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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 631

Senator REYNOLDS —I address my question to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. I refer to the minister's recent public comments that he would need to be personally satisfied that all the environmental and heritage conditions were fully assessed before the proposed skyrail project proceeded in the wet tropics world heritage area. Has that comprehensive assessment taken place, and what impact would such development have on world heritage values?

Senator FAULKNER —As Senator Reynolds is aware, the proposed skyrail project has been around since 1987, which is two years before the world heritage listing of the wet tropics world heritage area. It is a contentious issue, as many honourable senators would be aware. Particularly in North Queensland, it has been the subject of a great deal of debate. As the Commonwealth minister responsible for ensuring that Australia's obligations under the world heritage convention are fulfilled, obviously I view very seriously any proposal for a development in a world heritage area. In principle, the federal government does not oppose private developments in world heritage areas as long as the values of an area qualified for world heritage listing are not adversely affected.

  My comments to a recent conference in Mackay on tourism and the environment were reported, I think accurately, in the media. I said that I would have to be personally satisfied in relation to the skyrail project that the environmental concerns would be met before that project could proceed. I was also in Mackay to attend a ministerial council meeting on the wet tropics. Skyrail was discussed at that meeting; it has been discussed at length at previous ministerial council meetings, and decisions by council have resulted in a considerable reduction in the impact of the proposal on the environment. At that meeting I requested a number of documents on the project that had previously not been available to the Commonwealth. These included systems specifications, the heads of agreement and draft leases. I requested my department to assess thoroughly these and all other relevant documents on the project, including material that had been provided by community and conservation groups.

  I would like to put on record that the input from the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre and other conservation groups on this project has been very useful. The views of many groups and individuals were taken into account by my department in its assessment. The assessment by the department was to determine the impact of the project on world heritage values in the wet tropics area. I should like to inform Senator Reynolds of the advice given to me by my department. In its conclusion it said:

When considering the World Heritage values of the area, together with the location of the towers and the conditions set for construction of the towers, it is the Department's judgment that there are no World Heritage values that will be destroyed or adversely affected by the proposal.

I have subsequently written to the chair of the ministerial council, Molly Robson, recommending that, in addition to the measures already outlined in various documents and conditions set by the ministerial council, a number of additional conditions pertaining to weed control and monitoring and reporting should form part of the environmental conditions on the project. I have also indicated that, given that the wet tropics world heritage area is listed for natural values only, there may be important Aboriginal cultural values which must be protected from adverse impacts of the skyrail project. (Time expired)

Senator REYNOLDS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister table the advice he has gained from his department so that the local community and Aboriginal land owners can be fully informed about their assessment?

Senator FAULKNER —In relation to Aboriginal cultural values, this matter is clearly also a responsibility of the Queensland government. The Commonwealth supported action on the identification and protection of significant cultural values in the area of the skyrail development. That is a key commitment. In these circumstances, even though I generally would not table advice from my department, and this should not be taken as a precedent, I will table later in the afternoon the advice given to me by my department on this issue. Given the claims and the counterclaims about what may or may not be affected in relation to this project, it is important the departmental advice be tabled.