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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1622

Senator O'CHEE —My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. In the Queensland parliament today, the premier admitted that a compensation agreement regarding sand mining leases on Fraser Island was negotiated in 1990-91 between the Queensland government and Pivot Projects, a company belonging to Mr Peter Laurance. Pivot Projects then sold its interest in the mining leases to another Pivot company and assigned the compensation payment to that company, but not before it took a very healthy sale price, thereby effectively ensuring that much of the money ended up with Mr Laurance. Is this not exactly the same sort of scam that is about to occur if the federal government revokes the sand mining leases at Shoalwater Bay? Why was the decision made to go ahead with the granting of the leases in the first place against a wealth of advice from conservation groups, the Queensland government, federal government departments and the CSIRO? Why did the government change its mind and set up an inquiry so soon after the leases were granted?

Senator FAULKNER —In relation to Pivot's mining leases in Shoalwater Bay, an authority to prospect was held by Murphyores Incorporated Pty Ltd over eastern parts of the area at the time that the Commonwealth acquired the land for defence purposes. Following a protracted environmental impact assessment process, which was hampered by the lack of proven mineral resource and the quality of information provided by the proponent, which was the then owner of Murphyores, Pivot Projects Pty Ltd, the government agreed, on 15 October 1990, to issue five leases for the mining of mineral sands. Cabinet agreed that the leases be granted subject to stringent environmental conditions—I believe 21 in all.

  The leases which were issued on 19 October 1992 are subject to an agreement for mining leases between the Commonwealth, as land owner, Queensland, as administrator and supervisor for mining, Pivot Projects Pty Ltd, as the proponent at the time the decision to issue leases was taken, and Pivot Mining NL, as the miner and present owner of Murphyores. An agreement for mining leases includes a process for the environmental oversight of a four-stage mineral exploration program and, if required, mining operation.

  The inquiry has recommended, as honourable senators would be aware, that further exploration and mining of mineral sands on the five leases held by Pivot Mining NL in the eastern dune fields of the area not be approved. In reaching this recommendation, the inquiry had on hand what I believe was the best available information about the environmental and economic values and potential of the Shoalwater Bay training area. Much of this information, of course, was not available at the time of the original assessment.

  The inquiry, of course, in this case did address the unique circumstances of the Shoalwater Bay training area in coming to its conclusions. Obviously, its findings and its recommendations on mining in the area are specific to that area only, and I do not think it would be appropriate to draw any broader conclusions.

Senator O'CHEE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his advice that the original decision was hampered by inadequate information. Therefore, I ask: why was the original decision made? Was it not made solely on the basis of a letter from former Senator Richardson to the then Minister for Administrative Services in February 1990? If it was not made solely on the basis of that information, will the minister now table all the correspondence between the minister and his department, or advice provided by the department to the minister in relation to this matter, especially given that since the leases were granted in October 1992 it was not long after that that an inquiry was set up to query it?

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I am not planning to table any information in relation to this. The company owning an interest in the Shoalwater Bay area was purchased in 1986 by Pivot—I think that is on the public record. The then Senator Richardson was not even a minister at that time, let alone the environment minister.

  Mr Richardson did not grant the mining leases. He provided advice to the then Minister for Administrative Services, Mr West, that the mining leases be granted subject to the 21 conditions I mentioned. He also recommended that the proponent prepare an exploration program and an environmental management plan for the development of each deposit prior to mining. (Time expired)