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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 237

Senator TAMBLING (3.50 p.m.) —There is no way that I or, I am sure, my colleagues in the coalition could support the motion by Senator Coulter in the following terms:

The need for the Government to maintain the named three mine policy with respect to uranium mining.

This matter has an immediate impact on the Northern Territory, which both Senator Collins and I represent. It has an immediate impact on the Aborigines of the Northern Territory and on the Australian economy. The motion is an attack on the vital role of mining in Australia. We ought not to forget that.

  All the issues raised in this debate by Senator Coulter for the Australian Democrats have been addressed time and time again over the last 20 years or so. By comparison, I welcome yesterday's bipartisan call by the Northern Territory parliament for federal Labor to scrap its three-mine uranium policy—a unanimous decision endorsed by the Northern Territory Leader of the Opposition, who actually amended and accepted it. I seek leave to have that motion incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows


The Minister for Mines and Energy (Mr Reed) moved—

  That this Legislative Assembly, on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory—

  (1)expressed unanimous support for the abolition of the Australian Labor Party's so-called `Three Mines Policy' which prevents the development of uranium mining at Koongarra and Jabiluka in the Northern Territory;

  (2)calls upon the Australian Labor Party, at its Annual Conference on 26 to 30 September 1994, to replace this policy with one which allows sensible and environmentally responsible development of the Koongarra and Jabiluka sites;

  (3)asks the Australian Labor Party to consider the wishes of Aboriginal traditional owners that uranium mining be allowed to take place in the Northern Territory in line with previous agreements;

  (4)urges the Australian Labor Party to replace its existing policy with one which allows market forces to determine how and when uranium mining projects should proceed;

  (5)calls upon the Northern Territory delegates to the Annual Conference to support the principles of this motion and to express the terms of this motion at the Annual Conference; and

  (6)conveys the terms of this motion forthwith to the Prime Minister, the President of the Australian Labor Party and Northern Territory representatives and delegates to the Annual Conference.

  The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Ede) moved the following amendment—

  Omit all words after `policy' first occurring and substitute—

  "and its replacement with a policy which by way of legislation, regulation and other means creates parameters which:

  (1)protects the environment at all stages of the nuclear cycle;

  (2)safeguards the health of workers and ensures that best industrial relations practices are negotiated between potential miners and the relevant unions;

  (3)safeguards the rights of traditional owners; and

  (4)support Australia's policy of opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and atmospheric nuclear testing.".

Senator TAMBLING —The Northern Territory government motion—passed without dissent—called on federal Labor to abolish the absurd policy which restricts uranium mining to three named mines, only two of which are still operating. The motion was supported by Northern Territory Labor. I am surprised that Senator Collins today did not attempt to move similar amendments here.

  According to today's Australian, it is the first time an Australian parliament has recorded a unanimous vote against the three mines uranium policy. Mr Barry Coulter, the Northern Territory Deputy Chief Minister, was right when yesterday he said that the three-mine policy is silly. I also note the comments by the Northern Territory Labor opposition leader, Brian Ede, who yesterday told the ABC that he hoped the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, would support the move to scrap the policy.

  Clearly, debate on the three-mine policy has intensified over recent months in the lead-up to the Labor Party's biennial national conference in Hobart in September. Along with the Northern Territory government, some senior federal Labor ministers—including Senator Collins, Senator Robert Ray and Mr Bilney—the mining industry and the Northern Land Council have condemned the policy. So Senator Collins has done a half-flip today. In the Northern Territory, Labor's three-mine policy is blocking the development of two major developments on Aboriginal land, namely, Koongarra and Jabiluka, now known as Ranger North. The tragedy is that the Koongarra people want to mine and have asked the Northern Land Council to lobby against the three mines policy on their behalf. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard correspondence which is very important to this matter from the Aboriginal organisations, Gagudju and Djabulukgu.

  Leave granted.

  The documents read as follows


Charitable Trust

25 January, 1994

The Honorary Barry Coulter

Minister for Conservation

GPO Box 3146


Dear Minister,

RE: Wilderness Society Proposal

I wish to advise you that the Wilderness Society of Australia has not consulted with the Aboriginal Traditional Land Owners of the Koongarra Project area concerning the proposal to prohibit mining at Koongarra which is to be tabled at the General Assembly of the I.U.C.N. in Buenos Aires Argentina between 17-26th January 1994.

The Gagudju Association Committee is meeting with Mr Grant Watt, Manager, Koongarra Mines P/L on Monday 31/1/94 to discuss the current status of the project and the Wilderness Society's proposal.

As the Northern Territory Minister for Conservation the Gagudju Association would like you to confirm to the General Assembly that the Australian Wilderness Society's proposal to prohibit mining has not been discussed with us nor do they have our approval to present this proposal.

Yours sincerely,

Gail Lech

Signed for Jessie Alderson.


General Assembly of IUCN

The World Conservation Union

Buenos Aires



Dear Chairperson

Re:Wilderness Society of Australia—proposed Submission to the General Assembly of the World Conservation Union regarding the alleged Opposition to the Development of Jabiluka.

After reading the proposed submission by the Wilderness Society of Australia, agenda item number 19,136 Conservation of Kakadu World Heritage Site, the Djabulukgu Association wishes to point out the following:

1.The Traditional Owners of the Jabiluka Project have had no contact with the Wilderness Society of Australia. How is it that they can present this motion without prior consultation with relevant Traditional Owners?

2.Is it my understanding that the main reason for "some" Traditional Owners, not all, to be expressing concern over the proposed future development of Jabiluka, is for social impact reasons, and not for natural and cultural values.

3.Aboriginal Traditional Owners have an exceptional land conservation history within Kakadu. If and when the Jabiluka Project goes ahead, the Traditional Owners would be demanding that the Environmental Impact Statement be completely adhered to, as well as demanding that the Federal Government continue to support the Office of the Supervising Scientist. This would ensure that stringent monitoring of the environment is maintained by a neutral body.

4.The Wilderness Society of Australia should consider the international push by Indigenous peoples for the recognition and promotion of Aboriginal self determination.

In closing, I would like to say that it is up to the Aboriginal Traditional Owners to make the final decision. Their decision will obviously take into consideration the continued well being of the Kakadu environment. Furthermore the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the Jabiluka Project would, I am sure, welcome the opportunity to actually meet with the Wilderness Society of Australia.


Liam Maher

Executive Officer

Senator TAMBLING —The Northern Land Council Chairman, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, has warned:

I do not want the internal political problems of the ALP to interfere with the Koongarra traditional owners' bid for economic independence.

I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard Mr Yunupingu's press release of 12 August on that matter.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows



Yunupingu calls for Koongarra go-ahead

NLC Chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu today called on the Federal Government to ensure the Koongarra mine went ahead.

Mr Yunupingu said that the traditional owners of the Koongarra mine wanted the mine to go ahead and the NLC's policy was to support their view.

`We want the ALP to drop the Three Mines Policy, which has proven to be an unsatisfactory compromise more to do with ALP internal politics than with the realities.

`The Koongarra people have told us again they want the mine to go ahead and the NLC supports their desire for self-determination.

`I do not want the internal political problems of the ALP to interfere with the Koongarra traditional owners' bid for economic independence.

`The ALP National Conference must come up with a realistic policy that will allow the Koongarra mine to be developed,' said Mr Yunupingu.

The NLC's Full Council Meeting at Ngukurr in south east Arnhem Land this week formally endorsed the wishes of the Koongarra traditional owners.

12.8.94 Enquires: Galarrwuy Yunupingu (089) 722799

Senator TAMBLING —The Northern Land Council Director, Darryl Pearce, has criticised the three mines policy for compromising Aboriginal self-determination. Let me quote:

Australia must now face that the world order has changed. The Cold War is gone. There is a new world vision I guess in terms of resources that are required to power the planet into the 21st century and uranium does have a high profile in that area.

Aboriginal interest groups are maintaining pressure on key Labor figures and their factions. On a recent visit to the Northern Territory, the federal environment minister, Senator Faulkner, who is not here to participate in today's debate, met with the Gagudju Association at Cooinda to receive its pro-development message. It would be very interesting to know what was said at that meeting. It would have been very interesting for Senator Faulkner, from the Left, to have reported to us, rather than having to rely on the messages that come from the flies on the wall. There will be visits here by Aboriginal people in the next few weeks. I hope the Labor Party and the Democrats take note of that.

  The Gagudju Association, set up in 1979 on behalf of the traditional owners of the Ranger project areas, is without doubt one of the Aboriginal success stories in the Northern Territory. Charged with administering agreements and royalty moneys from mining at Ranger, one of the present mines, Gagudju investments include tourist ventures, mechanical and civil engineering workshops, a construction business and a trust to safeguard children's payments. They are on about jobs and the involvement of Aborigines and territorians in this important industry.

  Yet under Labor's three-mine uranium policy, these and many other benefits of mining are being denied to the Aboriginal communities that want them. In the words of the Northern Land Council, Labor is living a lie. Let us remember that the wishes of Aboriginal people were considered paramount by Labor, and by Senator Collins in particular, in the Coronation Hill debate; but they are conveniently not so paramount now in this Aboriginal debate. This is very similar to Aboriginal affairs minister Tickner and the Prime Minister ignoring the recommendations of the Industry Commission report and the conference of representative groups in Yulara in 1992, and a cabinet submission of January 1993 that has never seen the light of day on legislation needed to correct anomalies in the Northern Territory land rights act.

  The core of the hypocrisy in this issue was highlighted by the left-wing Northern Territory federal member, Warren Snowdon, who told ABC radio that Aboriginal views were only one factor in the uranium debate. He added:

It's not a question just of saying the traditional owners have the right to make a determination, they certainly have that right. But the nation has a responsibility where the national interest is concerned to say whether it wants, that is the nation, wants further uranium mined.

That might be the view of Mr Snowdon and of Senator Coulter, but it is not the view of these Aboriginal people or of the majority of Australians. The question is: does the Labor Party really respect the views of Aboriginal people, or does it respect Aboriginal views only when they happen to agree with party platform? Certainly, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Senator Collins, has taken a prominent role in the uranium debate so far and frequently refers to his record of the past 16 years. Apart from the fact that he has achieved nothing in those 16 years, it is interesting to note his dramatic turnabout from staunchly anti-uranium in 1982 to staunchly pro-uranium in 1994. Back in 1982, at the ALP national conference, he told delegates:

. . . my credentials in respect of an anti-uranium position are impeccable, because I have led the fight against uranium in the Northern Territory now for five years. That is a fact. I have no qualms about that position.

According to the transcript, he also said:

I have got no doubts that I can go back to the Northern Territory which has got an 82% vote in favour of uranium mining—but I am happy to work with that, my position is well known up there as an anti-uranium person.

Still on hypocrisy, I remind the Senate of Australia's decision to lift sanctions on the uranium-rich South Africa, thereby allowing South Africa, along with Canada, to compete against us in world markets. Is it not absurd to lift restrictions on another country, yet retain restrictions on our own? Why do we want to hand over export dollars to the rest of the world? Is our uranium industry not good enough, or is it a case of Labor mates doing deals behind cabinet doors?

  If the ALP can be accused of hypocrisy, I issue the same warning to the Australian Democrats, in particular to Senator Kernot. If this motion of Senator Coulter's proceeds, Senator Kernot will have no option but to resign from her position on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The motion before the Senate effectively denies Aboriginal people the right to develop their land and gain economic independence. That makes a mockery of Democrat calls for Aboriginal self-determination. The importance of mining to all Australians cannot be underestimated.

  On the national level, mining contributes to government revenue and GDP; on the local level, benefits flow through to a range of industries; and on a personal level, it creates job opportunities and enhances superannuation investments. I say to Senator Margetts that yes, it is about jobs, jobs, jobs—and that is fundamental to all Australians. Just about every Australian family has a financial stake in this matter. Through their superannuation, all Australian families have investments in mining, and in uranium in particular, and they should be able to exploit that for their future retirement potential.

  Let me give an example. In today's money terms, just one mine—Ranger in the Northern Territory—has contributed the equivalent of $5.3 billion to the national economy; it has paid $86 million in royalties to the Northern Territory government; and it has accounted for seven per cent of the Northern Territory's economic activity. With demand for uranium ore strengthening, Australia cannot afford to waste even more export income and job opportunities. It is estimated that the development of three additional mines—Ranger North and Koongarra in the Northern Territory, and Kintyre in Western Australia—will provide export income of around $235 million a year, 1,270 jobs during construction and 520 long-term jobs.

  Coalition policy on this issue has always been clear and unequivocal. We have always said that it is a stupid three-mine uranium policy. I, like Senator Collins, share the amazement at the fact that today the Democrats have obviously shifted from a no-uranium position and policy to a three-mine policy. I question what deal they have done behind the dunny door to get a third one up and running. Is this another deal with Labor behind some deal that will give a reward, and will there be some payola? I think we need to look at this.

  Australia, and the Australian Labor Party in particular, must grasp the opportunity now. Labor's policy conference in September will give that opportunity. This debate needs strong leadership and strong support; it does not need the sort of lunatic position that has been taken and that denies the opportunity for Australian families to participate fully in jobs, in investment and—yes—in mining.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—Order! Before I call Senator Forshaw, I indicate to the Senate that the time clocks for this debate have been set on the times agreed between the parties, rather than the formal times allowed under standing orders.