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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1813

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(9.07) —I am pleased to support the comments made by the honourable member for Aston (Mr Saunderson) in this debate.

Mr Milton —And the honourable member for La Trobe.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Yes, there are other colleagues on this side of the House who I am pleased to support as well. The honourable member for Aston has indicated that the Opposition has come to a sorry circumstance when it looks at the inheritance that Malcolm Fraser left it with. In recognition of the fact that national parks are important and that they play an important role in the development of Australia as a mature community, the contributions we have had from the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) can only be described as being prompted by the extreme group of the New Right. It would bode ill for the future of Australia if they were to exercise any decision making authority.

Mr Kent —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for two honourable members from the Government side of the House to speak one after the other? Is not the Opposition interested in this debate? Is it not interested in protecting the environment or our heritage? Where are they?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! No point of order arises. The honourable member for Hotham will resume his seat. Before I call the honourable member for Stirling, I remind the House that the Speaker normally recognises heads of State and foreign dignitaries who are present in the chamber. I point out to honourable members that we have a person in the chamber who often masquerades on the television as a dignitary, as Sir James Hacker.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I think that Australians would be delighted to know that we have another Prime Minister here who adds dignity and lustre to his office in the same way that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) adds dignity and lustre to his office-the Rt Hon. Sir James Hacker, otherwise known as Paul Eddington (Quorum formed) I am pleased to see so many of my colleagues here to contribute to this debate. They would be interested to know, as would the Australian community, that members of the Opposition are counting heads again tonight. They have to do it twice a day because they change their position and some of them even change their minds. They have difficulty finding any conscience or soul so they do not count consciences or souls, all they do is count heads. I remind the people of Australia that members of the Opposition are staggering and struggling around the lobbies of Parliament tonight seeking yet again to restore their lost authority. But we, on this side of the House, are quite comfortable. The honourable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron) came in and disrupted the proceedings of the chamber yet again. We are disturbed about this. Obviously, the people of Australia are disturbed about it, but we have become used to the fact that members of the Opposition have resorted to being a rabble. They cannot contribute to policy or to the Australian community, they are merely disruptive. That is their inheritance. The Australian community will reward them appropriately in the next election.

However, we on this side of the House have a lot of work to do. As I was saying before I was interrupted, we have the presence of another Prime Minister with us tonight. We are pleased to see him here. The Australian people are always pleased to see him here and will certainly see the work that he contributes to the culture of Australia. I also note the presence of Mr Graeme Kelleher of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. I have been pleased to work with him on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation. The people of Australia probably wonder where Kakadu National Park is. Not only were we fortunate enough to have the film Crocodile Dundee, which took part of its action there, but in order to describe precisely where Kakadu National Park lies--

Mr Milton —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt my friend. I draw attention to the fact that there is not a member on the Opposition front bench.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) -Order! There is no point of order.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —The Opposition front bench is trying to find itself at the moment, that is why it is not here. When it does find itself, which we expect will be some time in mid-1988, we will advise the Australian people. I suggest they go out with a geiger counter to try to find it. However, let me return to what I was saying. The Kakadu National Park is located between 132 degrees and 133 degrees east and between 12 degrees and 14 degrees south--

Honourable members interjecting-

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Honourable members will stop calling out to each other across the House.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I am persisting under some difficulty but I thank you for your help, Madam Deputy Speaker. It lies approximately 150 kilometres to the east of Darwin and approximately 150 kilometres to the north of Katherine. In order for the Australian community to understand the circumstances we are debating here, I point out that stage 1 of Kakadu National Park contains approximately 6,144 square kilometres within the Alligator River region. Stage 1 was proclaimed on 5 April 1979. Stage 2 was proclaimed on 28 February 1984. It encompasses an area of 6,929 square kilometres. The Australian people will appreciate that we are talking about a park of some substance and some importance, both in terms of its quality and quantity. On 13 March 1984 public notice was given of an intention to submit a report recommending that stage 3, which in other terms is known as the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases, be submitted for incorporation within a national park. The area of Gimbat and Goodparla in stage 3 comprises 6,726 square kilometres. So when we are talking about the Kakadu National Park, we are talking about three stages which are significant both in terms of their diversity and also in terms of their World Heritage status. I will talk about that in a moment.

So that people understand the significance of decisions about national parks it is important to know that in 1872 in the United States of America, Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park, was declared. Some seven years later in Australia the Royal National Park in Sydney was declared. In that sense that made us a world leader in terms of the declaration of national parks. That is why I think it is sad to hear members of the Opposition decrying national parks as they have in this debate. They do not recognise the inheritance that we have been given in this land of enlightenment and they seek to act in a negative way.

Mr Chynoweth —Vandals.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —As my colleague the honourable member for Dunkley says, they are vandals. There is no doubt about that when we hear the contributions of the honourable member for Maranoa and the honourable member for Denison. However, we must not give up when looking for enlightenment. I also add that much is to be said of the work that has been done on the assessment of this national park. For example, in terms of topographic features six basic regions can be discerned within the Kakadu National Park. They range from tidal flats through flood plains to lowlands which are really quite significant. This essentially covers stages 1 and 2 through to lowlands which consist mostly of undulating plains with rocky hills and ridges. The fourth feature is the escarpment and its outlines. Those honourable members who have visited Kakadu National Park, as have many members of the Government, will be struck by the starkness of the escarpment alongside the other tropical features of the area. The fifth topographic feature is the plateau. This is the western margin of the Arnhem Land plateau. It comprises ancient sedimentary rocks. The sixth feature-this essentially is within the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases-is the southern hills and basins. But I make the point, because members of the Opposition have spoken about this matter in a most uninformed way, that stage 3 of Kakadu National Park comprises a significant water catchment area for stages 1 and 2. When the honourable member for Maranoa comes in here and says that it is simply scrub country, he is ignoring one important feature; that is, that if we interfere with the catchment area in stage 3, we interfere with stages 1 and 2.

I remind members of the Opposition that Prime Minister Fraser recognised the significance of Kakadu National Park. There has also been criticism of the Office of the Supervising Scientist. I remind those opposite that that Office was set up following the Fox Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry by the Fraser Government. Those opposite should see that in their search for the dogma of the New Right they are turning their backs on an inheritance which had some principles. That inheritance was provided by the former Prime Minister. They are throwing that away. Members of the Australian community understand that. I think they will also judge those opposite very harshly because of that. We on this side of the House have no doubt of our role in relation to our inheritance. Our role is to ensure that we protect that inheritance. That is not a mindless preservation, that is an active plan of management recognising that Aboriginals will play a very substantial part. It also recognises that there are mineral claims within that area. I will make an observation about the mineral claims. It is significant that when the tide of the New Right began to rise last year, as all dogmatists do, at a certain stage some of those spokespersons of the New Right began to talk about making claims in stage 3.

I remind the Australian community that many other mineral claims, which lie right outside of stage 3, in an a priori sense may well be just as valuable as those claims within stage 3. We can only be left with the conclusion that those claims within stage 3 are being pressed because, in effect, the members of the New Right are seeking, where they can, to downgrade or somehow interfere with the authority of national parks. We can come to no other conclusion. If we look at the mineral prospectivity studies that have been done within stage 3, which is the area of the Gimbat and Goodparla leases, and also look at the mineral activity in those areas adjacent to but outside of stage 3, we see that the claims in stage 3 are being pressed because the New Right is out to establish a situation in which national parks will no longer be safe from mining activity. That is not good enough for us in this Parliament, who have some duty of care towards our natural inheritance. Let the Australian people remember that, with the Opposition's flirtation with the New Right, in effect it is saying that national parks can be subject to this sort of attack. There is no other way to read the arguments put forward by Mr Copeman and others who said that they want to advance those claims. Those claims are in the area of the South Alligator River region, which is a significant water catchment area.

Mr Hodgman —Come off it; don't lecture.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I spoke earlier about dogmatists and I am sad to hear the honourable member for Denison sounding like one. We normally expect better from him, but something has happened to the company he keeps. The South Alligator River region is a significant area in terms of water catchment. It is also subject to many mining claims. Under this legislation 65 per cent of stage 3 will be kept as a national park. The remaining portion will be subject to mineral prospectivity. I give an assurance to the Australian community that this Government is opposed to mining in Kakadu.

I take up another point that is of current relevance. Some people are concerned about the release of contaminated water from the Ranger uranium mine. I was pleased to note the announcement by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) which, in effect, says to the miners that they must retain that water. The members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation have looked at the water quality within RP2-retention pond 2-which lies within the restricted release zone of the mine site. The conclusion we have reached is that we will not look at the question of water release until there is the best practicable technology. I make the observation that we are very concerned about our responsibility to the environment within the Kakadu National Park. We recognise that we have an inheritance and in properly carrying out our responsibility towards that inheritance we will not allow some of the more reckless claims being made by the Opposition to stand unchallenged.

There are five pieces of legislation here and what we are about fundamentally is protecting stages 1 and 2 of Kakadu-I have already referred to their dimensions-and protecting stage 3, while recognising that there are some existing mineral claims that need to be tested. The Australian community is being given an assurance that this Government is responsible in terms of its environment and conservation responsibilities and also recognises some mineral claims-not the mindless thumping of dogma that we get from those opposite, but a sensitive and sensible response to the public need.

The thing that comes out of this debate is that the Opposition has not contributed one iota to it, except to continue its dogmatic sounds, which merely reflect the more extreme claims of the New Right. The Opposition will be judged-`Don't you worry about that'-and judged very harshly. That judgment will be very severe. The members of the Opposition have very short memories. Prime Minister Fraser had a much better understanding of his national responsibilities on matters of the environment.

Mr Moore —Not me; I have a long memory.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —The honourable member speaks about having a long memory; he certainly does in relation to the Joh Nationals. He will come to see that the Joh Nationals do not offer salvation for him, either.

Speakers on this side have said some significant things in this debate. This debate is about our national responsibilities to Kakadu National Park. Kakadu stages 1 and 2 are significant. In relation to the Aboriginal claims, the honourable member for Maranoa sought to disparage the Aborigines in relation to their claims. In fact, studies indicate that the Aboriginal claims go back some 25,000 years in this area. It is really very shallow and absurd for those opposite to disparage the Aboriginal relationship. As one who has visited the area, I would say that, aside from its geographic beauty, the other striking characteristic of Kakadu is the Aboriginal relationship to the area. When one has seen the importance of that area for Aborigines and the way the Aborigines have tended to relate to the area, it takes on extra meaning. I do not think that anyone here, if they were sensible about it, could deny that or deny the substance of what we are saying.

We are talking about an area which has striking qualities in terms of its geographic inheritance, cultural qualities in terms of the relationship of the Aborigines in the community, and other qualities in relation to the rest of the community. We recognise the mineral claims and also recognise the tourism claims. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen), in his reaction to all of these issues, is aware that there will always be pressure between tourism and the environment. I am pleased to say that the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service is aware of that important responsibility. How do we ensure that a tourism area such as this is managed properly, so that it is not downgraded, and how do we ensure at the same time that its conservation values are retained?

I am sure that many honourable members on this side could add to this debate. I think I reflect the views of everyone on this side in saying that we regard Kakadu as very significant; we regard this legislation as fundamental; and we regard our responsibilities as substantial. I am sad to say that the members of the Opposition do not, but we can never expect anything better from them. In terms of the inheritance, this Government is aware of its responsibilities and I am sure that the Australian community understands that. Accordingly, I am pleased to commend this legislation to the House.

Debate interrupted.