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Thursday, 11 March 1999
Page: 2769

Senator CHAPMAN (3:22 PM) —It is interesting to see that Senator Bolkus has to rely on the Democrats, and whoever might come after them, to support his taking note of answers debate today in the Senate, rather than his Labor colleagues. There is obviously a good reason for that and the reason is that when you look at the facts—

Senator Carr —Madam Deputy President, on a point of order: I draw your attention to the standing orders that require senators to be truthful in their responses. In the Procedure Committee last night, there was a discussion about ensuring that the Democrats and the Greens were provided with an opportunity during the period of taking note to give their views, and that is what is happening today. The proposition that Senator Chapman has put is totally factually incorrect.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator CHAPMAN —Madam Deputy President, if you believe that, you will believe anything. This debate is about the World Heritage Committee report on Kakadu and the proposed new mining venture which will operate there. The World Heritage Committee came here and visited for a few days and then went away and made a negative report about the proposed Jabiluka mine. I prefer to put my faith in the report of the Select Committee on Uranium Mining and Milling, which did not spend just a few days examining Kakadu and the Ranger mine and the issues surrounding uranium mining in the Northern Territory but in fact spent a year investigating uranium mining in Australia. A major part of that inquiry was the Ranger mine, the Jabiluka mine, and its impact on the Northern Territory and environmental matters.

I want to quote from the committee report, but I should add, in light of Senator Bolkus's speech to take note of answers, that the report was supported not just by government senators but by the two Labor Party senators who were members of that committee. The committee produced an excellent report, notwithstanding attempts by the Democrats and the Greens to frustrate the outcome of that report. The report stated:

The Committee has concluded that the principal finding of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry [the Fox Report] has been vindicated by two decades' experience. Fox stated that:

The hazards of mining and milling uranium, if those activities are properly regulated and controlled, are not such as to justify a decision not to develop Australian uranium mines.

Further, the committee found:

This major finding of the Fox Report remains valid as the foundation for policy on the mining and milling of uranium in Australia.

We found that, on the basis of the evidence received by the committee, the uranium mining and milling industry will be sufficiently viable financially to be able to meet its environmental health, safety and security responsibilities fully.

As I said, that report was written after a year's inquiry—not just after a few days, as we have experienced with the world heritage report. They came here, had a quick look and then went off and wrote a negative report on uranium mining in Australia. Our committee report was based not only on the submissions we received and the public hearings we conducted but on the detailed research which the committee undertook and which added to the store of knowledge on uranium mining in Australia. On the basis of that, there can be no validity in the opposition to uranium mining in Kakadu which has been put forward by the world heritage report.

It is worth noting the environmental impact of uranium mining at the Ranger operation. Evidence provided to the committee by the then Supervising Scientist, Barry Carbon, was that:

There has been no deleterious effect on the local river system from activities at Ranger.

He also said:

The Ranger tailings storage system has operated satisfactorily in containing the tailings, and it has caused no environmental degradation.

. . . . . . . . .

Seepage from the tailings dam was overestimated by the Fox inquiry, as were the transport of heavy metals in groundwater and the environmentally vitiating effects of seepage. No environmental effects are observable. A management regime was able to be developed to allow performance well within the expectations outlined by the inquiry.

In other words, the Fox inquiry expected there might be some minor environmental damage caused by Ranger, but even that was not realised. There has been no environmental damage arising from the activities of that mine whatsoever.

Yet we now have a further mine proposed, the Jabiluka mine, which is an underground mine—compared with the surface mine of Ranger—and which will have even less capacity to cause damage than the Ranger mine. So there is absolutely no case for banning mining in this particular project. There is absolutely no danger posed to the environment. The work of the World Heritage Committee is extremely questionable on that basis and on the basis of the work that has just been done by that committee.

Australia has the most regulated and controlled uranium mining of any country in the world. It is the safest and surest in terms of environmental impact and in terms of meeting our national obligations. No case can be made against it. (Time expired)