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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 886

Senator CHIPP —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment. I refer to the shameful decision of the Government, announced this morning, that, despite advice from the Australian Heritage Commission that the Daintree region is of undoubted world significance, it plans to take no decisive action to stop construction of the road causing the destruction or nominate the area for the World Heritage List. First, does not the recommendation of the Australian Heritage Commission for the Daintree region to be nominated for World Heritage Listing clearly establish the 'primary constitutional support' of the external affairs power necessary for Federal action to which the Attorney-General referred last Friday? I ask also whether that report of the Heritage Commission also states:

Thirteen families of primitive flowering plants which give the area the highest concentration of such families on earth, the highest diversity of animal life of any area in Australia, and the only habitat for numerous species that are regarded as threatened and elements of plant life that relate to the four major stages in the earth's evolutionary history dating back more than 35 million years.

Finally, is the Minister aware that the National Environmental Law Association of Australia wrote to the Prime Minister on 3 September outlining five reasons for regarding Daintree as being of outstanding universal value, prior to the Heritage Commission's report, thus giving the Federal Government the power to save the region now?

Senator RYAN —I am not aware of the correspondence to which Senator Chipp referred in the last part of his question. I do not have any briefing material on it. I was not aware until Senator Chipp drew it to our attention by way of his question that the Heritage Commission has now reported on the Daintree area. However, I point out to the Senate that the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment, Barry Cohen, has announced our intention to pursue, in co-operation with the Queensland Government, a conservation plan for the area. I think it is the case that if the area is to be preserved there needs to be co-operative action. We are very well aware that some damage to the area has occurred by way of building the road. The Federal Government and the Minister have regretted that damage. However, it seems that the most sensible and constructive steps that could be taken would be to ensure that no further damage takes place and that there is an agreed plan of conservation for the area. I am sure that the Minister could provide Senator Chipp with more details about what he intends to do by way of negotiating this plan with the Queensland Government. We hope that these steps will lead to what most people-certainly most members of the Government-acknowledge to be a unique and very valuable area.

Senator CHIPP —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Would the Minister please explain how we can save an area by building a 60-metre wide road through it which, in the opinion of all experts, will destroy it?

Senator RYAN —The building of the road was not an act undertaken by our Government. It has been severely criticised by our Government. We are concerned to prevent further damage in the area and that is the purpose in setting up the consultations for a conservation plan for the area.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask honourable senators to look at the length of their questions because quite often lengthy and detailed questions involve lengthy answers. Because Question Time is a time for back benchers to express a point of view, I ask all honourable senators to keep this in mind.