Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3393


Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I am delighted to see this legislation come to fruition. I can well recall that in my first speech in this Senate in August 1965 I leaned heavily on the views of the then late Professor Jock Marshall and also Vincent Serventy. Together with the senior adviser of the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass), Dr McMichael, who in a State capacity, accepted, as do all major Parties now, the responsibility that the Australian Government has in this particular field, together with the redoubtable New South Wales conservationist Milo Dunphy.

I shall deal, in particular, with the remarks of Senator Carrick. He referred to the State of New South Wales. One of the problems of which we have always been aware is how to rationalise the desire for wildlife conservation with the needs of mining. I think a very famous New South Wales Premier and later Governor-General, Sir William McKell, proved in his role in the creation of the Kosciusko State Park- despite the Snowy Mountain project HVDR with its construction aspects- that we were able to get the best of 2 worlds. I know that that is what is in the mind of the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, Dr Cass.

I notice that in another place the Honourable Ralph Hunt seemed to be somewhat unduly solicitous of the feelings of the mining companies. Obviously the role of Dr Cass and the role of the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be largely concentrated in Australian territory, which in the main will be the Northern Territory. Even before the House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation was formed, it was often difficult to get the States to work in tandem with one another, much less with the Commonwealth Government. I say that because in about 1966-1 pay tribute to the response that Senator Devitt and I got from the then Minister for Shipping and Transport, the Honourable Ian Sinclair, and the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Reece- we were able to update and give to 2 Bass Strait Island fauna reserves- I refer to the Chapell Islands and Goose Islandthe protection that was needed. This action was to save the then almost extinct Cape Barren Island geese. The moral of that story is that things can be achieved by co-operation between the Federal Government and the State governments.

Since the remainder of my address will be confined to the Northern Territory I will be seeking leave to have incorporated in Hansard a report that Representative Lamb and I prepared. The report deals with the vexed question of the jurisdiction of the Minister for the Environment and Conservation as distinct from that of the Minister for the Northern Territory. I seek to have this 5-page document incorporated in Hansard for this reason: Even when this legislation becomes law- I think Senator Carrick and others will agree- the conservation groups will be referring back to what we have said in the debate. If one studies the works of Stewart Udall, who was an extremely distinguished United States Secretary of the Interior- he had a much bigger area of power than our fragmented system in Australia allows- one will see that there are some questions to be answered. They are dealt with in this report prepared by Representative Lamb and me 12 months ago. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard this 5-page document and a letter from Dr Patterson which outlines the progress of the Top End National Park.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- The Chair has not seen the documents but, under the normal conditions, if there is no objection leave will be granted. Is there any objection? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows)-

Report by Senator Mulvihill

Northern Territory National Parks/ Wildlife Reservations Policy

Following a decision of the FPLP in late 1973 to examine Northern Territory land usage with particular emphasis on national park and wildlife reservation expansion I visited the Territory with Representatives Lamb and Bryant from 14 to 19 January. Through the use of air and motor transport the delegation was able to examine various sectors of the Territory.

Visitations ranged as far apart as Cobourg Peninsula in the top end to Simpsons Gap in the centre.

Discussions were held with officers of the Northern Territory Reserves Board, Department of the Northern Territory (Darwin) and the Jebiru Ranger Uranium Mining Company.

Three major issues emerged:

(a)   The size of the Kakadu National Park and attendant problems;

(b)   The prospects of positive responses by the Australian Government to a supplementary list of suitable areas for acquisition as national parks/wildlife reservations submitted by the Northern Territory Reserves Board (vide Appendix A);

(c)   The rationalisation of the Conservation Ministers, National Parks Wildlife Commission/National Parks Wildlife Field Service concept with the dual Northern Territory Reserves Board/Department of the Northern Territory Wildlife Service.

Kakadu National Park

Generally both the senior officers of the Department of the Northern Territory and Northern Territory Legislative Councillors appear inbured with a firm desire to finalise all legislative requirements associated with the project this year. Some of the points of conflict are elaborated in reference (c).

Outside this ambit the Committee were pleased with Departmental initiative that could result in an additional 20,000 acres of pastoral leases being added to the national park acreage. Committee members closely questioned officials of the Jabiru Ranger Uranium Mines on anti-pollution measures. In essence the defence of the mining company appeared to be that applied anti-pollution measures would be much higher than the ill-fated Rum Jungle techniques. They contend that a large holding dam of compressed earth will meet all weather conditions and that high evaporation would tend to keep water levels in check.

It was also claimed that the Magela Creek System to which in extreme cases mine water waste might enter was not a continuous link across the plain to the major rivers. Nevertheless several questions on the holding pond and the size of the actual mine shaft by my colleague Representative Lamb did indicate that more positive details were needed on monitoring methods in the Magela Creek and that the Department of the Northern Territory must have ready access to such readings which must be taken frequently. In any case even if the Magela Creek System does provide a buffer area to combat possible water pollution it is doubtful if the Noranda project can claim the same defences. It is quite apparent that your Committee will need detailed consultation with the Minister for the Northern Territory on the acute dangers that exist in polluting the Alligator River System. The concern of your Committee in this direction is well and truly vindicated in the following extract taken from the recently released Alligator River Study Part 6 (IV. Drainage Tracts) 6- 10:

Seasonal changes in water quality

The quality of water and the sediments carried by it are determined by the source of the water. If it has percolated through rock masses before emerging as springs it is likely to be harder and depending on what rock it has infiltrated it may be relatively high in heavy metals and in radioactivity.

If it has entered the stream as direct run-off from the land surface it is more likely to be soft, low in heavy metals and low in radioactivity, unless it has passed directly over a radioactive deposit.

In the wet season the waters of most streams are soft, slightly acid and poorly buffered, low in heavy metals, and low in radioactivity.

When stream flows decrease after the wet season, the local contributions from springs and seepages become proportionately greater and their influence on the chemical constituents and radioactivity of the water may be considerable.

Heavy metal and radioactive elements are carried downstream either in solution or absorbed on suspended solids. The fate of these, and the manner and extent to which man and other biota in the environment may be subjected to them are important matters on which some information has been sought. This information will assist in predicting the fate of any waste materials which may be added to the drainage system, and in estimating how much material could be added without serious damage to man or other biota.'

The Committee gained the impression from discussions with the mine operators that the Bureau of Mineral Resources can play a vital role in determining areas in which mineral exploration can be intensified.

In view of the recent N.S.W. Coolong limestone deposit dispute it is thought desirable that the Bureau of Mineral Resources might seek to encourage uranium exploration in more arid regions of the Territory where conservation conflicts would be at a minimum.

In setting conditions for mining operations it is essential to remember that the mining companies benefit greatly from knowing the exact conditions under which they can operate. In setting effective anti-pollution safeguards not only is the environment protected but mining companies immediately know the standards which they must maintain and will know if and when they can operate so removing speculation from their activities. It is essential that mining companies can move in a predictable environment in which to make decisions and that governments do not leave them (up in the air) as to their rights and obligations.

RECOMMENDATIONS

(   a ) That early discussions be held with the Minister for the Northern Territory on methods and standards which will be applied to uranium mining operations to ensure effective anti-pollution safeguards;

(b)   Future Bureau of Mineral Resources' operations with emphasis on arid regions of the Territory;

Additional Land Acquisitions Sought by the Northern Territory Reserves Board

A perusal of Appendix A shows a wide variety of regions which could immeasurably strengthen the Northern Territory parklands system. Notwithstanding the magnitude of the Kakadu project these supplementary plans deserve early consideration.

In the face of continuous pastoral and mining demands 1 974 should be the year when an overall evaluation is made on all Northern Territory land usage and the Appendix A list should be given immediate attention. With the principle accepted in the 1973 Budget of Conservation Minister Cass having funds available for disbursement for the procurement of additional land for conservation purposes one of the early recipients should be the Northern Territory Reserves Board or the new authority which may supersede it.

RECOMMENDATION

The Minister for the Northern Territory be requested to submit an early list of the areas that can be added to the acreages controlled by the Northern Territory Reserves Board. Pending any such action listed areas be freezed from usage for mining or pastoral purposes.

INTEGRATION OF AUSTRALIAN AND TERRITORIAN PARK AUTHORITIES

Undoubtedly the dismantlement of the existing Department of the Interior has created problems in regard to National Parks/Wildlife Services and Australian Government initiatives.

Many party members had noted the effective policy in this sphere pursued by the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Stuart Udal in the sixties and visualised similar successes in Australia. The subsequent creation of the separate portfolios of the Northern Territory and Conservation has made the realisation of our fauna conservation goals much more difficult to attain. From the numerous discussions that were held with both field officers and administrative staff some fears do exist within the Territory that the suggested NPWL Commission and NPWL Service advanced by Conservation Minister Cass does constitute a virtual take overof the local operations.

This view appears to be also held by at least several of the Northern Territory Legislative Councillors. In countering this mistaken view I did point out to many of these people including the Northern Territory Reserves Board President that it was essential that a merger was effected between the two authorities that are the custodians of the Northern Territory National Parks and Wildlife Reservations. The response of the Northern Territory Reserves Board is contained in Appendix B. In essence a merger of the two existing Northern Territory park authorities in accepted.

It also recognises the role and direction of a National Park/Wildlife Commission but not a separate NPWL Service.

If there is to be a national policy at Commonwealth level for national parks and they are to be national in the true sense then the National Parks and Wildlife Commission will need to set policies for their establishment and environ; mental protection and the basic activities that can be permitted within the boundaries of the park. However to police those policies it is essential that day to day management of the parks should be in the hands of people familiar with the locality and the unique demands that a particular park places on management. For this reason the National Parks and Wildlife Commission should set standards but not interfere with the day to day control of park management. For example this could be carried out in the Kakadu National Park by the Northern Territory Reserves Board.

It is essential that bureaucracy and red tape not force one central policy for all park managements as each national park is unique. This could be avoided by giving the responsibility of park management to a sub group of the NPWLC.

All of us know the vision that Dr Cass has brought to his ministry and the far reaching plans he has for both the NPWL Commission and the NPWL Service.

Notwithstanding the Minister's aspirations however, it may well be that in the words of Paul Kruger 'we take the best of the past and build on it. '

In effect if the Conservation Minister can develop the NPWL Commission as a viable body to energise state/territorial park authorities with maximum co-operation the ultimate objectives of our party can be achieved. I do believe that the probable Northern Territory park authority merger married to the Cass NPWL Commission could well bring to the Territory a conservation millennium assuming the Northern Territory Ministry exhibits a similar policy of give and take.

RECOMMENDATION

That an early conference between the Ministers involved and the Committee take place.

Senator J. A. Mulvihill,

Chairman,

Combined Caucus Northern

Territory Land Usage Committee

Letter to Senator Mulvihill

Minister for the Northern Territory

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 7 November 1974

Dear Senator Mulvihill,

I refer to your letter of 16 September concerning the proposed Top End National Park and the other additional areas sought by the Northern Territory Reserves Board.

Creation of the proposed Northern Area National Park was approved by Cabinet (Submission No. 759, Decision No. 1676) and I was authorised to arrange separate legislation for the creation of National Parks in the Northern Territory. Legislation was passed through the Northern Territory Legislative Council and the Ordinance is now waiting final Government consideration.

In addition, the Minister for Environment and Conservation has recently introduced into the House of Representatives a 'National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill' which, if acceptable to both Houses of Parliament, will clear the way for proclamation of the proposed Northern Area National Park.

As soon as some form of legislation is approved the boundaries of the proposed National Park can be finalised. Action is already in hand to acquire those areas of Gimbat and Mudginberri Pastoral Leases recommended by the planning team for inclusion in the proposed Park. As an interim protection, some 1,200 square miles of the Alligator Rivers region has been declared a Wildlife Sanctuary.

In respect of the other areas sought by the Northern Territory Reserves Board, follow up action has been taken by my Department on each proposal submitted by the Board. In the majority of cases reservation cannot proceed until such time as the areas sought revert to Vacant Crown Land.

In some areas, acquisition proceedings are in progress. However, those areas under Exploration Licences or Oil Permits will remain alienated for some considerable time (e.g. Gosse Bluff and Tempe Downs are subject to an Oil Permit that doesnot expire until the year 2022 AD).

Where reservation and dedication is possible, action is proceeding and dedication to the Board is under consideration (e.g. Vernon Islands, Victoria Settlement, Ryan's Well and Umbrawarra Gorge).

You also raised the question whether any of the land presently held under pastoral leases, in respect of which there are defaults in lease conditions, is likely to revert to the Northern Territory Reserves Board for non-grazing purposes.

As far as I am aware, the Northern Territory Reserves Board has shown no interest in any of the pastoral leases referred to in the August 1974 issue of the N.T. Newsletter. However this is not to say that, as time goes on, other pastoral leases willnot also be in default with their conditions and if these reach the forfeiture stage could be considered in some instances for conservation purposes.

If in the event a pastoral lease is forfeited, you may rest assured that the future disposal of the land involved will be determined having regard to whatever representations have been made to my Department by other interested parties.

Yours sincerely,

REX PATTERSON

Senator J. A. Mulvihill,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600


Senator MULVIHILL - In preparing the report to which I have referred, I had the opportunity to visit Cobourg Peninsula, and naturally I also visited the Centre. With Representative

Lamb, I met the officers of the Ranger uranium mining company which is adjacent to Kakardu National Park. The thing that I am perturbed about- I have already alerted the Minister to this- is that when this parks system comes into being and the authority is created the Alligator River system will need effective monitoring in relation to just what powers the Director should have to control mining waste products. I would give him more than he needs rather than fear that he has to run the gauntlet of the Minister for Minerals and Energy or the Minister for the Northern Territory as to who will put up the monitoring system in order to watch what could be done if there is any undue pollution. I say that because, whilst Premier McKell in New South Wales was able to have a tremendous influence on the Snowy Mountains Authority, we know that when private mining companies are not controlled we can have numerous repetitions of the sort of pollution that occured in the Molonglo River. That is one matter that I will be putting to the Minister.

The other matter is this: I spoke to members of the Northern Territory Reserves Board. Anybody who has met Colonel Rose knows the role that he has played in conservation. I mentioned in my report the effort that is being made to coordinate all the activities. I know of the knowhow that is to be found within the Northern Territory Reserves Board; I know also the dedication of the rangers in the Coburg Peninsula area. I am just anxious to see how they will all dovetail in, even in relation to such mundane subjects as promotion, leave and all those sorts of things. All of those things are necessary if we are to have a contented staff. Let me digress a little and take up Senator Carrick 's complaint about the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Whilst Representative Lamb and I were engaged in purely a party survey, we took the opportunity to meet the members of the Northern Territory Reserves Board and we met people in the Assembly in Darwin. Although the report was circulated to members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, out of courtesy, I also sent copies of the Northern Territory Reserves Board. I think its members had a fair idea that some of the things contained in the report would ultimately be adopted by the present Government.

Another point I want to stress relates to the Gudgenby National Park, an area in respect of which I had the opportunity to make a field survey. I would like to be sure, if it is to be under the control of Dr Cass and future Ministers for the Environment and Conservation, that there are adequate powers to ensure that the Minister will not be subservient to perhaps some Minister for Minerals and Energy who might encourage a mineral survey in the region. I want to say on a positive note that I read with extreme relish page 3 of the second reading speech which provided a public, exposure of the plans of mining companies. I do not regard myself as one who has a hatred of mining companies, but I have always believed that younger voters have a mounting desire to see that the cards are laid on the table. I believe also that mining companies will be forced to do the right thing to protect their image only if their plans are fully exposed in the Parliament.

When talking about the light that was burning in respect of the cause of conservation I referred to the early post-war period in New South Wales and a former Premier of that State and subsequent Governor-General, Sir William McKell. I think Senator Carrick would agree with me that of course there have been evolutionary changes and that they have been desirable, but without the creation of the fauna panel in New South Wales I do not think we would have had a launching pad from which to develop the cause of conservation. There are obligations on the Australian Government in other facets of wildlife conservation. I have had lengthy correspondence with Mr Broomhill, the Minister of Environment and Conservation in South Australia. Whilst I welcome all this legislation, I say quite respectfully to my own Government that a promise was given to me as Chairman of the Senate Estimates Committee F that defence forces would be available- the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy- for use in patrol work on offshore wildlife sanctuaries. This legislation must be effective. I know the potential of the Northern Territory Top End National Park, but ' unless we have teeth in our legislation and absolute co-operation from other Ministers we will find that we can fall short of our objectives.

I did warn Senator Carrick about my throat and I said that my voice today does not have its normal power. 1 simply conclude my remarks with a quotation by a former United States Secretary of the Interior. This applies to the concept of the wilderness system. It reads:

A wilderness system will offer man what many consider the supreme human experience. It will also provide watershed protection, a near-perfect wildlife habitat, and an unmatched science laboratory where we can measure the world in its natural balance against the world in its manmade imbalance.

I leave it at that.







Suggest corrections