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Queensland: sixth Ramsar Convention opens in Brisbane; Minister designates seven new Ramsar sites and extends the boundaries of the extension site of Kakadu National Park stage one

TONY EASTLEY: The Australian chairperson of an international conference on the preservation of wetlands has declined to express any concerns about plans for expanded uranium mining in Kakadu National Park. The mining company, Energy Resources of Australia, wants to establish an underground uranium mine at Jabiluka. Central to the proposal is the building of a 20-kilometre private road and a 50-hectare dam in a World Heritage listed area. The site is near a popular tourist destination and adjoins a sensitive flood plain. As Peter Rapp reports from Brisbane, the wetlands Ramsar conference appears unlikely to have anything to say officially about possible changes to Australia's famous wetland.

PETER RAPP: Ramsar is the name of an Iranian city where the United Nations' convention on the preservation of the worlds' wetlands was born 25 years ago. The sixth meeting of the countries which have adopted the convention has attracted a thousand delegates from more than half the world's nations to Brisbane. It's the first time the Ramsar convention has been held in the southern hemisphere. When the Howard Government's new Environment Minister, Robert Hill, opened the conference on Tuesday, it was his first official function as Minister, and he took the opportunity to increase the number of Ramsar wetlands in Australia to 49.

ROBERT HILL: I'd like to announce that Australia has today designated seven new Ramsar sites and the extension to the boundaries of the existing site of Kakadu National Park Stage One.

PETER RAPP: Two days later, Senator Hill's confronted with a proposal to expand uranium mining within a Ramsar site - World Heritage listed, Kakadu National Park. Would the delegates to the Ramsar convention use what its Secretary-General, Delmar Blasco (?), from Switzerland described on Tuesday as 'their tremendous array of political clout to condemn Jabiluka'. At the conference last night, Carrie Giles, Friends of the Earth wetlands campaign coordinator, certainly thought they should.

CARRIE GILES: We'd like Ramsar to make a clear message to the Australian Government, that this sort of activity is not wise use and to help to stop this mining.

PETER RAPP: I asked Dr Peter Bridgewater, the Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Government's Australian Nature Conservation Agency and head of the Australian delegation to Ramsar, who was made chairperson of the conference that is opening on Tuesday, if he had any concerns about the Jabiluka proposal.

PETER BRIDGEWATER: Well, you'd have to look at the environmental impact assessment. At the moment, I couldn't comment on any concerns or not concerns. There are a wide range of issues involved and until there's an environmental impact assessment, no one, I would have thought, could sensibly comment on it.

PETER RAPP: Would the Government be asking you for your advice?

PETER BRIDGEWATER: Well, we are a statutory authority with particular statutory responsibilities. I would expect that we would make our responses in line with what our statutory responsibilities are.

PETER RAPP: As the chief executive officer of the agency, what advice would you be giving the Government about this proposal?

PETER BRIDGEWATER: Well, we'd have to see the details. As I've said, you know, I'm not in a position to comment on any particular aspect at the moment because I don't know any detail.

TONY EASTLEY: Dr Peter Bridgewater.