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Tuesday, 9 May 1972
Page: 1470


Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I rise again tonight on behalf of the many conservationist groups throughout the Commonwealth that are gravely perturbed at the procrastination that has been exhibited by the present Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) in regard to the proclamation of what is known as the Top End National Park in the Northern Territory. When this project was first mooted in 1945, it was visualised as an area of 2,475 square miles. Ultimately, the previous Minister for the Interior, Mr Nixon, more or less adopted a favourable attitude towards a reduced area of 1,000 square miles. I think conservationists felt that he had at least outlined some worthwhile establishment. Subsequently, when the present Minister for the

Interior, Mr Hunt, took office, he made several announcements on this matter. As far as I have been able to ascertain through the channels of the Senate, a freeze was to be adopted. In using that term, he indicated that after his predecessor had agreed in principle to a 1,000 square mile area the mining people were agitating for a certain intrusion into the area. I, like most people, I think, was under the impression that even if this freeze were to apply the mining companies might be taking certain samples and at some point of time a form of arbitration would have to be adopted.

As a member of a Committee headed by Senator Laucke, I visited the Northern Territory last week. Using a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft, we were able to fly over this area which would be called a vision splendid. I think that my colleague from Queensland, Senator Keeffe, would agree with me that it was a magnificent panorama. I refer particularly to the Jim Jim region where the falls would be comparable with anything in the world. 1 do not say that idly. As a matter of fact, at page 37 of the Northern Territory annual report for the year 1969-70 the Government's advisers talked in terms of a park with an area of 1,000 square miles. They said that when developed it could rank with the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock as a great Australian natural attraction.

I was fortified by that assessment. On returning to Darwin on Tuesday of last week, I saw a copy of the 'Northern Territory News' of Friday, 28th April 1972. It contained an open letter headed 'A challenge.' The challenge was directed to to the Minister for the Interior. Three leading Darwin citizens - Mr Graham McMahon, Mr Colin JackHinton and Mr Ian Barker - had written a very important letter in which some remarkable information was made public to people such as ourselves who live in the south. An important point emerges. Mention is made of a mining company known as Noranda Australia Ltd. I do not know why the word 'Australia' appears because the annual meeting of this company was held in Toronto, Canada, a short time ago. There the company stated that it would not bring the Jim Jim uranium deposit into production until satisfactory sales had been negotiated. On one hand, the Minister for the Interior has assured us that there is a virtual freeze until 1973 and then he will try to equate the views of the conservationists and those of the mining interests. At the same time, our observations fortify our opinion - Senator Keeffe would concur in this - that this company has gone far beyond the idea of just scratching the ground for samples. Not so far from these magnificent falls to which 1 have referred there is a sizable indication of the extent to which mining has been carried on.

Whatever the views of the mining company, we find - I am quoting from this letter of 28th April over the names of Messrs Graham McMahon, Colin Jack-Hinton and Ian Barker - that organisations have been clamouring for the Minister to provide a public hearing in Darwin before the mining warden. The organisations which are seeking this hearing are the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Northern Territory Reserves Board and the Northern Territory Museums and Art Galleries Board. These bodies have asked for a public inquiry. Initially, the legal officers of the mining company questioned the jurisdiction of such a tribunal. This query was rejected. At this point of time we find that a virtual blackout of news on the subject has been imposed by the Minister. I just qualify this by saying that, as Senator Cotton will appreciate. I sent telegrams to both him and the Minister for the Interior. Mr Hunt, to the effect that I intended to raise this matter tonight. I know that the Minister for the Interior visited Darwin last weekend. Some news may be given in reply to this challenge. But I put it very forcibly that, if it is the case that a freeze has been applied until 1973, nobody in his wildest dreams would visualise that this extensive earth gouging would be carried on. Some small samples might be taken. But here we find a situation where a mining company at its annual meeting in Canada can virtually anticipate what the Minister for the Interior will do. In those circumstances, where the area of more than 2,000 square miles has been reduced to an area of 1,000 square miles, half measures cannot be adopted.

I would imagine that, if a Minister of the Crown had a massive block of flats and he let one of the flats to the operator of a call-girl racket and let the rest of the flats for moral use, the blemish would still exist. The same situation applies to this 1,000 square miles. Any one who has explored northern Australia knows that there are ample alternative sites. I have said this publicly at seminars and in the Senate. I am waiting for one occasion on which a Minister will say to the mining people: 'This is one battle you have lost'. In some issues probably we have to compromise. But 1 believe that this is a situation in which at least a meeting could have been convened before a mining warden at which these people had to justify what they are doing. Instead, we are told that the Minister will make a decision in 1973. But let there be no doubt about it. By the time 1973 comes around this company will have expanded its activities. I have another map here. Already in the area concerned I can see at least 3 sites on which there is major mining exploration. 1 put it to the Senate that on every count the action taken is not good enough.

If the Minister were sincere when he said that there would be a freeze, that would be reasonable enough. But on 21st March I submitted a lengthy question to the Minister. 1 received a partial answer to it. I wanted to document the whole sequence of events. It is significant that there has not yet been a complete answer to my question of 21st March. On top of this, the extract from the 'Northern Territory News' of Friday, 28th April, leaves many things unanswered. At the very least I would not mind if the Minister said that he would stand or fall by the result of a mining warden's hearing. I know, as my northern colleagues such as Senator Georges know, that battles have been fought in Queensland before some of these mining warden tribunals. In Canada they are saying that an exploration company will not bring Jim Jim uranium deposits into production until satisfactory sales contracts have been negotiated. As to the powers of the Minister for the Interior, I have not the slightest doubt that this mining company and others will be putting pressure on the Minister for National Development. I am critical tonight of the lack of action by the Minister for the Interior, but I know that his position will be made much harder because the Minister for National Development would make the whole of Australia a gigantic quarry.

This letter that I have, signed by 3 leading citizens of Darwin, calls for some clear cut answers. It also calls for a public hearing for the mining company to come out of the dark alleys and to say that it is not interested only in using this part of Australia for its own short term gain as at long range this national park could unquestionably rate with any similar area throughout the world. It is ironic that while Canada has a far greater number of acres of forest land preserved as national parks than we have, a Canadian company is coming into an Australian area and trying to intrude into what would be virtually the last worth while bastion as a national park on this continent.

I indicated to Senator Cotton thatI wished to raise a second matter concerning correspondence which came to me from the National Parks Association of the Australian Capital Territory. The Association is concerned at earlier answers I received from the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt about Australian Capital Territory national parks and nature reserves. I ask for leave of the Senate to have the Association's letter incorporated in Hansard.


The PRESIDENT - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows): 8th May 1972

Senator J. A. Mulvihill,

Parliament House,

Canberra 2600

Dear Senator, 1 refer to your questions in the Senate (Hansard Reference Page 2516) addressed to the Minister for the Interior, asking for an up-to-date list of the land designated as national parks or nature reserves, and to the answer supplied by the Minister. My Association is concerned that the terminology used in the Minister's reply may lead to a misunderstanding of the present nature of the 'reserves' in the Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay area.

The only legislation at present available for designation of public areas for any purpose is the Australian Capital Territory Public Parks Ordinance19281942, and Tidbinbilla, Black Mountain and Jervis Bay areas are formally gazetted under this Ordinance. The use of the term 'Nature

Reserves' is indicative of the management process of the area, not of its legal status. The Association understands that the Department of the Interior who administers the area either is preparing or has prepared management plans for these areas as nature reserves; however, we are not aware of any public announcement being made of the plans.

A small area of the Molonglo Gorge and another at Gibralter Falls have been managed as scenic nature reserves for some years but have no formal land-use status.

The 'Hill' or 'Mountain' Reserves referred to in the Minister's reply are also without formal landuse status. The NCDC have repeatedly referred to hill' reserves in their reports (see Planning Report, February 1961, 'Recreation Areas' and map; the Annual Report 1968-69, 'Landscaping', page 32 our copy; and Part 3 of 'Growth of Canberra' 1958-65 and 1965-72 by Lord Holford) but these are no more than a planning concept; the areas have no land-use status protected by legislation. These 'hill' reserves, left unidentified by a specific land-use status with legal protection, are vulnerable to piecemeal disturbance and a whittling away of the areas. Jurisdiction over these 'hill reserves' is also ill-defined; it is not clear at what stage of NCDC planning a 'reserve' is handed over to the Department of the Interior to administer.

The Public Parks Ordinance in its present form is not suitable for either the creation or administration of special purpose parks and reserves. The Department of the Interior has advised that new legislation is under preparation for the management of reserves but there is no definite date as yet in view for its issue. We are particularly concerned that the creation of the proposed Gudgenby National Park should receive full status as such, with the necessary legislative protection.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank you for the material you send to the Association from time to time. We are very pleased indeed to have the copies of letters, Questions in Parliament, and other documents we receive from you and have found them most interesting and useful.

Yours sincerely,

G.   M. CHIPPENDALE

President

I hope that a specific answer can be obtained by Senator Cotton from his colleague, the Minister for the Interior to the matters raised by this organisation.







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