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Thursday, 19 September 1974
Page: 1262


Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I enter this debate primarily to make a plea regarding the justification of the regulations to control the mining industry in view of its known policy of environmental rape. I say that without any apology because when we talk about uranium we know only too well that what happened at Rum Jungle resulted in the excessive pollution of the Finniss River in the Northern Territory. As late as last year or early this year, I met the Ranger mining people in the Northern Territory. I went to the area with Mr Lamb, a member of the House of Representatives, because I was concerned about uncontrolled uranium production and what it can do to the Alligator River system. Just as Senator Hall said that he was pleasantly surprised with the reception that he received from the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), I say in all sincerity that I was equally surprised to find that I, a heretic in the eyes of the mining industry, broke bread with the Ranger mine manager, and I think that the talks were productive.

Reference has been made to ironclad controls where we would virtually limit the production of the Ranger mine by the introduction of very strong anti-pollution measures. The conversation that I had with the Ranger mine manager was opened by his saying: 'Senator, we are not trying to defend what has happened in the past'. When we talk about the Finniss River fiasco and when some people talk about what wonderful citizens the people connected with the mining companies are, we must remember that we have a permanent monument to the mining industry's attitude in the pollution which the Lake George mine caused in the Molonglo River. I know that we cannot always be looking backwards, but we can learn lessons from what has happened in the past. The policy of the Minister for Minerals and Energy is that if we have ironclad controls over the Ranger mine there is no justification for any of the other uranium mining ventures going into the Top End National Park in the Northern Territory.

While I am talking about mining, I think we should go into the question of black coal. We know that whatever mistakes we have made in Australia, they were more than compounded in the nineteenth century in Kentucky and in other States in the United States by what they call strip mining; we call it open cut mining. Any feeling of fear or inhibition that I have had was vindicated this morning when a prominent parliamentarian and Minister in Queensland, in the person of Sir Gordon Chalk, virtually echoed the criticism that we have made of Comalco Ltd and the other mining companies. I know that they are very effective lobbyists; but I also know that you have to hold the reins, give them a bit of a jab, put the bit into the corner of the mouth and let them know that you are the boss. Then they will come to you and do business. That is the only language they understand.

There is a much more important side to this matter. Senator Carrick probably reads 'Common Cause' and other mining industry journals. One of the most vicious things that occurred in the mining industry occurred in the stupid situation of uncontrolled competition in black coal, where New South Wales and Queensland colliery interests were playing one State off against the other. If nothing else is achieved by Mr Connor, at least he has insisted that there be a bit of sanity. It is good, occasionally, to read of what the Japanese are doing. They are very astute businessmen. I am not hostile towards them. Their prime job is to look after the interests of their own country. But I think the firmness that Mr Connor has exercised behind the scenes at least in the short term has meant that we have been getting a far better price for our coal.

When one looks at the prices that we can get for uranium on the open market, it is hard to follow what has been put by Opposition speakers. Senator Carrick referred to our international obligations. To an extent that is a good idea. I suppose that internationalists do have an obligation in this field, but I would call these countries semifatcat countries. When we look at other countries which have a monopoly on a particular mineral we see that they play the game pretty hard. So far as any feelings of softness that I may have towards mining companies- I do not say I do have them- are concerned, when I read what Sir Gordon Chalk said this morning I thought that there must be justification for this blood and iron policy. I simply say that the regulations that we are seeking to retain are a very necessary safeguard because, when it is all said and done, the crux of the matter to which Senator Carrick referred- I agree with his comment on this- is the international energy crisis. The plain fact of the matter is that over the years Australia has been pretty reasonable. When we talk about the implications of lost opportunities, I imagine we could say that a succession of mainly non-Labor State governments have given away our rutile at bargain basement prices. If we can do much better with other minerals, well and good.

I think we all agree that uranium, because of the excessive dangers of the waste and even the secondary waste, must be controlled. I do not make the accusation that the Australian Atomic Energy Commission somehow created the serious radioactive waste pollution in the Finniss River, but there was some secondary waste pollution. Senator Davidson, who is now sitting in the chair, was the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution. Without overstating the position, we know the dangers. If there is a theme that I want to hammer home it is this: When we talk about river pollution in this country, from whatever source, we should remember that Australia is not like North America. All our rivers have to be protected and prized. I have said this before and I will say it again: I know that prominent people in the Australian Country Party in the Northern Territory commended the Water Pollution Committee for its vigilance.

I do not not want to transgress unduly. I simply say that if Mr Connor has maintained a rather cautious policy he has done so because of the overall argument that if a commodity gets scarcer we can get a better deal in the mineral market place. I think we are all looking for the millennium. I say this quite candidly: If we have unused sources of uranium and solar energy comes into being with less destruction of the environment, then I think it is sound policy to develop the latter. In respect of powers or regulations which Mr Connor is seeking and about which Opposition senators are apprehensive, they should bear in mind that in international bargaining places, whether it be in Asia, Britain or any other country, as far as arranging terms is concerned he has done pretty well. Many private enterprise firms have done all right out of it, too. In winding up I simply say that I am certain that Senator Milliner and I never thought we would see the day when Sir Gordon Chalk would become a socialist. I would say that at the moment there is a unity ticket between Gordon Chalk and,. Rex Connor, and that is good enough for me.







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