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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2665

Senator KILGARIFF(3.16) —I commend the Department of Territories for its 1985-86 annual report which it has made available to the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes). It is a very complete report and after perusing it one sees there could be many hours of debate on it. I will speak just briefly to some aspects of it. Of course, the report includes the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and it refers to the first report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands inquiry, to the relativities between those islands and other places to bring about an appropriate standard for funding. There is also some reference to the Northern Territory and the movement by the Northern Territory to statehood. This in itself is another subject and would take some considerable time to debate. But I will comment just briefly on it. Very shortly the Territory will be treated by the Federal Government as a State in relation to funding. There is now every reason for the Northern Territory and the Federal Government to take a very realistic look at the Northern Territory to see where it is going, I believe that it has only one future and that is statehood. The report also mentions Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the islands which at one stage were part of the Northern Territory. It is being stated that those islands still belong to the Northern Territory. I think this is a reasonable statement.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is Christmas Island. I have been there recently as Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are part of the Northern Territory electorate. I was able to spend some time-quite insufficient time, of course-with the people of both areas. It is not a very easy place to go to or to leave and it takes some considerable planning to be able to spend any reasonable time there. I am very interested in the economics of the future of Christmas Island. One sees from the report that under the prevailing circumstances a phosphate mining operation would be uneconomic and the Phosphate Mining Company of Christmas Island Ltd should be wound down by the end of 1986. Of course, that is not quite accurate. With the further deposits of phosphate-it is considered that phosphate can be economic-it appears as though the mining side can last for, say, another four to five years. Even so, there are considerable problems at Christmas Island and the people there have my complete sympathy because several hundred of them will have to find another means of making a livelihood. They are now looking at the possibility of gradually swinging over to tourism. I believe that tourism has a very real part to play in bringing about a living for the people once mining is discontinued. There has been a suggestion of a casino project and other tourist projects.

It is with some disappointment that I note the answer to a question I received only yesterday. I asked: `Is the Government considering upgrading the airport at Christmas Island and, if so, would it foot the expense?'. In answer to that question, I was told: `No, that is not going to be at Government expense. If the airport is to be upgraded the cost will be charged to the operator of the casino project'. I think the casino project is going to be very costly. I believe that the Government, in trying to find another means of livelihood for the people of Christmas Island, must come forward and play its part. While it is essential that the airport be upgraded for the purposes of tourism and for the casino, I believe that there are other considerations. The Government must look at its responsibilities in respect of the future of Christmas Island and at least encourage the upgrading of the airport. As I have said, there are many aspects of this very comprehensive report. I hope that time will be made available to us on some future occasion to debate the various aspects of it.