hawks, eagles, echidnas, coots, moorhens, frogs, snakes, lizards etc—all prey to traffic. To encourage more traffic via a bridge would endanger what is left. These animals are also subject to current pollution. An island of limestone cannot handle septic systems that fill and spill into the river, along with chemicals, and pollute the river affecting marine life and encouraging the deadly blue-green algae. Tons of cockles are being removed every day. Such depletion is causing greater shifting of sands.

  There is little current land management now. With a bridge inviting the simply curious, we would be inviting further degradation. The wharf area, a part of European heritage and a tourist attraction would be overshadowed by a bridge. The peaceful serenity for which so many people come, would be destroyed.

  At present, the ferry site is unique with Ngarendjeri culture represented by almost unadulterated landscape on one side and European culture on the other side of the ferry.

  We must first maintain what we have. We must then look at sustainable development that promises our descendants a future. There is great potential for positive development. The people of the world are hungry to view wilderness areas and equally interested in areas of cultural significance.

  Cultural—This area is culturally very rich from both Ngarendjeri and European descendant points of view. It is the cradle of a once great civilisation and there is a wealth of anthropological evidence and remains to support major international interest. The history of the coming of the European is perfectly illustrated here.

  There is now the added dimension of grass roots reconciliation emerging. Such reconciliation cannot be bought or coerced but it certainly must be revered when it happens on our war-torn planet.

  Moral—Morally we must seek to redress the cultural imbalance that has followed from indignities and suffering imposed upon the Ngarendjeri from early days. Morally we must seek to see that local councils and governments act as public servants to the peoples of the community—not as lords representing the gains of a few. Morally we must see to a fair voice in the name of our descendants.

  Spiritual—While few might understand the significance of the spiritual aspects of the Dreamtime represented here, the numbers are growing.

  Suffice to say at this point in time, this mighty cradle must be protected in the name of the mother to support the growth of a new and united civilisation which is emerging to embrace the laws of the land, nature and the inhabitant peoples.

  The tide is turning. We can move ahead with pride into the 21st century if we so choose.

  Let there be foresight in progress.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.