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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3951

Mr WEBSTER(10.58) —This report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation has a lot of sensitivity associated with it, particularly with regard to the Kakadu National Park. It is a report with which I am very glad to be associated because, being as sensitive as it has been and is, it is really gratifying-in fact, it is quite remarkable-to think that the Standing Committee comprising members from both sides of the House was able to bring forward a unanimous report. I mention that because it is something pleasant to say about it. I was disappointed that the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton) sought to make his speech a little political in his criticisms of former governments and their relationships with activities in that part of Australia. Even though the report was unanimous, as the honourable member for La Trobe has pointed out there were differences in relation to a number of aspects of the inquiry.

As he pointed out, the Committee's investigation was made as a result of Press and conservationists' comments relating to the operations of Ranger. Whilst I would not argue against the right of conservationists to hold their views, there seemed to be a misunderstanding, and maybe even a deliberate attempt to influence the opinion of this Committee. These influences, I am afraid, were not based on fact. Quite a few emotional comments were made in the Press on a number of occasions in regard to these matters.

The minor differences between Committee members related to the impact of the release of water from RP2. It is interesting because I find it very difficult to see how there can be any controversy over water that has been tested repeatedly and found to be quite adequate for drinking and even of a better quality than Adelaide's drinking water. I am not casting aspersions on the Adelaide water supply. The Office of the Supervising Scientist was set up in association with the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. To date, that Office has spent $25m of taxpayers' money to show almost conclusively, although it has not given a 100 per cent assurance, that there will be no ill effects from the discharge of RP2 water into Magela Creek. So $25m of taxpayers' money has been well spent. The most minute inquiries have been conducted into the various effects on the local ecosystems of the Magela Creek and other streams. No significant evidence has come forward to show how the natural system that operates will be affected by the discharge of this water.

It is interesting that with the first rains the water that ran off the area where the very diluted RP2 water would be going was much more highly concentrated in terms of its chemical composition than anything that would be discharged, with permission, from the Ranger uranium mine. Also, as has been mentioned by the honourable member for La Trobe, it is interesting that the Ranger Uranium Mine Pty Ltd imported one million cubic metres of water to help it with its problems in that regard. This was followed by two seasons of heavy rainfall, but the mine was still able to operate without any water release. This is one of the major reasons why the Committee felt that it was unnecessary to come to any agreement with regard to allowing water from the RP2 pond to be discharged into Magela Creek. It was proposed that, if water were to be discharged from RP2 into the Magela, it would be discharged at the peak period of six or seven weeks in which great volumes of water flow into the creek. That would make it 100 per cent safe.

I have mentioned those things in relation to this report, although many more could be mentioned. I think it ought to be said that the fact that the Ranger operation exists in the park has enabled the park to be opened up to tourists. We now have a sealed road to Kakadu-the Arnhem Highway. There is an excellent airstrip at Jabiru which, it could be argued, would not be there and the area would not have been opened up to the tourist industry if it had not been for the Ranger operation. Also it could be argued that, if it had not been for mining and the Fox inquiry, the park may not have been established to the point to which it has been. Many tourists, including many Australians, who have every right to be in that park and to enjoy its beauty, would be missing out on seeing this unique area. I think the Ranger operation demonstrates how conservation values and tightly controlled mining operations are compatible, although I would not support in any way any uncontrolled development in the region. Finally, I commend the report to the House. I also commend the Standing Committee's secretariat, under the leadership of Mr John Cummins, for the excellent assistance that it has given us, and I congratulate it on the speed with which the report was completed.