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Wednesday, 10 November 1976

Mr UREN (Reid) -This is the beginning of an era when new values will be set on our national heritage. Fraser Island not only is our heritage, it also belongs to the world heritage. I personally and my Party welcomes the Government's historic decision to cease mining operations on Fraser Island from 3 1 December this year. I want to state clearly how this inquiry began. The Commission of Inquiry was appointed on 12 July 1975 in pursuance of section 1 1 of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 to conduct an inquiry known as the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry: ... 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.

After a lengthy inquiry the Commission recommended:

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 part of the National Estate as soon as possible.

These decisions are historic. They have wide ramifications and they will be expensive. The only decision I find a little disturbing is recommendation 2. 1 feel that the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) is rightly concerned. Politics are not involved here. I think all honourable members have to come together to give support to make sure that the affected workers and the region are not disadvantaged by this decision. But it must be recognised that this is not a decision just affecting the people in the Wide Bay area; it is not a decision just for environmentalists; it is a decision affecting the whole of the nation. Therefore the nation as a whole has to face the responsibility. The workers and the region involved have to receive special consideration. I believe the proposals put forward by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) concerning the workers and the region are not good enough. Much firmer decisions have to be made.

I give an undertaking on behalf of the Labor Party that we will support a fair go for the workers and the people of the region of Wide Bay, irrespective of politics and irrespective of State issues. It is important that they get justice and that they should not have to pay for this momentous decision alone. As an environmentalist I say to other environmentalists that they should be working to make sure that the people and the workers of the area concerned are not disadvantaged in any way. If they are there may be a backlash against environmentalists. If the people, particularly the workers, and the companies concerned suffer a great deal, some repercussions will flow to the whole environmental situation. The Minister stated in regard to recommendation 3 of the report:

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.

As the Minister responsible for the Heritage Commission in the Labor Government and as a Minister responsible for the setting up of the inquiry into the National Estate I can say that we envisaged such a decision as this. I am pleased that this decision has been made. I know that sometimes decisions are hard and harsh but the fact is that this is an historic decision.

I think the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) who spoke before me- honourable members opposite repeatedly interjected while he was speaking- is a man of human understanding. He struggled to set up the inquiry. He is to be commended on his early pioneering. We shared a joint responsibility. We applaud the decision because it was the Labor Government that started the whole momentum to bring about this decision. It is not a matter of sides. The precious gem of Fraser Island will now be preserved for all time not only for our national heritage but also as an international hertitage.

I am pleased that positive measures have been taken to protect this unique island. I am pleased that Australians who are concerned with the environment and who have fought so hard to protect Fraser Island from the bulldozer mentality have at last had a major victory. Neither myself nor the Labor Party ever wants to see destruction to the environment similar to that which occurred with Lake Pedder. Whilst I find this decision commendable, I believe it is contrary to this Government's attitude to the protection of the environment. In the past year the Government has given no indication at all of any understandings of environmental issues. The Government has cut back drastically on all major environmental commitments. There is no financial commitment at all for new projects under the National Estate this year. My colleague the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) has stated that we have to make sure that the workers who are involved will be protected. Any protection of those workers will not be cheap. Therefore I hope there will be a financial commitment to this side environmental issue. This decision is that of a complex man. I refer to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I am aware that he has been convinced and that has been strong enough to make this decision to protect this precious gem of Fraser Island. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister is a complex man but he has shown strength in this decision.

Generally the Government's attitude to the environment is contradictory. Generally this Government supports growth for growth's sake and exhibits a bulldozer mentality. The honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) expressed that point of view. In many ways I find the Government's decision on Fraser Island to be in complete contradiction to its other actions in government. For a short term economic purpose the Government reduced the amount appropriated for protection of the environment this year. It has downgraded the Australian Government's commitment to the National Estate. It worries me that this is just a sop to the environmental groups and concerned Australians. The Government may not have the same commitment to the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry chaired by Mr Justice Fox. Whilst I do not criticise the decision on Fraser Island- in fact I have said very clearly that I applaud it- from an environmental protection point of view I am worried by the way the Government intends to protect the displaced workers. Clearly this is a matter we have to look at. I think it is only marginally less important when a government decides to protect the environment that it should take definite action to protect the people in the area concerned.

I want to spend the concluding moments of my speech in showing the contradictions of this Government. Is the same attitude going to be taken in regard to the first report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry? Will there be wide discussion and debate by the Australian people? We have tried to find out from the Prime Minister; we have tried to get some information out of the Government. Is it going to do as -

Mr Lusher - Mr Deputy Speaker,I rise to order. The subject matter before the Chair is not the Ranger uranium inquiry. It is the Fraser Island inquiry.

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