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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1423


Senator COULTER (6.50 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

The Australian Democrats warmly welcome the report of the commission of inquiry into the future use of Shoalwater Bay. It is an excellent report. The only criticism one could make of the report and the processes which have led to it is that it has taken far too long. The evidence has been around for a long time. This area is of such environmental significance that that import should have been recognised and the area should have been protected. The commission recommends:

that no mining of mineral sands take place in any sector of the Area and, as a consequence, that further exploration for mineral sands is unnecessary.

that no mining for other minerals be permitted in the Area.

The area in question comprises approximately 1,000 square kilometres. It contains perhaps 30 per cent of all Australia's animal and plant species; it sits at the intersection of the tropics and the more temperate parts of Australia; it ranges from superb coastal areas with beaches, sand hills, perched lakes, mangrove areas, dry forests, tropical rain forests; and it contains a wide range of species, including some which are becoming rare and endangered, such as green sea turtles and dugongs. For a host of reasons, this area clearly demands protection. One of the things that the Democrats have been suggesting for a long time is World Heritage protection.

  This commission of inquiry does not go that far, but it certainly recognises the importance of the area. We urge the government to make a very quick decision that no mining should proceed. Ultimately, it is a political decision that we are waiting for here. Whether this leads to compensation is another question. Our own view is that there should be no compensation at all, because the company concerned has already been more than adequately compensated, having paid $350,000 for leases and having already been compensated to the tune of $2.2 million for the leases which existed on Fraser Island.

  I would like very briefly to reflect on other events in recent days. The opposition has raised a number of questions about the relationship between Mr Peter Laurance and former minister for the environment and senator Graham Richardson. I would just like to reflect on the peculiarity of the decision not to protect Shoalwater Bay, which was made at the time that stage 3 of Kakadu National Park was incorporated into the park. At the time, those decisions were considered, on the one hand, to be a sop by the government to the conservation movement in incorporating stage 3 of Kakadu into the Kakadu National Park, and, on the other hand, a sop to mining interests to allow the mining leases in the Shoalwater Bay area to stand.

  When I look back at that decision I see, in the case of Kakadu stage 3 and Coronation Hill, a potential mine in an area which had already been mined, which was clearly of economic benefit and which, it could have been argued, may not have caused a great deal of environmental damage. Shoalwater Bay is essentially a pristine area. The report attaching to this area said that mining would be of marginal, if any, economic benefit but that the non-mining of the area would be of very considerable environmental benefit.

  While I would certainly argue that both of those areas should have been protected, and neither of them should have been mined, if I were forced to make a choice I would have to say that in my view former Minister Richardson came to the wrong choice, and should have protected Shoalwater Bay. (Time expired)

  Debate (on motion by Senator Panizza) adjourned.