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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2907


Senator SIR JOHN CARRICK(5.33) —I have a number of questions to raise. My first one relates to the proposal by the Department of Defence and by the Government to acquire 900,000 hectares of land in the Cobar area for army manoeuvres. Against the background of my specific questions I remind the Senate that the proposal has now existed for some four years. The people living in the area have had their land frozen for that period. They have been unable to sell or to move. Their properties are devalued. Enormous hardship has been upon them and they have suffered very greatly. I remind the Senate, in addition, that the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has put down a very compelling report saying that the proposal to acquire land in the Cobar area should be rejected. I remind the Senate that there has been no response from the Government on that report. I remind the Senate that the findings of the report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities rejected the idea of a major corps force area and training in areas such as Cobar which are quite different from the north where the Dibb report saw the threat. Against that background there has been compelling evidence to show that there should be no acquisition. Nevertheless nothing has happened from the Government despite requests from the Standing Committee, from the people concerned and, repeatedly, from honourable senators. The record of delay in answering letters by the Department of Defence is outrageously bad.

I ask the Minister specifically whether I can have the answers to my questions before Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) are finalised. I ask for specific answers as they will have an enormous impact upon many decent Australian people. Has a decision been made by the Government? If so, what was that decision and when was it made? Has there been a change in the user requirement? If so, what change and why was it not announced? Specifically, if there has been any change in the user requirement, why was the Standing Committee not advised of it? I remind the Senate that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) gave a letter a year or so ago to Mr Ralph Hunt saying, without any qualification, that there would be no compulsory acquisition and no forced dispossession. Is that decision of the Prime Minister still in force? Is it current or has it been repudiated? When was it repudiated? I cannot think of anything more outrageous than this situation, which has gone on for years. The proposal to acquire land imposes hardship on families. The proposal ought to be acted on as efficiently and as quickly as possible so that more hardship does not occur. I remind the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) that there is no money in the estimates currently before us for any land acquisition. I remind him that that evidence came out, I think in his presence, during the Estimates committee hearings. If the Government is to continue the proposal to acquire land it is outrageous that it will not be acquiring it in this financial year. It will be delayed into the next financial year.

I sought to find out what kind of environmental impact statements were to be made and what money was being put forward for them. Ultimately, some information came forward that there is a small amount. I also ask what arrangements the Government has made with the New South Wales Government and, specifically, the Western Lands Commissioner to undertake what virtually amounts to an environmental impact statement for the Federal Government. What is the nature of the work being done by the Western Lands Commissioner? Has a report been given by him and how much money is it proposed to pay to the New South Wales Government for the work of that Commissioner? I seek these specific answers because I think this is a matter of grave and continuing concern. It should be put to rest.