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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3958

Mr MILES(11.50) —The report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation into the Ranger Uranium Water Management system was unanimous. I was concerned that the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth) made comments that were more of a political nature than about the report. I would like to deal with some of the honourable member's remarks. He regarded Ranger Uranium Mines Pty Ltd as being greedy and shortsighted. In this day and age there needs to be a more realistic approach to environmental matters as well as to export earnings. The two must be kept in balanced perspective. I make these comments to try to give some balance to the perspective put upon this report by the member for Dunkley.

Frankly, companies in Australia are established to make money-that is their purpose-so that Australia and Australian workers can benefit. I believe that Ranger has done a quite good job, given the circumstances which it has faced. I would remind the honourable member for Dunkley that the first point set out in the conclusion of the report says this about Ranger Uranium:

During the inspections of the project area the company was open and forthright in its discussions and allowed access to all areas within the project area including those areas where the Committee may have reached conclusions critical of the company's operations.

In other words, the company was very open to our going there and inspecting its operations and was quite prepared to sit down and talk with us. There was no notion that it did not want to talk to us, and therefore the comments by the honourable member for Dunkley were unwarranted.

I would like to make a few other comments about the report. The environmental groups and the National Parks and Wildlife Service believe, without any good scientific evidence, that if water were released there would be concerns and changes in the environment. This raises the question of making decisions of this type in Australia at this stage. We are now in a scientific age, and if, as the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Webster) has mentioned, the Government pays $25m to the Supervising Scientist and then virtually ignores what he is saying, I think we have very big problems with getting the right information on which to make decisions about the future of companies, mining and many other operations in this nation. We cannot go back to the era when we made decisions on emotions. If science is about one thing, it is about finding out to the best of mankind's ability what the facts are. This is what the Supervising Scientist said about the operations at Ranger Uranium:

The Office of the Supervising Scientist view is that on technical grounds occasional controlled discharges of RRZ water to the Magela could be made in such a way that there would be virtually no damage to the environment including no harm to people.

It went on to refer to other possibilities of handling the water problem at Ranger and said:

However, such measures would be expensive and have associated with them their own environmental impact. On balance the OSS believes that water release to the Magela should be accepted as one of the water disposal components of long term best practice technology.

That is the advice of the people in charge of gathering the facts. In these matters it is very important to have an open mind to the facts which are laid before committees. On those facts we should make these decisions.

I wish to make a few comments about the pipeline breakdowns. People regard these breakdowns as great catastrophes, particularly when they read the reports in the media. I am concerned because this shows that many people in Australia have very little understanding of the complexities of big factories and industries in this country. In fact, it is not a simple operation to ensure that these factories or mining sites operate at 100 per cent efficiency every day of the year. Therefore, I believe that we should view breakdowns in this light. Let us remember that the pipeline breakdown did not put any material of any concern outside the zone. The Australian people need to know that the material did not go out into the national park at all.

I conclude by saying that I believe it is important to keep up consultations with the people who live in the area and who are concerned about the possibility of damaging effects. No matter what we do in regard to mining operations in sensitive areas of Australia, we must keep in mind the interests of the Aboriginal people, particularly in this region. I believe that communication and continued discussions with Aboriginal people is a very important process. These people are concerned-and rightly so-about their environment because it is where they have lived for hundreds of years. If groups of people are to work together in this great nation of ours on these very delicate and sensitive matters, we should take account of the Aboriginal people's views. I would encourage the Ranger people to maintain contact with the Aboriginal people so that consultation continues in the future. I believe this report to be an honest assessment of the situation in Kakadu. It is not a report on which we should score political points. I believe that in future it will be regarded as a report which looked at the facts carefully and came down unanimously with a fair assessment of the situation at the time.