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Wednesday, 10 November 1976
Page: 2571

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! There are too many interjections. It would help if the honourable gentleman would address the chair.

Dr CASS - I shall come to the problem of people because that is the main reason I want to speak. Concerning the question of procedures that have been adopted by the Government in handling the Fraser Island Environmental Committee report, I point out that that is not the problem of those of us on this side of the House. At least the report was tabled before the Government announced its decision. It is true that not much time was given for discussion. Nevertheless, the inquiry had been going on for a long time. I well recall, while I was Minister for

Environment, the continual criticisms and charges by the then Opposition, the present Government, that I was doing nothing to save Fraser Island. It was quite clear from the sentiments expressed by members of the Liberal and National Country Parties that the Fraser Island controversy was seen to be a significant problem for the government of the day. Much of the emphasis in the criticism against us was of our failure as a government to protect Fraser Island. So, having established, in accordance with the environmental protection legislation, a committee of inquiry, we were prepared to await results of that inquiry and then be guided by the findings of fact of the inquiry in order to determine what our future policy should be. That was the condition under which approval was given for mining of the leases that are now in question.

If honourable members look at the record as it is set out in the report of the inquiry or if they look at the parliamentary record they will find that the Minister for Minerals and Energy at that time made it quite clear that any extensions and any further export licences would depend upon the environmental assessment being undertaken by the inquiry. I shall not comment on the observations made about the capacity or otherwise of those who constituted the inquiry. One has to live with oneself when one makes observations like that. I simply comment on some of the conclusions drawn by the Commission of Inquiry. For example on page 67, the conclusion was drawn: . . . Fraser Island is of great environmental importance. It is of aesthetic, historic, scientific and social significance for the present community, and for future generations of Australians, as well as being of international environmental significance.

Of course it is only a big heap of sand. That happens to be one of its major points of significance. It is the largest sand island in the world. It happens to be one of the few remaining areas where nature is still mainly unaffected.

Mr Lusher - Have you been there?

Dr CASS - I have been there and seen the effects of both mining and logging. The logging, I can see, has been skilful. To do the commissioners credit, they found that to be so. They conceded that it had not disrupted the general pattern of the island to any significant extent. They even conceded that it may be possible to continue in this way. They also pointed out that because of our- meaning people in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and other parts of the world-changing appreciation of wilderness areas more people are beginning to value the island for its natural attributes than for the benefits to be gained from either logging or mining. If one continues to look at some of the comments made apropos this point about the value of a wild, uncultivated island being destroyed forever by mining- this is the impressionone finds that it is most of those qualities of the Island's natural environment which make Fraser Island of special value for the present community and for future generations and thus worthy of being recorded as part of the national heritage. We have a responsibility to people. If we only see life as being responsible for oneself, we may as well all drop dead. There would be no future generation.

Mr Corbett -What about Lake Pedder?

Dr CASS - Supporters of the National Country Party who are interjecting are putting on a pitiful demonstration. They ought to at least listen to some of the points. They are asking: What about Lake Pedder? I happen to agree with them. I regret that I did not succeed in saving Lake Pedder.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! These interjections are a little bit too robust and too consistent. I do not think they either help the honourable member- that may be the point of the interjections- or add to the decorum of the House.

Dr CASS - The fact remains that society all over the world is increasingly valuing these things. I put it to supporters of the National Country Party that while they value the mining, it is quite conceivable that, with proper care and development in terms of a nature area, the people of Maryborough will gain more financially from the use of that island as a natural reserve than they might get from it if it were mined. Let us face it. Most of the money from mining does not go to the people of Maryborough. Most of the money obtained from mining does not even go to the people of Australia. But tourism brings money to the people of Maryborough. It could well be that in the future the proper use and management of this island in the terms suggested by this report and in the terms accepted by the Government may prove a boon to the people of Maryborough and be of more value than the shipbuilding industry or the mining of Fraser Island.

I think the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in answering a question on this subject today mentioned- he did not quote- what to him was perhaps the paragraph in this report which best epitomised the argument in favour of the action he has agreed to take and about which he has advised the Queensland Premier. He mentioned the last paragraph on page 184. He did not quote it, but I shall. It states:

Looking at the evidence as a whole-

He said he agreed with this- it is difficult to identify any more environmentally significant and fragile area on the Island than that covered by MLs 102, 95 and the nearby mining leases of Queensland Titanium Mines Pry Ltd, MLs 84, 104 and 105. The environmental aspects of decisions having the effect of permitting the mining of all or any of these Teases will involve major permanent and irreversible environmental harm to the landscape, vegetation and lakes of the island and, consequently, substantially damage its value to the Australian people.

That view stated in the report is the opinion of the Prime Minister, the leader of the honourable members opposite. For these reasons the Australian Labor Party welcomes the decision to support the recommendations.

Now let me come to the people because, of course, I share the view of honourable members opposite. People are important. If there were no people Fraser Island would be irrelevant either as a mining venture or as a tourist resort. With no people it would be nothing. It is people which give it value of one sort or another because people place a value on it. Of course people are important. Of course it is easy for people in Melbourne, Hobart or even here in Canberra who are far away from the action to decide that because they think it is a good thing it ought to be saved. People like supporters of the National Country Party and the people they represent who are involved in earning a living on the island feel that the burden is entirely upon them. But the report recognises this fact. I shall read the second recommendation to honourable members because it seems that they have not read the report. The first recommendation was that all mining should stop. The second recommendation states:

Appropriate economic and other assistance be given to the extent that adverse regional economic effects follow the implementation of Recommendation 1.

The whole concept of the environmental impact statement procedure envisages that people's rights come first. But it is not just the right to earn a living; it is the right to enjoy the environment, to appreciate things of aesthetic beauty, and to be whatever it is that makes us humans and not animals. That is more than just eating; it is appreciating and understanding the sorts of things that are recognised in this report.

I am not sure yet that there is any criticism to be made, but I am prepared to side with the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) on this matter because he has posed questions to the Government. Bearing in mind what the commissioners said about the need to be concerned for the people, a radical departure from previous behaviour may be involved. Let us consider what is being done. I think that this matter goes beyond Australia. Fraser Island probably belongs to the world's heritage. In fact, the Labor Government contemplated trying to put it into the World Heritage Register.

Mr McVeigh - Were you trying to sell a bit of Australia?

Dr CASS - For the whole world- not to sell it, but to keep it for everybody, even the honourable member's grandchildren. If they happen to go somewhere else in the world they can say proudly that Australia has preserved something of value to the whole world. For that reason, I agree that the Australian community is demanding a lot of the people of Maryborough. I do not think it is good enough simply to say to them: 'We will do the things that were listed in the Minister's speech and, in essence, you can make do with the dole while we are trying to work it out'. I agree that that is not enough.

If we demand that sort of sacrifice from the people in that area, in my view the Australian community is morally obliged to carry a larger burden in ensuring that those people do not suffer personally. It is not their fault that they went there in good faith in order to engage in timber lopping or sand mining at a time when everybody on all sides of the political spectrum throughout the country accepted it. I grant that; but we have changed our values. We are not the same people as we were 5 years ago.

Mr Martyr - 111 say! You have deteriorated.

Dr CASS - I will ignore the honourable member's view about communists. In his view, the whole country has been taken over by communists. That is sheer nonsense. The point is that we have all changed our values. Even the honourable member for Swan, I assume, accepts that I failed to save something of value in not saving Lake Pedder. I accept that. If we have changed, then it is our responsibility as a Parliament to provide more than just a handout in the form of the dole. I quite agree that there is a need to make a special effort. It may require establishing new industries, encouraging tourism in order to make some use of the very thing we have created by this move -

Mr Katter - No one goes there. They have islands such as Brampton, Daydream and Dunk, and I could name a few more.

Dr CASS - I will persist with my view. I happen to think that it is important from the point of view of the people of Maryborough. I also happen to think that the most important point is that, given this offer of security to which they are legitimately entitled, the people of Maryborough, when they cool down and think about it and are shown the rehabilitation which should be offered, will vote to save Fraser Island. I will bet anything on that. I do not believe that they are so insensitive that they will not realise that if they do so they will be party to saving something that they themselves, their children and their grandchildren will value more than the miserable amount we might make in a few short years out of mining Fraser Island. I compliment the Government on making these moves. I hope that it has the courage to implement rehabilitation procedures which will ensure that the people of Maryborough do not have to carry the burden on their backs, because they should not have to do that.

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