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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 711

Senator TAMBLING (5.00 p.m.) —I am pleased to rise and support the Customs Tariff (Uranium Concentrate Export Duty) Act Repeal Bill 1994. We are reminded that this legislation has as the main features of reform the incorporation of the Office of the Supervising Scientist into the Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency; the refined mechanisms for consulting key stakeholders; allowing the Alligator Rivers Research Institute to undertake research on matters outside the region on a commercial basis; and the conduct of an independent review of the research now needed to meet the Commonwealth's environment protection objectives in the region.

  I do not share Senator Coulter's apprehensions or criticisms in this regard. I represent the Northern Territory where the application of this legislation has very direct and consequential effects. It has been very interesting to look at the history of the Ranger mine at Jabiru which is directly affected by this legislation. It was also very interesting that Senator Coulter did not outline any criticism of any environmental damage or problem at Kakadu or in connection with Ranger. I think it is a compliment that one of the environmental policemen of Australia, Senator Coulter—who sees himself in that role—did not come out and outline anything that has been wrong with the history of the development of this particular mine.

  When we do review the functions of ERA, the mining company, and the Office of Supervising Scientist which has carried out work in this important environmental area, they can stand very proud of their record in this entire area of the environment. When we review the functions of the Office of the Supervising Scientist, and when we review the economic basis and underpinning by ERA—which has been required in the past to pay the levy that has funded the office of supervising scientist—we can look very proudly at the records of environment protection and the standards that have been maintained at the Ranger mine and in Kakadu National Park.

  Let me look specifically at the operations of Energy Resources of Australia, the mine operator, and particularly at its environmental management record. It is incumbent on us to recognise that in 1993 the company was given several very credible awards in this area. Firstly, the company was given the award for environmental excellence at Ranger by the Australian Minerals Energy and Environment Foundation. Secondly, ERA received the landcare research award into environment protection at Ranger from Northern Territory Landcare. Those are two very significant, credible and hard judged awards in this particular area.

  We are also aware of a considerable amount of collaborative research with the CSIRO in the whole area of mine site rehabilitation. Similarly, the company has now developed a considerable bank of environmental expertise and it is in a position to gain commercially from selling that expertise and that operation to other mining interests in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia. That is a credible record for a company that has now accumulated this particular skill in its own operation.

  If we also look at the record that Ranger has with the National Safety Council of Australia we see that it is given the credit of holding a five star management rating—the highest possible rating from the National Safety Council—with regard to the whole issue of the safety of employees. This, of course, benefits ERA. It affects the company's rating for insurance purposes and has a direct bearing on the costs of operation. But it has to come from a proven record in the field.

  Similarly, ERA also has a very active research program with the ANCA park operator of Kakadu National Park. They work in close collaboration with the traditional Aboriginal owners of the area and with CSIRO. This area of research is not specifically constrained or related to nuclear, uranium or mining issues. It is much broader than that. It covers issues such as weed control, salvinia, fire management strategies for the park area or that affect the park infrastructure, feral animal control, the breeding of local species of fish such as barramundi and sleepy cod, and a species of tropical emu.

  These sorts of programs make ERA stand out with what can only be described as a relationship and acceptance in the community as a good neighbour and a very sound and competent corporate citizen. The respect which ERA and the Ranger mine are now accorded by Northern Territory government authorities, and the involvement that the company has with so many Commonwealth government agencies in a whole range of areas of regulatory regimes and cooperation, are a credit to the company and the mine. They are certainly an example to the rest of the country. No matter what audit procedure or review process are used, it is very evident that there is no detriment whatsoever being caused in this particular area.

  The company would be able to capitalise on these research and technology areas if it was allowed to expand into the associated project at Jabiluka which is now going under the title of Ranger North. That is an associated area of ERA's commercial interests. All of this accumulated wisdom in the area of the environment can be applied to reduce any impact of a development project at Jabiluka. I am well aware that the company has started research on underground mining, the managing of radiation and radon, the monitoring that is so closely associated with it, and air quality control at that project.

  Senator Coulter referred to the applicability of the possible operation of the mine at Koongarra which is owned by other commercial interests. I am sure that those commercial interests would tap into and be able to gain from the knowledge and experience of ERA. As I said, Ranger is obviously in a position to sell on a commercial basis, whether it is at McArthur River, Koongarra, Century Mine over the border in Queensland, or for other possible projects in Western Australia. This whole area can be addressed.

  I do not know why it is but the Democrats seem to have a paranoia, maintained with almost religious fervour, whenever anyone mentions the topic of nuclear energy or the uranium industry. I suppose it is a historical situation. To me, the way in which they look at these issues places the Democrats back in the 1950s. When we analyse and study the rhetoric and the language used in this area, we find that it is discredited economics. It is really very faulty logic with regard to the operation, be it market economics, environmental issues or environmental economics. For example, in talking about the job possibilities or potential of a mine, the Democrats always seem to jump about five or 10 years that would involve any development or construction phase. They ignore all of that and the compounding and beneficial results that flow through to any community.

  Let me tell you, Mr Deputy President, that the township of Jabiru is a very significant community in the Northern Territory. It is there because of one initial starting point: the establishment of the Ranger mine. From that has evolved a very comprehensive system of local government, of community, of services to Aboriginal people, of services to the tourist industry and of infrastructure support in the area of health and so many other government services. That whole township of Jabiru has grown out of the economics of starting a particular mine in a particular community.

  It is no wonder that the Aboriginal people have come to a realisation of the benefits that happen when a mine is properly developed with the proud historical and environmental record that Ranger can boast about and they can see these other benefits that flow through to their particular communities. Therefore, I find it a strange irony that the social policies of the Australian Democrats are riddled with inconsistencies when it comes to addressing the issues that the Aboriginal people of the particular area might or should want to address. They are quite mature in the decision-making processes. They are well aware of the problems of urbanisation, whether it is in Darwin or in Jabiru. They have behind them the resources of a community and a company that can assist in those necessary changes in this area.

  Senator Coulter advanced arguments with regard to competitiveness. Again, it is a strange irony that we have had a competitive situation that has been totally frustrated because of an irrational and stupid three-mine uranium policy. From the debate we had last week on the uranium position, I can understand the position that Senator Margetts and Senator Chamarette would probably take. They have a very fundamental debate with us on the issue and from their position they say, `No mines.' I am saying quite the reverse.

  The Democrats have become a scrambled egg in the middle of this debate. They stood in this chamber last week and said that they just wanted to maintain the three-mine policy. That is not a debate in any way whatsoever. Yes, there is a straight debate between the Greens and ourselves. It is based on points of principle and economics, and therefore I can quite appreciate that. But the way in which Senator Coulter and the Democrats have gone into what I can only call a scrambled egg situation with this issue also reflects the dilemma that is within the current Labor Party policies. The Democrats are nothing more than a totally wandering and lost faction of the Labor Party.

  As we have seen, the Labor Party is now hopelessly and totally confused in the debate on the whole issue of its uranium policy, which it has to address next month. We must challenge the Labor Party to take a firm and decisive view. I would argue very strongly that the Australian community is sending a very strong and positive signal to the Australian Labor Party to drop its three-mine uranium policy and to adopt a much more open basis. There are sufficient regulations, controls, legislation and international arrangements in place with regard to the protection of and necessary safeguards for the environment.

  Whenever Senator Coulter picks out of his lucky dip bin examples of the energy policies of Taiwan, or the technology coming out of Japan, or uranium coming from other sources such as Russia, or the fears about Korea, he needs to put them into the proper international context of those controls that very properly exist. Australia needs to be a partner in all of those particular areas, just as it must be competitive in all aspects of the marketing of a resource that we have available. I strongly say to the Australian Labor Party that it is incumbent on that party, at its policy conference next month, to change its policy to be consistent for Aboriginal people.

  If it is going to adopt an argument based on Aboriginal issues for a mine such as Coronation Hill, it must also listen when those Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory, who are the owners of the resource, give a statement of intent as traditional owners. The Labor Party has to be consistent in the message and not put one group of Aborigines on one side of a fence and others on the other side, as it does with its marginal seat strategies everywhere else around Australia. That is the type of horse trading that the Labor Party is doing on this issue.

  There are good controls. When we look at the record of what this legislation is here to achieve, I am pleased to see that the levy is being dropped off one particular mine. As Senator Coulter acknowledged, it is not being applied as a levy to Roxby Downs in South Australia. Whilst there are issues affecting the Kakadu National Park, which is an important national park to which we are all committed, again the equity and the funding ought to be there. ERA and Ranger have proved that they are good corporate citizens within a national park. They have proved through their record of investment—not only in development, but also in the community and all the research areas that are so integrally tied up with it—that they can operate in a very efficient way.

  I am confident that any other mine of this nature—with the sorts of arrangements that will be put in place with both the Commonwealth government and the Northern Territory government, or state governments if mines were to open in other states—would be just as effective as this mine in the Kakadu National Park. On that basis, I am very pleased to support the legislation in the anticipation that this is just a forerunner of the many changes in the area of uranium policy by the Australian Labor Party.