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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2392


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(6.19) —I want to raise the question of Bowen Island, which has already been raised. I have visited it often. I have seen the most effective management that has taken place there and I really cannot yet understand from the responses by the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) why 31 December has become some magic date by which the leaseholder will be forced to depart. There is no clear program, as is evident from the replies this afternoon, to take the place of that private sector management which, as I understand it, has been notably successful and notably cheap to the Commonwealth-it costs nothing. Is it impossible for the Commonwealth to allow the leaseholder to remain there, say on a monthly basis, until some appropriate arrangement is made? An appropriate arrangement has not been made. As I understand it, we have been asked to take the present arrangements on faith. To ask the chamber to take those arrangements on faith does not seem to me to be sound enough.

We would certainly like to know what the evidence is that the flora and fauna are at risk on that island. After 30 years there is no evidence that I know of to show that the leaseholder has failed in his management. Has the risk suddenly increased so much that by 31 December the leaseholder is to be turned off the island? What is the evidence of his failure? Is it in fact the result of a ministerial whim following a visit by the Hon. Tom Uren on 14 November 1983, who inspected Bowen Island and-I refer to a letter from the Secretary to the Department of Territories-`subsequently made it clear to me that he was strongly of the view that the lease on the island should not be renewed after 1985'. It seems to be all very well for Ministers to go round converting their prejudices into reality without there being any sensible or effective replacement for the arrangement that had existed. That seems to me to be the important issue here. Why must it be 31 December? We have not got an adequate response to what Senator Reid asked a little while ago. In fact, I submit that there has not been an adequate response to the letter of 30 October 1985, written by Mr David Fuller to Mr Enfield, the Secretary to the then Department of the Capital Territory, which made some very cogent points that, it seems to me, demand a coherent reply, which we have not yet been favoured with, certainly not in this chamber. The relevant parts of the letter state:

. . . I am sure you will have been able to appreciate the care we have taken to maintain ecology on the island to the fullest. I hope that you will now more closely understand our feelings of injustice over the decision your Department has made to terminate our leasehold from 31 December 1985, after thirty years of careful and meticulous management.

Is there any evidence that that is not so? The letter continued:

Your letter dated 26 August, 1985, mentions your Department's deep concerns `about the condition of the lease area and the impact of current use and management of the area on the significant ecological features and values of the Island'. I have to point out that I, the lessee, have never received any reports or itemised concerns and am unable to provide any clarification or criticism . . .

Our letter of 24 September, 1985, addressed to the Minister for Territories, proposes that your Department adopts the proposal of Mr R. J. Corrigan, the First Assistant Secretary of Lands, dated 26 February, 1981. His proposal was to lease only the improvements on Block 6 for a further ten years and incorporate the remainder of the lease in the Jervis Bay nature reserve. This proposal, in our opinion, achieves the aims of the Department without undue cost to the community of purchasing the improvements and establishing a full time ranger on Bowen Island.

It seems to me that, in the first place, we have undue haste; secondly, we have undue arrogance in refusing to reply coherently and properly to the matters raised here; thirdly, we seem to have a ministerial whim; and, forthly, we seem to have a risk. Bowen Island might be a very pleasant place for a ranger to set up and live but, if there is to be the same protection of the resources on that island as now exists, a ranger will have to spend full time there. Let us recognise, this: The fairy penguins are on that island between sunset and dawn. That is the time they are at risk. Are we going to have a ranger on that island at the only time the penguins are there-apart from the chicks, of course-which is between sunset and dawn. Unless we have some coherent response about whether there will be a ranger there at that time, it seems to me we have every reason to query the common sense behind this arrangement. If the Government is going to put a ranger there all the time, living on the island, it will, as Senator Reid said, face a higher expense than I believe chamber has been led to understand. I think it would be reasonable for the Government to take the view that even if it is determined to terminate this lease, as it seems to be, at least it should leave the people there on a temporary basis until we can be assured that the Government has an adequate, proper and examinable proposal to replace the present one. It has not yet provided the chamber with anything like that.