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Wednesday, 10 November 1976

Mr NEWMAN (Bass) (Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development) by leave- The Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry reported its final findings and recommendations to the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development on 2 1 October 1976. The commission of inquiry had conducted public hearings on 3 1 days between 5 August and 3 October 1975, received 658 exhibits, and viewed a number of places and activities, including sandmining operations and the rehabilitation of sand mined areas on Fraser Island, North Stradbroke Island, Inskip Point, Rainbow Beach and the Cooloola area.

Evidence on behalf of DM Minerals was given to a previous inquiry by a senior executive and two consultants; DM Minerals lodged 61 exhibits. This evidence was taken into account by the inquiry. Evidence was given by executives of Queensland Titanium Mines. The inquiry was conducted by two appropriately and highly qualified commissioners, supported by four expert advisers. During the inquiry, the commission had the benefit of advice, in evidence, from a range of experts. The inquiry took 15 months to reach its conclusions, and is thus a fully detailed and comprehensive review of the environmental features of Fraser Island and the impacts of the sandmining industry.

The inquiry, which was conducted under the provisions of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 for the purposes of achieving the object of the Act recommended that:

Having regard to the evidence in respect of all of the environmental aspects of the making of decisions by or on behalf of the Australian (Commonwealth) Government in relation to the exportation from Australia of minerals (including minerals that have been subjected to processing or treatment) extracted or which may hereafter be extracted from Fraser Island in the State of Queensland, the commission recommends that:

1.   All exports of minerals (including minerals that have been subjected to processing or treatment) extracted or which may hereafter be extracted from Fraser Island be absolutely prohibited except for minerals extracted from below the mean high-water mark on the eastern beach south of Indian Head.

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

3.   The whole of Fraser Island be recorded as pan of the National Estate as soon as possible.

The Commonwealth Government has reviewed in detail the findings and recommendations of the inquiry, and has taken fully into account representations made to it since the report was published, including views expressed by the Queensland Government- which favoured continuation of mining- local governments, the mining industry, the firms concerned, and many interested organisations and individuals. The Commonwealth Government has decided that the export of minerals extracted from Fraser Island, other than from below highwater mark on the beach south of Indian Head, should be phased out and export should not be permitted for minerals mined after 3 1 December 1976. The Acting Minister for National Resources (Mr Nixon), had indicated that he intends to withhold export permits accordingly. Mining operations until then should be carried on under conditions and on locations agreed by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments. The Commonwealth Government has also decided that Fraser Island will be recorded as part of the National Estate, under the Australian Heritage Commission Act. This decision recognises the place of Fraser Island as part of our national and international heritage. It is a decision both in keeping with the Government's policy concerning the Australian environment, as well as being part of our international obligations. In reaching this decision, the Government has recognised that it needs to act, in conjunction with the Queensland Government, to ensure that the special features of Fraser Island are preserved for future generations as well as for the present community. These special features set Fraser Island aside as an area of outstanding social, aesthetic and scientific significance. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development will consult with the Queensland Government seeking joint Commonwealth-State action to develop an agreed management plan for Fraser Island, having in mind the preservation of the Island 's natural features and the oversight of Island activity. The inquiry reported that:

The natural environment of Fraser Island is of great significance, complexity and fragility. The Island possesses individual features of great attraction and importance, such as its perched lakes, immense beaches, cliffs of Teewah (Coloured) Sands, sand blows and rain-forested sand dunes. But the inevitable highlighting of the presence and importance of these individual features of its natural environment should not be allowed to obscure the links and interdependency of its many fragile elements, while, overall, an impression of wilderness gives unity to the broad spectrum of the particular natural features of the Island.

In reaching its decision the Commonwealth has been most concerned about the implications for people affected by the decision and for employment in the region generally and it is looking at measures to alleviate any detrimental effects. The Commonwealth is most concerned to assist people affected to find suitable alternative employment. The adjustment process towards suitable re-employment may require, for some, retraining in new skills, or relocation of place of residence. There is no single measure capable of solving the overall problem. Neither is the problem one which the Commonwealth Government can solve alone- State governments, employers and the unions concerned may also need to be prepared to act in a co-operative and constructive way. The range of measures available from the Commonwealth to employees retrenched or under threat of retrenchment comprises:

The employment counselling, placement and related services available through the Commonwealth Employment Service; training assistance under the National Employment and Training scheme; relocation assistance for employment, or training leading to employment, available under the Relocation Assistance Scheme; and income support to unemployed persons by way of unemployment benefit and other related benefits.

The relevant Commonwealth Ministers will consult with Queensland on the application of special arrangements for the services provided by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, and on the development of forestry operations on the mainland, and the development of the tourist industry and the tourist potential of Fraser Island and the Maryborough region. The Queensland Government has already been informed of the Commonwealth Government's decisions and consultation between the 2 governments, consistent with the federalism policy and the announced approach to Commonwealth-State co-operation, is already proceeding. On export commitments for mineral sands, overseas buyers should be able to secure the balance of their requirements which would not be available from Fraser Island from the on-going operations in the Australian industry at reasonable prices. In the unlikely event of these overseas buyers encountering difficulties in obtaining supplies the Commonwealth Government will make appropriate arrangements to ensure that supplies are made available. I present the following paper:

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