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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 729


Senator KILGARIFF(6.51) —This evening I wish to speak briefly on the Federal Government's decision to incorporate the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases as stage 3 of the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Already stages 1 and 2 of the Kakadu National Park take in approximately 12,730 square kilometres. The incorporation of these pastoral leases-that is, Gimbat and Goodparla-would add another 6,726 square kilometres to the park. I am not opposed to the creation of national parks in the Northern Territory or, for that matter, anywhere in Australia. I would be among the first to acknowledge their great potential for bringing in tourist dollars. But, more important is our responsibility to conserve national parks for the present generation and for future generations. We have a considerable responsibility to carry out an adequate stewardship. However, in the case of stage 3 of Kakadu it is difficult to justify the addition of these two pastoral leases to the existing park, given that there is very little within either of the two pastoral leases which is not already represented in stages 1 and 2.

The proclamation of the Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral leases as additional areas for inclusion in the Kakadu National Park seems to be more for Federal control than conservation purposes. There is no question about the need to arrange for the conservation of further land in the Territory but I believe it must be done in a rational manner having regard to achieving a balance of developments in each region. It is becoming clear that the Alligator Rivers region is contributing a maximum proportion of its land to national park use and, as things stand, it is of great concern to many people in the Territory that this is causing the sterilisation of regional resources.

It is important to recognise that both Gimbat and Goodparla have potential for multiple land use pursuits, some of which could be commenced immediately and others which would require further investigation. This is not to say that there are no pieces of land on the leases that require conservation for park or recreational use but simply that, following the initial and illogical north-south, east-west pastoral decisions, is perpetrating errors that the Territory needs corrected.

The Gimbat and Goodparla leases have a high potential for tourism and recreation. I believe that this potential can be best realised without the encumbrance of a national park status over the whole area, having in mind the huge area of Kakadu National Park. The lessee of Gimbat has already introduced controlled access through Gimbat and has proposed the establishment of significant tourist facilities and controlled safari hunting. The development of facilities to promote recreational needs embodying outdoor experience is considered most appropriate and tourist development within both Gimbat and Goodparla could alleviate certain pressures on Kakadu National Park itself.

The two pastoral leases form part of the uranium-gold province of the Alligator Rivers region and are considered highly prospective for copper, lead, zinc, gold, silver, uranium, tin and tungsten. Recently, a major gold discovery was made at Coronation Hill on the Gimbat lease. The deposit at Coronation Hill has characteristics similar to the very large deposit at Kidston in north Queensland. Forecast annual revenue is of the order of $100m. This project will generate some 200 permanent jobs, and arguably, more than 500 jobs downstream in the work force.

It is my concern that the Federal Government may ignore the potential of this area, which is proposed to be declared part of Kakadu National Park, and proceed with the declaration. There seems to be every indication that that will happen soon. If that happens, there is no guarantee that the mineral exploration leases which have already been granted over the area will be of any value. I ask the Government to take heed of the fact that there are legislative difficulties in providing for mining areas under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The Federal Government has shown no intention of introducing special legislation to facilitate the continuing operation of the present exploration leases. Nor has the Federal Government given any commitment to permit the granting of further exploration of the area, despite the fact that the whole area to be declared is highly prospective for gold, base metals and other minerals.

I ask the Government to look at this matter. I ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) to guarantee that the development of the ore body discovered at Coronation Hill will be allowed to proceed, given that the ore is on Commonwealth land. I have indicated its potential value and its employment possibilities. If the Minister can guarantee that development, under what legislation will it be allowed to proceed? If it is not allowed to proceed under existing legislation, is it the Government's intention to legislate to allow development to proceed? Given that the whole area proposed to be declared a national park is highly prospective for gold, base metals and other minerals, is it the Government's intention to permit further exploration outside the existing mineral leases? I believe that this matter is extremely important. This is another project that can bring about the development of the north in the areas of population and capital outlays.

I hope that the Federal Government will provide the answers to some of these questions, and also indicate whether compensation will be paid to the developers who, in good faith, have outlayed vast amounts of money exploring for minerals, and even finding them, only to face the prospect of being refused permission to mine them.