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Transcript of joint news conference with the hon Ros Kelly MP, the hon Robert Tickner MP, the hon Alan Griffiths MP and Senator the hon Nick Bolkus, Parliament House, Canberra



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P R IM E M IN IS T E R

TRANSCRIPT OF JOINT NEWS CONFERENCE WITH THE HON ROS KELLY MP, THE HON ROBERT TICKNER MP, THE HON ALAN GRIFFITHS MP AND SENATOR THE HON NICK BOLKUS, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA - 18 JUNE 1991

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

PM: Ladles and gentlemen. The Cabinet as you know has finished its consideration of the question of mining at Coronation Hill and the decision has been made that mining will not be allowed there and that the Conservation Zone will be incorporated into the Kakadu National Park. I don't pretend that this was an easy decision. There was a very

full debate in the Cabinet but in the end the position was cordially arrived at in the terms that I have put to you. I obviously don't canvas the whole of the debate but let me

say that the overwhelming consideration which moved the Cabinet to its decision was the position emerging from the report of the Resource Assessment Commission of the . profoundly held views of the Jawoyn people. There is no doubt that they believe that to allow mining at Coronation Hill would be a desecration of their beliefs. And while I believe it is not for us to say whether we can share the beliefs of the Jawoyn people or not what I do say and what my colleagues share with me is that it is presumptuous in

the extreme for anyone to question the integrity of the beliefs of the Jawoyn people because we may have some difficulty in adjusting to our intellectual or cultural framework their beliefs. There is no question that the

report establishes that the people with the authority to speak on behalf of the Jawoyn profoundly believe this position. And indeed in what has been said by representatives of the Jawoyn since the handing down of the report, including right up until today, they confirm the

accuracy of what is said in the report. It is for that reason that we overwhelmingly have made the decision. Let me say that we take the view which is expressed very explicitly in the report that this is a special case and in

the press release that I've put out I refer to that fact but let me quote it again so that there can be no doubt about this point. I go to it because there has been some attempt, I think irresponsibly on the part of some sectors of the

mining industry, to say that this is a litmus test that what is made as a decision in this case must be representative of the attitude of Government to mining generally. Nothing could be further from the truth and indeed the Resource Assessment Commission report in para 9.34 states the position very accurately and I quote that, the

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light of these considerations, the Inquiry reaffirms its view that there are sound reasons for treating the Conservation Zone as a special case. It understands that the mining and business sectors have great difficulty in

accepting this view but it believes the facts show that particularly sensitive issues are involved and that these issues deserve full consideration before the Government makes its decision." It's relevant to understand that the

Jawoyn are not opposed to mining as such and they are involved in negotiations about mining in other areas. And it would be a gross misrepresentation of the position to put

the position of the Jawoyn as being against mining in any circumstances. The fact is that they believe that in regard to this site that it would be profoundly against their

beliefs, it would indeed be a sacrilege, a desecration for mining to go ahead in this site. And speaking for myself and for my colleagues, we are not prepared to discriminate against a group of people on the basis of saying, well we

are not prepared to take into account what their beliefs are. This is something which I regard as fundamental and which I'm not prepared to deviate. So those are the circumstances. Of course this means now that Ros Kelly will be able to start immediately the proceedings to list the Stage Three -KELLY: Tomorrow I think we'll -

PM: We'll start tomorrow?

KELLY: We'll make it a park tomorrow hopefully and then we'll -PM: That's by proclamation - we can do that tomorrow by proclamation.

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KELLY: Yes. We'll do it very quickly and then we can proceed for World Heritage Listing this year. That means the nomination will go forward on the first of October for consideration by the lUCN next year with the decision to be known by the end of next year.

PM: Well we're open to questions.

JOURNALIST: Are you arguing that you shouldn't even discuss the merits of this issue because it's discrimination against the religious beliefs of a community? Is that what you're -

PM: No. You can argue the merits. I mean, we set up a commission to look at the merits, to look at the position of the Aboriginal people and other issues. Now obviously we encouraged discussion but what, from my own point of view, David, let me say, I will not accept is some position based upon either an explicit or an implicit proposition -that we're dealing with some sort of second-class citizens who

really are talking some sort of nonsense that's not acceptable to us and that we should take no account of their feelings and beliefs because it doesn't fit in with our framework. That's a position which I repudiate.

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JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, what is it that this was not a litmus test, the mining companies have said that it will destroy investor confidence and that it will put billions of dollars worth of projects at risk. How do you prevent that happening or do you believe that the threat's hollow?

PM: Let's just try and put this into some sort of context, I mean, what sort of notice you take of what's said by the mining industry. I mean they put out a statement: Can we afford to let Mr Hawke make a $38 billion mistake. Well I

... What's this $38 billion mistake? Do you know how they get their $38 billion? It is to say that the mining industry employs assets worth $38 billion. The whole of the Australian mining industry currently has got $38 billion of

assets which is presumably put at risk by this decision. Now of course that is a nonsense. Let me refer to what the description, as put by Mr John Quinn of Newcrest on the 13th

of May. I mean, against this sort of proposition that we are talking about some monster mine, this is what John Quinn of Newcrest said on the 13th of May; we contend that the RAC analysis is too narrow but we have never suggested - this is Quinn of Newcrest - we have never suggested that Coronation Hill on the basis of present knowledge is other than a modest scale mining operation. Now, frankly, this is a line of intimidation, attempted intimidation by the mining

industry that is simply not going to work as far as I and the Government are concerned. There is no basis whatsoever as the Resource Assessment Commission report itself says in paragraph 9.34 for regarding this as other than a special case. Then the great proportion of the mining that takes place - I don't know, Alan, you may know the figure - but a

considerable proportion of the mining that takes place in the Northern Territory is on Aboriginal land. .

GRIFFITHS: (inaudible)

KELLY: Yes.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: No. It doesn't mean that Mr Kerin misunderstood the issue. I think in the end he was happy with the decision. I mean, the way this Cabinet has operated for eight years, when we've got big decisions, we recognise that there can be differences of emphasis, differences of points of view.

That's as it should be in a pretty vibrant sort of mob that we are. We are. But in the end, after a fairly lengthy debate, we've come to a position with which everyone will live.

JOURNALIST: Why was the other option that the Jawoyn be left to decide themselves, why was that rejected?

PM: Well. Let me perhaps put it to you -JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

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PM: Well just let me show you something which I think is relevant to that question - if I can find it - something that was put out by the Jawoyn themselves. "Sick of Talking." This is what they put out. This is the

submission from the Jawoyn Association to the Resource Assessment Commission, Kakadu Inquiry. Heading - "Sick of Talking". I mean they were in a position where this Government had set up an impartial commission of inquiry which, as part of its function, was to talk with and listen

to the Jawoyn people. And they were able to do this. They took transcript evidence from them and they came to the judgement, the Commission, both in terms of the position put by the senior custodians regarded by the Jawoyn as their spokesmen, and also made the judgement that even if they'd taken a democratic vote as it were, either way there was no doubt as to what the view of the Jawoyn people was. And they are saying to us now, here in the national capital,

saying that, that the Resource Assessment Commission have put their position accurately. Now why should they be subject to a period of pressure, which is what would have happened. I mean let me remind you of what the Commission

had to say on this question of the - I'll just go to what their - 9.60 I think. It's, I think, a very touching part of the report - this is paragraph 9.60. "Senior Jawoyn men are aware that a no-mining decision will mean that they and

other Aboriginal people will lose the economic benefits they would receive if mining were to proceed. The Inquiry has no doubt that the choice they have made to oppose mining has been thoroughly considered by them and that they are aware

of the costs to them of this choice." I don't know whether you had the opportunity of seeing it. I saw just a few weeks ago a very moving television program in which these

people were actually interviewed on television. They lived in miserable conditions. And it was put to them "why won't you have mining? I mean, ybu'll be better off, more money, you won't have to live like this." And with a very simple dignity they pointed out that they knew that but to allow mining to proceed would be against their beliefs. It would

be sacrilegious. It would be a desecration. Now they know, they had the opportunity of making the choice. What sort of decision would it be by us to say well, look, you don't really know what the issues are, you don't really mean what you're saying, let's subject you to another 12 months of pressure by the mining companies. I'm not about that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, as you suggested, there were some very strong divisions in the Cabinet on this issue. Mr Dawkins said today that one of the reasons the Cabinet has been successful for so long is that it's always been able to

come up with decisions that everybody could live with. Well there's no compromise in this at all. How are we to believe that suddenly everyone in Cabinet can now live happily with this decision?

PM: Happiness is a relative thing.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

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PM: Oh no, I don't have that sort of power that I can say look, you're happy and they say yes Bob we're happy. But some will be happier than others. But everyone had a very fair opportunity I think to put their positions at some length.

KELLY: They sure did. Several times.

GRIFFITHS: I was one of the others.

PM: He doesn't look too sad.

TICKNER: He's happy, aren't you Al?

JOURNALIST: ... did you consider the evidence given by the Jawoyn elders to the Senate Committee in this report on Kakadu in 1988 that Coronation Hill was not a sacred site but it was free of Bula and that mining could go ahead?

PM: Not only did I do that but I looked at what the Resource Assessment Commission had to say about that. It was not something that the Resource Assessment Commission overlooked. Let me quote to you what they had to say about

this. I mean there was no question of avoiding that fact. There's two relevant sections of the report which go to that. In 7.78 - this is para 7.78 at page 180 - they refer to their draft report about previous contradictory statements that had been. "It is the Inquiry's view that the great variety of discussions with which the custodians and other Aboriginal people have had to contend, ranging

from private videotaped interviews to meetings with government and private agencies, including the hearings conducted by this Inquiry, exerted pressure on Aboriginal people, the good intentions of all parties notwithstanding." And they concluded on thisNwith this point at paragraph 7.82

at page 181. "In light of these two trajectories of events, it is understandable that there may have been times when the responses of the senior Jawoyn men to questions about Coronation Hill and their views about mining were a reflection of their internal struggle to find an appropriate balance between religious and material imperatives. They were required to give specific responses to questions about mining in sometimes difficult circumstances, and it is not

surprising that their views varied. In the Inquiry's view, these contradictory statements made in the past should not be interpreted as detracting from the present strength of

the views held by the senior custodians."

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: Paternalistic by whom?

JOURNALIST: Well by the Commission and perhaps by-the Government this evening.

PM: I would think it would be infinitely more paternalistic for us to adopt the position of the miners on this matter, for instance, who - if you call that paternalistic, how

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would you go for words to describe this effort? In paragraph 7.89 of the report, "The Australian Mining Industry Council criticised the Inquiry for not having 'suggested any mechanism for educating the Jawoyn on the

fallacy of some of their mythological beliefs.'" How do you go on that for paternalism? I mean in this situation, let's cut through all the verbiage. In the end, for many people,

there is an unstated assumption that really this group of between 300-400 black people have really got some crazy beliefs and we shouldn't really take any notice of them. We know better, we're much more sophisticated. Now that's paternalism. We don't have to share or pretend that we understand the Jawoyn belief. But if you are a non-discriminatory society, and we are certainly a non-discriminatory Government, then you have, particularly

if you've set up an inquiry to try and find out what the facts are, you have to be prepared to accept the integrity of the beliefs of these people. That's not paternalism. That seems to me to be a fundamentally necessary approach if

you're going to be able to call yourself a non-discriminatory society.

JOURNALIST: Mr Griffiths, Newcrest has already said tonight that in the wake of this decision ... be looking offshore for investment. Are you concerned that this decision tonight is sending the wrong signal to investors?

GRIFFITHS: Well I think given the feelings that are attached to this issue there is likely to be, for a short time, some fall out but the message that I would send to the mining sector and other sectors for that matter, is to get

this issue into some sort of perspective. No-one could argue that I have not approached my task with anything less than a fairly robust attitude. But I might say, I might say, that I have not regarded myself as being the repository of all wisdom on the issue. I think it's a particularly

complex issue for a start. I might simply remind you that I did accept right from the outset as a fundamental premise, the sanctity of Aboriginal views in relation to religious sites of significance is, I think, that case is made out.

So that was my starting point. I think it's important to get this into perspective. As the Prime Minister has indicated, the company themselves are not saying that this is some gargantuan mine. It is a relatively modest mine in

the whole scheme of things and sure, the company and some others might be discomforted by this decision. But I think they ought to keep their eye on the ball. This is a country

that's acknowledged internationally as being one where there are enormous opportunities for many industries and also included in that are our resource industries. So I think

the special case to which the Prime Minister has referred, will indicate that we will not see another Coronation Hill where we have a conspiracy of circumstances coming,together that create the sort of hurdles to development that were

simply insurmountable in this case.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, ... investors close on, I think, $12M so far on Coronation Hill. Are you going to be

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prepared to discuss compensation with them for that amount of money?

PM: I don't know whether they're going to put up any proposition. But of course they've always known that in the exploration stage they've got to run the gamut of

considerations relating to the environment and Aboriginal considerations.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, would you say this as one of the toughest Cabinet decisions you've faced?

PM: Yes, one of the toughest. Yes.

JOURNALIST: How would you characterise the debate?

PM: I thought it was a very healthy one and I've congratulated the Ministers before. I mean that's - these four Ministers are here on the basis that they - it was

through them the joint submission came up. And I've congratulated them collectively and individually on the cooperation with which they've prepared the submission. They had different positions but they cooperated effectively. They did not make their contributions to the debate in a vituperative manner. They recognised the validity of alternative points of view and broadly speaking,

that characterised the whole Cabinet debate. It was a robust debate and discussion but that's what you'd expect.

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the debate?

PM: Oh, I don't think I had to put my leadership on the . line. The only thing I would say about my position in this

is in regard to some unsavbury propositions that have been put by some people that you can understand Hawke's position on this in terms of some indebtedness he has to the Left going back to the leadership debate and issue. I repudiate

that sort of nonsense for the despicable sort of crap that it is. Anyone who knows my record and history going back to before I came into this Parliament and the position I took on Noonkanbah as President of the ACTU in which I tried to mobilise the resources of the industrial and political

labour movement would recognise that sort of comment for the, well, the scummy sort of comment it is.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, do you think - you mentioned Noonkanbah, do you think in that incident and again here the extreme sensitivity and appreciation you've shown of the Aboriginal spiritual rights has perhaps been influenced by

whatever education process you might have gone through through your son's experiences?

PM: Well I don't know. My son may have got to his position through some of the education he's received at my feet and living in my home. I mean my family is a mutually educating organism. It is. I mean -

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KELLY: Even in his view towards women.

PM: My friend here on the left has acknowledged the fact that the impact of my daughters and wife on my understanding about feminism.

KELLY: He had a long way to go but he got there.

PM: I mean that quite seriously. I have been very, very fortunate in the totality of my family life, with my mother and father and then my wife and my kids, we have had an impact on one another. And going back to Noonkanbah it was an accident, in a sense, that Stephen was up there very much

in the forefront of that and that I was the President of the ACTU but I just know that he shares with me just a profound commitment to non-discrimination on the basis of colour, creed and race, religion. It's something that's just basic to both of us, I guess.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, you've talked about tonight's debate being robust and a healthy one. Are you looking forward to another robust, healthy debate next week on uranium?

PM: Well my position is quite clear, that if there is a debate on uranium, I don't mind. If the Party decides that it wants to have the debate, OK, and I've made my position, my thinking about this issue clear. But the Party will make a decision as to whether it wants to have a debate.

JOURNALIST: You don't think it's a necessary healthy one like tonight's one was?

PM: It'll be healthy enough. It'll be robust, I guess Nick if it happens.

KELLY: It'll be robust.

PM: It'll be robust.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, can I just ask you about the waterfront decisions -PM: Yes, sure.

JOURNALIST: What do you think about it and do you think it's a rebuff to you who firstly negotiated the deal that part of it's been rejected?

PM: Well I don't think that the Full Bench of the Commission would've intended it as a rebuff to me. They had a position where they came down with the national wage case decision and they have not regarded the agreement that I negotiated with the employers and the unions on the night of

the 1st and 2nd of May as, from their point of view, being sufficiently consistent with their decision. They have endorsed in some sense the substance of what I negotiated

with the employers and the unions but I am, of course, disappointed - as I think both the employers and the unions

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will be - that they haven't taken up the whole of that agreement. Now obviously what we as a Government will do, w e ' 11 have some discussions with the employers and the unions - and perhaps even with the Commission, I don't know

- as to see whether we can get any further on this matter. It's absolutely vital from the interests of Australia as a whole that we do get this matter resolved because what is at issue here, what's at stake is the whole process of waterfront reform. I'm very pleased to - I just had a look

at the transcript before I came to this Press conference of what' s been attributed to the union and to the ACTU and they said they've made an agreement with the employers, they intend to stick to it. Now I hope on that basis that we'll

be able to take it forward. But I don't want to get into an attack upon the Commission. Really what I hope is that in some way we're going to be able to reach a decision, not just on this issue, but more generally where we can get back to a more effective working relationship between all the

industrial parties and the Govenrment and the Commission.

JOURNALIST: . . . unions damage the cause by going on strike tomorrow?

PM: As you know, my position is that I'd prefer they didn't take industrial action. I don't think they really achieve very much by that. But it's not going to be devastatingly bad for the future.

JOURNALIST: Would you expect employers to stick to the agreement?

PM: I would hope they would. Their position is - I've got no doubt that they meant what they said when they negotiated the agreement, they regard it as a good agreement. They want to have some backing to the agreement from the Commission. Now that's precisely the sort of issue that we'll have to be talking with them about to see how we get

that.

JOURNALIST: Can we go back to the question of compensation for Newcrest? Was your earlier answer suggesting that while, you know, they knew the odds when they went into it in terms of environmental requirements, so now they should

just cop the result?

PM: Well they always knew that when they're in exploration stage, that you had to get through the environment and you had to get through a consideration of the Aboriginal issues. They always knew that. Now I think they understand that. I don't think there's any legal basis for any approach to us

and I don't know that they will make one.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, just looking at the future,, on the basis of this decision would you expect the mining industry to place much greater weight on the integrity of Aboriginal beliefs before they embark on projects now? And secondly, do you see the Resource Assessment Commission increasingly

as the forum through which those questions are decided?

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PM: No, no. Taking your first question first, I don't think it should be implied that we have the view as a Government that the mining industry generally speaking hasn't had a decent attitude towards Aboriginal people. I mean, I don't think you've had that experience and I don't think any of us have had the experience that by and large

that they are contemptuous of the Aboriginal people. I don't think that's our view. There was almost implicit in your question that perhaps they had. The fact is that a great proportion of mining activity particularly in the

Northern Territory is undertaken on Aboriginal land which shows that the Aborigines for their part are prepared to negotiate mining under conditions which are acceptable to them. And as I've said the Jawoyn people themselves currently are engaged in precisely that position. So I don't think we, Glenn, should be projecting some sort of

assumption or operating on some assumption that the miners from their point of view and the Aborigines from their point of view have not demonstrated a capacity to agree on mining. Generally speaking they have been able to. And it's in that sense that you must understand the relevance of 9.34, paragraph 9.34 that this is a very special case. Now the

second part of your question; does it mean that we should be looking at the - the RAC will be becoming a normal vehicle. No, the answer to that is no.

JOURNALIST: Mr Hawke, some members of Caucus are threatening to raise the issue of Coronation Hill o n ..... Thursday at the Caucus meeting.

PM: Good luck to them. I mean, they've already done it in the media, haven't they?

KELLY: And there are threfe Caucus committees who have come down in support of the decision we've already taken tonight.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to them? To Mr Campbell, Gary Johns particularly -PM: Well, because I like to be -KELLY: Charitable.

PM: Modest in my language publicly, I wouldn't say precisely what I think of some of the things they've said publicly but if they want to raise this issue in the Caucus then they are free to do that. As Ros has said we've had

three Caucus committes, have considered this matter and those Caucus committees have advocated the position which the Cabinet has adopted.

KELLY: Yes. Including Mr Johns.

PM: Ok. Thank you very much.

ends