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Wednesday, 10 November 1976
Page: 2574

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) -There was one quaint assumption underlying the speech made by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). He seemed to think that unless the mining was stopped completely Fraser Island would be blown away or would no longer exist. He is completely unaware that, due to the natural forces which occur from time to time, cyclones and wind blows hit the island. As much devastation is caused by the winds which habitually hit parts of the island as would be caused by the mining, which was going to cover 0.9 per cent of the area of the island. I believe that that ought to be understood; it seems to have been forgotten. I do not accept for one moment that the alternatives were either taking this action or the island being washed away. The honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) will acknowledge that in certain circumstances parts of the island may be split off. The honourable member knows that that is quite likely to occur. In those circumstances, this report would no longer be able to refer to this being the largest sand island in the world, and therefore an island that is completely unique and about which something should be done. Why not change that a little and say that some other island is the smallest sand island in the world and we ought to do as much to save it as to save the largest sand island in the world? The logic of that position rather escapes me.

However, I do understand and appreciate the excruciatingly difficult decision that the Government has had to make. Decisions have been required by those who are interested in living standards obtained through mining. A decision has been put upon the Government by the nature of this report, which has recommended that the mining be stopped forthwith. I am concerned about the consequences of the recommendations in the report and the investigations referred to in it. We have been asked to look very closely at the recommendations. The environmental inquiry should be concerned with the total environment. I want to consider whether it is concerned with the total environment. The total environment consists not only of people being able to walk around sand dunes with trees on them but also of people having decent living standards within their own households. On that basis, the report completely ignored any valid investigation. Let me read, first of all, the definition of 'environment' which activated the minds of the commissioners. On the first page of the report it is stated that the environment- .... includes all aspects of the surroundings of man, whether affecting him as an individual or in his social groupings, and 'environmental' has a corresponding meaning.

That is pretty vague, but it would seem to cover almost everything that can exist- the whole surroundings of man. Having said that in its definition of 'environment', the report has completely ignored anything to do with the household environment of the people concerned directly and indirectly in the area. In order to see the vagueness of the propositions in the report, let us consider the recommendations. I will deal with the second recommendation, to which the honourable member for Maribyrnong referred. How do honourable members like this for a precise injunction in relation to action by a Government? 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.

That is the end of the commissioners' concern. It goes no further, and that is the nature of the report. It is a totally inadequate report because it has denned 'environment' in a certain way. Sometimes we forget that in this world the environment exists for man and man does not exist to serve the environment. Yet the nature of this report seems to accept the second proposition and not the first.

I have been a little concerned about the report. I acknowledge the difficulties of the Government, but I say quite clearly and quite categorically that the report has seriously and gravely underestimated the effects on the precise surroundings and living conditions of many hundreds of people, not only in Maryborough and

Wide Bay but also extending far beyond Wide Bay. I am concerned also about the effect of the report and its recommendations on mining in Australia. One has to acknowledge the simple fact that the most productive, the most efficient and the greatest wealth-producing industry in Australia is mining. Without the mining industry being able to expand and develop its export income, the people working in factories- for example, the motor car factories in the electorate of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young)- would not be able to receive the wages and the effective subsidy equivalent of those wages which they presently receive. The honourable member smiles. He has an enigmatic smile such as one would see on the face of those without responsibility. Those people could not have received the standard of living to which they are at present accustomed were it not for the export income increasingly being earned from mining activities in Australia. So I am concerned, and any Australian has to be concerned, about the difficulty that this decision will produce for a very great industry and for people who would benefit from the industry.

In the minutes available to me I want to look at one or two matters in the report that deserve closer analysis. I turn to that part of the report that deals with the direct and indirect effects of mining. An undertaking is given that once a decision is made appropriate compensating economic measures will be taken. They are going to be difficult, they are going to have to be long term, they are going to have to be persistent, and they are going to have to be unique. I turn to one part of the report that deals with these measures, because it deals with the living conditions of people. I refer to page 170 of the report which contains a summary of the estimated effects of this mining on regional income.

The report deals with the direct effects and indirect effects and quotes an article by McColl and Throsby which appeared in the Economic Record of June-September 1972. In that article they say that the induced effects are only 20 per cent above what the direct effects are. That is a piece of nonsense. If the article had been examined closely they would have seen at page 1, speaking in terms of the regional effects, this passage:

Important components of these impacts are the multiplier effects on output, incomes and employment in the region which are not usually counted as benefits at the national level.

The whole tenor of the earlier speech by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) was to quote the economic effect of this mining as its contribution to national income at the national level. The regional effects, the Statewide effects, have been imprecisely and very inadequately dealt with. I suggest that comes through increasingly in the report.

The report deals with the regional economic effects, which are concerned with the most intimate environment of all, on pages 1 73 to 1 75. In other words the report discusses in one and three-quarter pages the regional economic effects without mentioning one figure, one dollar sign or one estimate whatever. Yet a few pages earlier the report states that the induced effects, on an inadequate analysis- it admits itself to be an inadequate analysis- amount to only 20 per cent in addition to direct effects.

The honourable member for Wide Bay, who has practical experience in this area, has pointed out that at least 300 people are directly affected and 700 people are indirectly affected. We know that there are 2 States of Australia whose citizens have depended for many years for their living conditions on the ripple and feed-back effects of mining. This has been the case in Western Australia, which has had and is having a great period of prosperity. The prosperity in Western Australia is due not to the feed-back effects of rural industry- I realise I might offend rural people when I say that- but to the feed-back effects of mining. The multiplier effects of mining are now very great in the community in which mining operates. In Queensland, which was a long backwater of Australia but which came to the forefront and did very well from the late 1960s and 1970 onwards, the domestic economic effects in terms of job opportunities resulting in full employment were experienced when the rest of Australia did not experience such opportunities. Household incomes rose more quickly there than they did in the rest of Australia. Those effects derived completely from the ripple of mining operations within that State.

I look in that context and from that experience to the position of mining on Fraser Island. The ripple effects of that mining are great and I hope they will not be under-estimated. That very fact indicates the difficulty that the Government is facing. The Government is facing a very great difficulty in that it has to decide what to do in order to compensate for what has happened there. Of course, that is going to involve money. There has always been the cynics who have said: 'Of course, money can buy anything'. There are those people who have said: 'No fortress is impregnable up to the gates of which an ass can be led laden with gold'. That is the position which the Government faces at the moment.

I repeat that the difficulty that the Government faces is simply this: It has to decide what kind of compensating action to undertake. I would suggest that reafforestation cannot substitute for what is being done by the mining industry itself. I have accounts here from the mining companies of their expenditures, not in terms of wages but in terms of current expenditures. They are not capital expenditures. One company was involved in an expenditure of over $7m last year, and another company was involved in an expenditure of several million dollars less. That is not something to be put aside lightly or easily.

The other difficulty that the Government faces is this: This was not a mining venture on which short term expectations were built. Rather long term expectations were built. The honourable member for Wide Bay has illustrated very well that people bought houses or built houses. They set themselves up in certain living conditions because of the long term expectations. One of the companies expected to be mining for more than another 20 years. Another one expected to be there for a few years from now. But 20 years plus is a long period of time. This illustrates the exquisite difficulty facing the Government.

What I am concerned about every time I look through this report is that it has ignored those difficulties completely; it has not dealt with them. I am concerned that the report has not sought to deal with the difficulties. All the report says in relation to these things is that no doubt some appropriate economic measures can be taken. What a general qualitative proposition that is; it would be inadequate in any report. A great head of steam has been built up in relation to it. A great deal of propaganda was conducted in relation to it. Some unkind soul- it was Kingsley Martin- has said that you cannot sell propaganda unless you have the proper geese. I would suggest that sometimes on environmental issues that might be an appropriate motto to be adopted by some people.

I appreciate the difficulty that the honourable member for Wide Bay faces. He faces an 80 per cent to 90 per cent downturn in activity. He is concerned with the most intimate environment of all. The effects will go much beyond the electorate of Wide Bay; they will go throughout the length and breadth of Queensland. I would say that if the Government is going to look at measures, it should not take the advice of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), who talked about substituting structural assistance schemes and so on. These schemes are not appropriate here. They are schemes appropriate for a government floundering around trying to find something to substitute for the products of its own mismanagement. That is not appropriate to this measure. So what is needed are compensating economic measures. They will have to be long term and will have to apply in terms of the region itself. But whatever compensating measures are taken which will affect people, there will be a net detrimental effect on the national income. Much of this will apply in terms of export income forgone and those transfer effects that help to support large parts of Australia which of their nature are unable to compete with the rest of the world.

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