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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 12

Senator COULTER —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. I refer the minister to a second volume of a report into Shoalwater Bay prepared by ABARE, AGSO and the BRS. This poorly researched report reveals complete contempt for community and non-market values. Who ordered the preparation of this shameful report? Was it a minister or ministers? Did ABARE, AGSO and BRS consult with other government agencies in its preparation? Does the minister believe that it is acceptable for this report to be published two months after—and I stress `after'—the public release of the commissioner's final report, a report which took into account the lengthy submission from ABARE, and when the commissioners can no longer integrate this second report with other submissions? Finally, is the minister concerned that taxpayers' money was spent to produce this report which is nothing short of a blatant apology for the mining lobby and which seeks to subvert the commission's report?

Senator COLLINS —I guess whether it is a shameful report or not depends entirely, as it does in so many cases, on one's point of view. I do not have that view. The three bureaux mentioned by Senator Coulter in his question—the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, the Bureau of Resource Sciences and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics—released an initial report on Shoalwater Bay in August 1993. This was made available to the commission of inquiry as a public submission to assist the commission in determining the relative value of alternative land uses.

  Following the release of the commission's final report, the three bureaux published a second volume assessing the robustness of the commission's final conclusions and recommendations from a broad economic perspective. They made no apologies for dealing with it from that perspective—and that is a matter of public record; it is right up-front for everyone to see. That perspective is from the viewpoint of multiple, objective resource use; it is not something that I am opposed to.

  The second volume was prepared to assist decision makers to determine the set of uses and strategies with the highest net benefit—which is something very dear to Senator Coulter's heart—including market and non-market values to all Australians from the Shoalwater Bay military training area. It is important to note that the three bureaux were set up to provide independent advice to the government. They are a highly credible source because of the independence of that advice. I am sorry the advice conflicts with the honourable senator's view of the world, but that is what the advice is—independent.

Senator McMullan —They might be wrong.

Senator COLLINS —They might well be wrong, Senator McMullan. I know the honourable senator cannot handle the publication of a contrary view, but everybody has an opportunity to assess all of that evidence. I will give the answers to Senator Coulter's specific questions. He asked: who ordered the preparation of the report? The executive directors of ABARE, BRS and AGSO jointly decided to produce the second volume. Did they consult with other government agencies in its preparation? No, they did not. Do I believe that it is acceptable for the report to be published two months after the public release of the commissioner's final report, et cetera? As I said by way of interjection, it could hardly have been published before and my answer to that question is yes, I do believe that it is acceptable. Am I concerned that taxpayers' money was spent to produce the report? No, I believe the report is an extremely helpful contribution to the debate on Shoalwater Bay and on the government's deliberations on the future use of the area.

  It is very important in my view that the government, in making its decision, take account of all possible uses of the area, particularly given the possibility of multiple use. I am not suggesting that that will be the final decision, but that possibility exists and it responsibly deserves to be examined. Those uses could include conservation, military training, tourism, fisheries and possible mineral extraction.

Senator COULTER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Firstly, why did the government set up a commission of inquiry to look at these broad issues in the first place and, secondly, what entitles these particular organisations to second-guess the commission's inquiry? Why do other people not also have a chance to second-guess the commission's report?

Senator COLLINS —It is absolutely clear and obvious where the reports are coming from and the perspective from which they have been written is just as up-front. They have been unashamedly written from a perspective of potential multiple use of the area. That can be accepted or discounted, depending on the honourable senator's point of view.