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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9306

Senator McLUCAS (6:12 PM) —I welcome the report of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee on the Hinchinbrook Channel inquiry. Whilst senators would be aware that I was not a participant in this inquiry because it concluded before I became a member of the Senate, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the former Senator Margaret Reynolds, who, as a North Queensland senator, contributed quite significantly to this inquiry. I have had a chance to look at the report, and I note that it has acknowledged the divisiveness that the Port Hinchinbrook project has brought to the community of Cardwell in North Queensland.

The history of Port Hinchinbrook, or Oyster Point as it is sometimes called, has not been very positive. Basically, it has been a recipe for how not to manage a development proposal. Parts of this recipe, the ingredients, included a beautiful area with extreme world heritage values—with the wet tropics world heritage area to the west and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the east. The second component was the community of Cardwell, which in many respects is a depressed regional community. Whilst it is a small community, people do want very much the best for themselves and their families.

Added to that was the spectacle of a very prominent developer coming into town with some fairly fancy plans, a person used to dealing with controversy. As the developer of Hamilton Island in the 1980s, I am sure he would know that that development would not have proceeded in today's environment, given today's knowledge and given the understanding of the community broadly about the environmental impacts and the subsequent economic impacts that come from dealing with such a grand plan in such a sensitive place. So with those three components, the community was very hopeful that they would end up with economic salvation.

The other part of the tragedy is that the Cardwell Shire Council, unfortunately, did not have a planning instrument that would be able to deal with the proposal. So the local government was ill prepared but, as well as that, there were unclear processes between all three levels of government as to how best to deal with such an application.

The other issue was the potential acid sulphate soil issue. At the time, there was limited knowledge of how, if at all, the acid sulphate soils could be disturbed. Given all those things, it is no wonder we have the disaster that faces Cardwell now. But all that is history, and it should be recognised as that. We now have a situation which we have to deal with, and that is the challenge that has been provided to the community of Cardwell and all levels of government.

All senators would be aware that the acid sulphate soil situation is receiving continuing monitoring for its offsite impacts. The Queensland government has commissioned an independent monitor who is working with both the developer and the community to monitor the acid sulphate situation. It will continue to need that sort of monitoring, and I congratulate the Queensland government on its initiative and also encourage it to keep that work going.

I particularly welcome the report's recommendations for federal financial support for regional planning processes. If the Cardwell Shire Council and the community in general had a planning instrument that had been able to deal with it, it would have made this process a lot less divisive. What we need for that Cardwell area is a planning instrument with clear objectives about the community aspirations, with clear community support. That will provide a sense of certainty to all players (whether they be developers, the community themselves or the environment sector) about what is proposed for the future of any community—in this case, Cardwell.

Such an instrument, I believe, would have curbed one of the most concerning outcomes of the Port Hinchinbrook development proposal. Many senators would be aware that, in the early days, the proposal was purported to be a resort. That naturally was welcomed by many in the community, as they could see that it would provide them with some economic future through long-term jobs, mainly for their young people. Unfortunately, the reality is that what we have now is simply a residential subdivision. There will be some jobs, but the potential for long-term jobs is greatly diminished. That proposal has been highly speculative. If there had been sound planning instruments for the local authority and the state government to work within, it would have made it much easier.

Finally, I would like to say that I welcome the report. I look forward to reading it very closely. I also look forward to working with the local community and with all levels of government to resolve this matter as best as possible for all concerned.

Question resolved in the affirmative.