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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 284


Senator PUPLICK(12.32) —This amendment deals with one of the two substantial changes to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 which were not raised in the second reading debate, which dealt largely with the question of Aboriginal land rights and of Uluru in particular. The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill does two things which are of significance as far as the Opposition amendment is concerned. The first is that it removes the old definition of what was the region over which the Act applied and substitutes a new definition of region. Whereas previously the region was that prescribed under the Enviroment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978 and the areas of Mount Bundey, Goodparla, Gimbat and Eva Valley, to that is now added the Uluru area as described in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The second thing is that it removes the old regime about the way in which additions and variations to the parks within the region could be made. As Senator Peter Baume has said, it does so by pretending to be a minor amendment listed in the Schedule. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, in the debate in the House of Representatives on 20 May 1985 said:

He--

he was referring to Mr Connolly, the Opposition Shadow Minister-

referred to sub-section 7 (11A) which, as he points out quite correctly, applies to Kakadu National Park as well as to the Uluru National Park.

He went on to state in another part of his comment:

The amendment would also enable land already in a park or reserve to be incorporated in another park or reserve without the need for public representations.

This potential interchange between parks and areas within the region has considerable implications as far as the Parliament itself is concerned. Having adopted a plan of management for a particular park or reserve, we could find land in one particular park or reserve taken out and given a different definition and is no longer subject to the management plan which the Commonwealth Parliament approved. Land could be taken out of one area of management plan and added to another area of management plan. It seems to me quite extraordinary that that should be done under a cloak of secrecy. That is the effect of the new regime which the Bill substitutes as a result of the amendment to sub-section 7 (11A) proposed in the Schedule.

This Government is getting a considerable record in terms of attempting to do various things covertly and by secret means. It has already made its own assaults upon the Freedom of Information Act and the ability of people to get information about what the Government is doing, either by proscribing things from the Act or by making increases in charges so that people cannot get access to the information. It is now taking away from the existing regime the right of the public to make comment about a particular variation in the arrangements for national parks in the Northern Territory region redefined by the amendment Bill. It seems extraordinary to me that a government which tries to pretend that it is in favour of information and consultation now introduces into an amending Bill a regime which allows changes and variations to be made and not be subject to the process of public scrutiny, public information and public discussion. It seems to me quite extraordinary that, given what the Government has sought to portray to the public about its commitment to open government, freedom of information and public consultation, it should now introduce, by way of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill, a derogation of the right of the public to be informed and to participate in discussions about changes within the region-changes not only in the management structure but also in the very definition of the national parks which are to be the subject of this legislation.

I will not take up any more of the time of the Committee, but if honourable senators look at the extension of exactly what is prescribed in new sub-section 7 (11A), its impact upon Aboriginal land and its impact upon the seas surrounding the defined park areas, I think they will find that this is a major change, tarted up in terms of a minor amendment to a Schedule, which will have very deleterious effects not only on the management of the park system in the Northern Territory but also in terms of the public support and respect for the way in which park management plans are drawn up and the way in which the Parliament is entitled to approve or disapprove those park management plans when the region of the park itself is then subject to alteration without consultation with the public and without the approval of the Parliament.