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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4448

Senator CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Sport, Territories and Local Government)(5.37 p.m.) —I would like firstly to respond to Senator Brown's plea to speak quickly to truncate the debate. It is almost a subtle guillotine but without the blade. The government does not view favourably the process of bringing in a bill like this and not going through the normal process. I am not criticising the process; any senator has the right to bring on private member's legislation, but most pieces of legislation that the government or anyone else brings in here are generally subject to the cut-off motion. They are generally subject to being able to be considered by interested senators. I know from the coalition side that any legislation like this would normally be referred to the back bench committee on the environment, and would be considered closely by government officers within the department of the environment and the federal EPA.

I do not criticise Senator Brown because he is not personally involved in this, but I first became aware of this bill not during the debate on a motion brought before this chamber a few weeks ago but from a phone call from a West Australian newspaper journalist who rang me to ask what the government was going to do in relation to the Margetts bill on D'Entrecasteaux. She asked whether we were going to support the bill. I said to that journalist, `I have not actually seen the bill yet.' She asked, `What does the minister think about it?' This is from people who believe we should be processing this bill quickly.

Senator Brownhill —We get this all the time.

Senator CAMPBELL —You do, too, but not as quickly as this. I said to the journalist from the West Australian newspaper that I would check with the minister, which I did within a few minutes. He said that he was aware that a bill was coming in but that he had not seen it. I asked that journalist, `Does that give you an inkling as to the motivations of Senator Margetts in relation to this bill?'

Senator Margetts had a choice. When she received the bill from the draftsmen and was happy with it, she could have walked out through the doors, wandered across to Minister Hill's office and sat down with either the minister's advisers or sought a meeting with Senator Hill, who I am sure would have dropped everything to meet with Senator Margetts. She chose not to do that. She chose to jump in the lift and go up to the second floor—or probably walked the stairs, if I know Senator Margetts—to the office of the West Australian and gave them the bill. It was more important to get the bill into the West Australian newspaper than it was to get it into the hands of the government so that we could give it proper consideration.

I will not pursue that point much further, but I think it shows the perspective of the Greens. I do not seek to impugn the motives of the Green senators. I know that they care deeply about the Australian environment and its protection, and I know that Senator Margetts and Senator Murray care deeply about D'Entrecasteaux. I perhaps am giving them advice that, if they want to seek the sort of cooperation from the government that Senator Brown has sought today, it would be better to walk across to Senator Hill's office or my office and start talking about it rather than going to the West Australian. Leave the West Australian newspaper as your second visit, not your first visit.

As I have said in my contribution on behalf of the government when debating the general business notice of motion about a month ago, the issue at stake is whether the Commonwealth government should be involved in legislating on an ad hoc basis, which is what we are being asked to do here, to resolve land use conflicts and environmental issues on a case by case basis from Canberra.

I put the view that the Commonwealth, in the view of the new government—and I think to a large extent in the view of the former government—has a very important national leadership role to play. I do not think that would be contested by the Green senators. We also have a responsibility to address issues of national and international environmental concern, particularly World Heritage areas and Ramsar sites. This is recognised by the intergovernmental agreement on the environment, and it was also recognised by the coalition's saving our national heritage policy.

The Commonwealth is concerned that the existing legislative and administrative structures do not adequately reflect this view of the Commonwealth's role and responsibilities. In some cases, there is unnecessary duplication between what the Commonwealth does and what the states do. So often in Australia we have people proposing land use activities with environmental consequences who go through local processes, then state processes and then are forced to go through a Commonwealth process. There is overlap in a whole range of areas. In other cases, the Commonwealth's role is not adequately recognised. One of the goals of the new Commonwealth government is to try to sort out those roles and responsibilities to create an efficient system and to create a system that is more likely to achieve better environmental outcomes.

In this regard, a report from a Commonwealth-state working group is due to go to COAG in May 1997. Preliminary negotiations between the three levels of government—between Commonwealth, state, territory and local government officials—have already commenced. To give clarity to this issue, this is to better define the roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth.

Accordingly, the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the states through the COAG process and through this working group, will seek to review the respective roles, to cut out duplication and, most importantly, to create better cooperation. With respect to the Green senators and to Senator Murray, you do not achieve that sort of cooperation whenever you are not happy with the state process or you do not like a particular development by going around in an ad hoc way and saying, `Bring a bill into the parliament, pass it through and stop it.' That is not the way to achieve cooperation. It is not the good way to achieve a good outcome for the environment. We need to create a process that works better for the environment.

This bill seeks to pre-empt that review. It pre-empts the Commonwealth's commitment to achieving a more sensible process of dealing with these land use conflict and environmental issues. The Commonwealth has before it no information that would suggest that the values contained within the subject area come under any Commonwealth jurisdiction.

They are not World Heritage listed, even though Senator Brown and Senator Margetts might like them to be World Heritage listed. In Australia there are 11 World Heritage areas where the Commonwealth has quite clear powers and responsibilities, but this area does not come under those. They do not come under a Ramsar listing either. We have 49 Ramsar-listed sites across Australia, nine of which are in my home state of Western Australia. This site, of course, is not one of them. With Ramsar sites, the Commonwealth again has very clear roles and responsibilities defined in legislation.

Senator Brown made the point that the area that is referred to is listed in the Commonwealth's directory of important wetlands. But the point is that there are over 700 areas listed in that directory and 110 of them are in Western Australia. Clearly, it would be ludicrous for the Commonwealth to propose a piece of legislation that would stop activity in or around all of those 700 areas—although I would not be surprised if Senator Brown and Senator Margetts may propose that that might be a course of action for the Commonwealth to take.

I also refer to migratory species. Again, the Commonwealth has obligations in relation to migratory species, particularly the Bonn Convention on migratory species, the Japan-Australia migratory birds agreement and the China-Australia migratory birds agreement. But there is no reference to the national park providing habitat for any of these species.

In terms of the National Estate, Senator Brown is quite correct in saying that the area is listed on the National Estate. However, there are 11,000 places on that National Estate and we have to ask ourselves as a government and as a parliament whether we intend introducing 11,000 D'Entrecasteaux National Park protection bills, if that is the criterion for our intervening in this way. Again, I would not be surprised if Senator Brown and Senator Margetts were not proposing—in their view of an ideal world it would be possible—to protect all 11,000 sites on the National Estate in this way by bringing an overarching Commonwealth power to bear. But I do not think many other people would view the matter this way.

With that background can I say, as I said in my previous contribution, that this is very much at this stage a matter for the Western Australian government and for the Western Australian parliament. They have, as we know, passed a bill which will excise this area of 300-odd hectares from the park and replace it with about 1,100 or 1,200 hectares immediately adjacent to Lake Jasper.

As I have said previously, the Commonwealth will have a responsibility and a role when and if Cable Sands, having gone through the environmental process as they are required to in Western Australia, seek an export licence. That will, of course, trigger the EP(IP) act. The resources minister would then be required to advise the environment minister and after appropriate levels of assessment are carried out under EP(IP) the resources minister, on the advice of the environment minister, would decide whether or not to grant export approval. That is very much a Commonwealth role and a Commonwealth responsibility.

The Commonwealth, as Senator Brown and Senator Margetts will not be surprised to know, will not be supporting this legislation as we believe it would set a quite silly precedent for Commonwealth intervention into virtually every environmental issue anywhere in Australia. Our intention is to ensure that there is a comprehensive EIS carried out, involving sensible levels of public consultation, broad public consultation, and that it is conducted before any decisions are made.

We also believe—and I have already had discussions on behalf of the minister with the relevant people—that there is nothing to say that the triggering process for the Cable Sands operation will go ahead. It is my understanding that they have not lodged with the authorities in Western Australia the document that would actually trigger even the Western Australian process at this stage. There is actually no proposal to mine as yet, but we all expect that there will be within the near future.

There is no reason why, if it is the choice of the company, we could not trigger the federal processes as well and that there be a parallel process with the federal government being involved. We would not then have to jump a whole range of hurdles and processes. The Commonwealth does have an active role in ensuring that the EIS meets the Commonwealth's environmental goals.

Senator Brown, I know you would prefer us to say no mining whatsoever in this national park and I am sure many people would hold that view. That particular area has been used for a range of uses in the past. I am informed that it was a pastoral lease for many years, although it has changed since then. I believe there is farming activity only just to the west of the area that Cable Sands has put back into the national park. It is not in the classical respect what I would define as `wilderness', even though I think it does have qualities by which some people would give it that tag.

I do not know what the Labor Party's position is on this and I do not want to prejudge it, but I might also say that the policy of the previous state Labor government was very much in line with the actions that were supported by the Court coalition govern ment. I have here a copy of Labor's state policy on national parks. I have sent a copy of it across to Senator Faulkner and I will seek leave to have it tabled. I will describe it to the Senate so that I get the leave, as I require the leave of all senators. But it is, I am sure, a document that Senator Margetts—

Senator Faulkner —You do not actually need leave, unfortunately. You are in a position of not requiring leave; you are better off. But you would have received leave. I appreciate the courtesy.

Senator CAMPBELL —Thank you, Senator Faulkner. The document is a resolution of conflict policy which was prepared by the Lawrence Labor government. It will not be lost on senators that Dr Lawrence is now the shadow environment spokesperson. The document is entitled `Resolution of Conflict Policy: A Clear Policy for National Parks'. It goes into some detail about that state government's policy in relation to activity in a number of national parks. It makes specific exemptions—and I am sure Senator Margetts would have actively campaigned against this policy when it came out—for Rudall River, D'Entrecasteaux National Park and Hamersley Range.

Carmen Lawrence very proudly put out this policy under her own name. It specifically allows, under a range of conditions, there to be exploration in the D'Entrecasteaux National Park. It specifically states that the new policy recognises the extremely high conservation values of these areas. It talks about the rich mineral sand deposits which have been identified in the D'Entrecasteaux National Park. It specifically refers to excisions of mining areas from the D'Entrecasteaux National Park and the replacement of those excised areas with other areas. I think in this case, as I have said previously, the area that is to be excised has already been replaced by an area three times its size and immediately adjacent to Lake Jasper.

Senator Margetts —That's going to be mined too.

Senator CAMPBELL —The area that has been handed back?

Senator Margetts —Part of that is going to be mined as well.

Senator CAMPBELL —A tiny corner on the edge, I might say, Senator Margetts, is going to be mined. I presume you would stop the people who are growing potatoes on the farm immediately adjacent to that area.

Senator Margetts —I am just saying: what is it you are getting back—a national park?

Senator CAMPBELL —You are actually getting a 1,200 hectare area directly to the west of Lake Jasper—an area that has been intensively used for agricultural production. It is an area which will revegetate very rapidly—I suspect more rapidly than an area that has been mined for mineral sands. It should be a great addition to the national park.

I think we can have a good debate on these environmental issues. It is always good, from the Greens' point of view, to say that we are just about to lose 300 hectares from the D'Entrecasteaux National Park. I think the Greens would do themselves a favour to say that they actually do appreciate there being an extra 1,200 hectares.

Senator Margetts —Who will pay for that revegetation to make it up to national park level? Who will pay for it?

Senator CAMPBELL —That is a question for another day. It is not really my responsibility. I understand, from my limited experience in that area, that the vegetation re-establishes itself extremely quickly.

The state Labor Party's policy when in government very much envisaged exploration in this region, envisaged an excision of this area and its replacement by another area and envisaged the downstream processing of the minerals. That is not to say that Dr Lawrence has not changed her mind on this. I say that quite sincerely. Parties do change policies from time to time. I hope that the Labor Party chooses not to be expedient on this matter.

I will table the document entitled `Resolution of Conflict: A Clear Policy for National Parks' prepared by the government of Western Australia on 13 November 1990. I hope that opposition senators who choose to take part in this debate and vote on this bill at some stage in the future will read the policy that was released by Carmen Lawrence in November 1990. It very much envisages the process that is going on now.

The Commonwealth does not believe this is a sensible way to resolve the issue. If the proper environmental processes are followed, with the involvement of the federal government at either an early or late stage, depending on when the process is triggered, it should ensure that if any mining is to proceed it will proceed in a way that meets the best scientific standards.

CSIRO is actively involved in the hydrological assessments of sandmining taking place in D'Entrecasteaux already and will be actively involved in the assessment and hydrology of Lake Jasper. We believe that that process should be allowed to work and should not be overridden by an interventionist act like this. This would create a precedent which would allow the Commonwealth to intervene in environmental disputes right around the country.