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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1784

Mr WHITE(4.42) —I listened to the honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis) with some interest. I have no doubt that he is genuine in what he says, but I find it somewhat strange for a member who comes from a mining area, as he does, to take a big stick to mining in other parts of Australia. I wonder how he or the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West), who is at the table, would react if the criticism he was making was directed against their electorates and the people who depend on mining for jobs.

I wish to join the debate to say a few words about Kakadu National Park from the tourism aspect. We have heard a lot about mining during this debate. I will say a few words about that later on. There is a goldmine in Kakadu which centres on tourism. The great problem is that at the moment parts of Kakadu-despite the enormous and increasing number of people who go there-are being locked up. No one is more appreciative of the magnificence of Kakadu than I am, but it is silly to talk about declaring large areas of Australian land as national parks and then proceed to lock them up without sharing that magnificence and making it available to other Australians and overseas visitors who want to come and see it. The enormous tourist industry around Kakadu National Park could be better developed if we took a much more sensible approach.

Tourism does not mean destruction. Tourism and conservation can go hand in hand as long as they are properly managed. We see this fight all the time between the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Northern Territory Government which, it seems to me, on balance, has the right attitude towards Kakadu. The Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service is very strong, conservationist and, I understand, very good but it is not good in the day to day management of the parks that it controls. It is particularly not interested in the tourist industry in those parks. It bows to tourist interests and tourist development with a great deal of reluctance.

The town of Jabiru in Kakadu is a case in point. It is a modern town in the middle of this park. It is basically there for the Ranger uranium mine. It would be an ideal place to cater for the increasing numbers of tourists who go through Kakadu. Until recently it was closed to tourists. They could drive through it but they could not stay there. What happened? A lot of them headed off for the bush illegally and did a lot of damage instead of being catered for and properly looked after in tourist facilities and infrastructure.

I am very pleased to see that there will be some relaxation at Jabiru. In conjunction with an Aboriginal group, a new hotel will be built there to cater for tourists, but it will be a drop in the ocean. The hotel will comprise 100 rooms. Approximately 100 rooms at South Alligator and 100 rooms at Cooinda make up the entire accommodation facilities in Kakadu. Of course, there are camping facilities as well. Enormous numbers of people are going through this great national park. The figures mentioned by the honourable member for Throsby I understand are fairly correct. In the last two years the number of tourists has increased from 100,000 to 170,000, an increase of more than 30,000 tourists a year. We must encourage people to enjoy the bush. There is enormous potential in Australia for rural tourism to be developed with proper encouragement. There is a great interest in the Australian bush not only by Australians but also by overseas visitors. We must encourage them. Australians should share what they have in this country. We must also create jobs and income, particularly overseas income.

I find it strange as I read through the history of the development of Kakadu National Park that this Government, in what turned out to be a very rash election promise in 1983, went up there and promised it would spend some $70m over six years on its development. The best figures I have, some three to four years later, are that about $10m of that money has been spent. That brings me to the question of the controversial Professor Ovington. I have never met this man. He is regarded by some as a hero and by others as an obstructionist and a wrecker. It seems to me that this Government set out with the idea in 1983 of wanting to have conservation and tourism hand in hand but it has been beaten by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service which has the theory that it should virtually lock up Kakadu. How do we cope with the increasingly intransigent attitude on both sides of this argument? It seems to me that the best way to cope is to hand the day to day management of the Kakadu National Park back to the Northern Territory Government and the Northern Territory Conservation Commission. Most of the good work that is being done in Kakadu from a tourist point of view has been done by the Northern Territory Government-the good promotion of the area; the all weather roads; the very strong support for joint Aboriginal, government and private sector projects in the park.

The Northern Territory Conservation Commission is excellent by any standards. I very much hope that we will see the day when both Uluru and the Kakadu National Park are handed back to this very fine organisation. The increase in tourism in Kakadu has been mainly due to the Northern Territory Government and to the Northern Territory Conservation Commission. Whatever fine work has been done by the National Parks and Wildlife Service-I think everyone will acknowledge that it has been good in certain areas-it has certainly not been good in the area of promoting tourism in Kakadu. We also have to question whether the National Parks and Wildlife Service is cost effective. On the figures I have it takes some $10m on an annual basis to run this service in the Kakadu National Park whereas the Northern Territory Conservation Commission controls some two and a half million tourists through its national parks for about the same amount of money and it does an excellent job. I noted with some interest that in a radio interview in the Northern Territory, Professor Ovington, stung by criticism of the work his group was doing, compared Kakadu with the Cobourg Peninsula. I find that a very strange comparison indeed. Whereas Kakadu is only a few hours from Darwin on an all-weather road and hundreds of thousands of people are enticed to visit the area, Cobourg is almost isolated and very remote.

I suggest that we should take a new look at how this park is being managed. The first thing we should do is return the park to the Northern Territory Government. We should look at just what obstructions are being put in the way of the development of tourism in Kakadu. If those obstructions are sheer bloody-mindedness-not sensible or in the spirit of developing tourism and conservation at the same time, which could be done in that park-they should be done away with. We should encourage tourists to visit Kakadu, this magnificent part of Australia, instead of saying to them: `You can come if you want to, but there is nowhere to stay'. We should encourage projects to provide accommodation in that park; not only hotels and motels but also tent facilities, cabins and camping areas. It is stupid to say, as some do, that we cannot have a national park with people in it. Anyone who has visited national parks in America or Canada would know that millions of tourists every year visit parks of this size and smaller, and the parks are managed very well. For example, the Banff National Park has a whole city in the middle of it. They are some of the areas that I believe should be looked at. If we are to have a total obstructionist approach by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Government should step in and develop that park in the best interests of Australians and overseas visitors.

On the subject of Kakadu, unfortunately there was a tragedy there recently when a fisherman was taken by a crocodile-and another person was taken in the East Kimberley area the other day. The Government or a Minister has put up the suggestion that the people be fined. Fined for what? This is the stupidity of these sorts of proposals that are put. Is the Government going to fine the person after he or she has been eaten? The Government may talk about fining people for going into these vast wilderness areas, but it would take an army of rangers to police them. This sort of silly suggestion, I note with some glee, has been taken up by most cartoonists in today's Press.

While on the subject of camping and the obstructionist attitude in Kakadu, I want to mention that the last time I was there illegal camping was being carried on by members of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Federation who were picketing the abattoir at Mudginberri. Nobody else in the Kakadu National Park was allowed to camp, except with permission, and only in certain areas. We had this filthy camp for months on end in the middle of Kakadu. The people were camping without permission and no one was allowed to go and move them, although they blocked the road to Mudginberri abattoir. The Government was too frightened to act to remove them, the National Parks and Wildlife Service was instructed to take no action, and, of course, the meat inspectors were not sent in. It is a matter of industrial relations history that the Mudginberri abattoir won through. The owner, Mr Pendarvis, has gone down in history as the man who took on and beat the unions through the courts-but without any help from this Government or the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which allowed that illegal camping to take place right in the middle of Kakadu.

On the question of mining in this vast area, I am very critical of the attitude taken by the Government. I know that a lot of Government members share this feeling. No one is suggesting that fragile areas, areas of special significance or areas which could not assimilate mining activity should be subjected to mining operations. The fact is that there is a lot of country in the conservation areas of the Kakadu National Park that should be explored. It is the height of stupidity to lock up these vast areas without at least knowing what is there. Many honourable members have driven through or flown over stages 2 and 3 of Kakadu, which are nothing special. The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) recently quite accurately described a lot of it as clapped out buffalo country. No one is going to go into those areas, dot them with mines and have them look like anthills. It would be sensible to establish just what is there and then, under controlled conditions and in suitable areas, allow mining to take place.

It is gross hypocrisy on the part of this Government, in its efforts to attract the greenie votes, to just lock up these vast areas without establishing what is there. Certainly some mining over the years has been irresponsible. We have only to look at places such as Queenstown in Tasmania to see the ravages of uncontrolled mining. But miners have learnt to manage and to live with the environment. If we look at some of the better sand mining areas, which used to be disaster areas, we can appreciate the restoration which can take place. Government members, particularly the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), have an obsession to go out after the greenie vote. We see it with the Lemonthyme in Tasmania and we saw it with the Franklin. It is notable that the Government picks on the little boys-Tasmania or the Northern Territory-but it does not pick on New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland.

The original plan for Kakadu was a multiple use plan, but suddenly the priorities have changed-not in the interests of the nation but in the very narrow and short term interests of the Australian Labor Party. In answer to questions, the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) has said that there are something like 150-as he described it-mineral occurrences in Kakadu, which could be worth anywhere between $32 billion and $400 billion. That would not be a bad sort of return for a country which owes $100 billion in foreign debt.

Kakadu is one of the great treasures of this country. That does not mean that it should not be used productively and sensibly for the benefit of all Australians. Other obstructionist views have been put forward to try to block out this park for the benefit of Australians. I understand that placing some restrictions on flying over Kakadu is now being considered. The National Parks and Wildlife Service wants to restrict planes to a minimum height of about 4,000 feet. Anyone who has been in an aeroplane knows that very little can be seen from 4,000 feet. The tourist industry depends to a large extent on flying people over this magnificent country. We should let them see what is there. It is a vast area and one cannot see everything from the road, nor would one want to. Why would people be restricted from flying over this area at a reasonable height to see this magnificent national park?

I hope that the Government will take note of some of the comments that have been made in the course of this debate by a whole range of people about the development of tourism in Kakadu, about sharing with all Australians this great asset that we have in this country, about enabling people to go and see the area in comfort and about encouraging tourists to go to and appreciate the great beauty of this area. We should not have what seems to me in many cases to be the bloody-mindedness of the National Parks and Wildlife Service supported for short term political expediency by this Government.