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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 252

Senator CHIPP —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment. Are the threatened rain forests of Daintree on the register of the National Estate because of their environmental significance, and has not the world respected naturalist David Attenborough described the region as one of the most breathtaking wild areas in the world and said that beyond any dispute it is a treasure? Is the Minister aware that, in the 200 years of European settlement in this country, three-quarters of the rainforest has been destroyed, leaving a total area of rain forest in this entire country that could be put into a circle of only 70 kilometres in diameter? Does not the Government have the power under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act to protect the area? Given that the Daintree region has been recognised as an irreplaceable part of Australia's heritage and that the Government has the power to act now to prevent any further destruction, when can we look forward to the Government acting in the same courageous way as it did with the Franklin River?

Senator RYAN —I was asked a question about the possible actions that the Australian Government could take with respect to the protection of the Daintree area by, I believe, one of Senator Chipp's colleagues, a couple of days ago. I gave a great deal of detailed information to the Senate then.

Senator Chipp —But you did not say when.

Senator RYAN —I think I explained to the Senate that there is a quite lengthy process of seeking to have the area judged by the World Heritage Committee to see whether it is assessed to be of such outstanding importance as to justify its inclusion on the World Heritage List. I think it is true to say that that is a quite lengthy procedure and one which the Australian Government does not have any capacity to short circuit.

Senator Chipp —But you have the power now.

Senator RYAN —I believe that the Australian Government has the power to act in environmental matters, as we did with respect to the Gordon below Franklin area, only when the area has been included in-

Senator Gareth Evans —Or nominated.

Senator RYAN —Or nominated for the World Heritage listing, and I think it is from that international Act that our power as a national government to protect comes. We are not yet at that stage with the Daintree River area. We may come to that stage, and I believe that the Minister is taking the necessary steps.

Many areas are nominated for world heritage listing but are rejected by the World Heritage Committee. So far, only 165 areas in the world have been accepted for the World Heritage List, and Australia has five of those areas on the list. So I think it is quite clear that Australian governments have been active in pursuing the possibility of international action via the World Heritage List to protect our national environment. We are not being inactive with respect to this area. As I said when I spoke on this matter two days ago, I shall be seeking further information from the Minister. The matter is of concern to the Government, and I believe that the Minister, Mr Cohen, is taking all necessary steps.

Senator CHIPP —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I submit to the Minister, with great respect, that unintentionally she has misled the Senate. I submit to her this simple question: Does not the Government have the power now under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act to protect the area because it is of national renown, regardless of whether or not it is on the World Heritage List?

Senator RYAN —My understanding is that we do not have a general power as the Commonwealth Government to protect any area within Australia simply because we judge it to be important. My understanding-it may well be that the Attorney- General will need to elucidate this-is that the special power that we had with regard to the Gordon below Franklin came from its having been included on the World Heritage List. I can see that Senator Chipp is not satisfied with that response. Indeed, it is not the most constitutionally complete response that it is possible that someone could give. I will seek further information on the matter but my understanding is that we need to take that next step of nominating the area and having it included on the World Heritage List before we have the same broad ranging powers that we were able to use to save the Gordon below Franklin temperate rain forest.