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Friday, 16 June 1989
Page: 4281

Senator COOK (Minister for Resources)(2.47) —The Government accepts the amendments moved by the Australian Democrats. That is because we are a reasonable government, open to persuasion by logical argument. We are interested in reconciliation. For all of those obvious reasons-reasons for which we are well known-we accept the amendments. Let me go to the questions that have been asked by honourable senators opposite. A series of different amendments has been moved. It would be convenient for me to take them in the order in which they appear on the paper, which means that I will start with the questions raised by Senator Panizza and conclude with questions raised by Senator Austin Lewis. The first question Senator Panizza asked was why the Australian Heritage Commission is being required to be consulted.

Senator Panizza —To be in a privileged position.

Senator COOK —We have dealt with the first part of that amendment. Let me deal with the second part of it. The Australian Heritage Commission is required under amendment No. 2 to appear before and make submissions to the Resource Assessment Commission when matters of the National Estate are being dealt with by the Resource Assessment Commission. We support this amendment. Whether this amendment were to be enforced or not, almost always the Australian Heritage Commission would wish to appear at such hearings. However this amendment, if enacted, would impose upon the Commission a statutory obligation to do so. In our view it is to the point that it should. The National Estate is something that the Australian Heritage Commission assesses. By undertaking that assessment and declaring areas or properties on the National Estate it tells Australia and the world what areas or properties of national significance in Australia ought to be conserved or protected. There is a whole body that argues whether the Commission makes the right judgment. I do not propose to enter into that argument. But the Commission is a government authority and is independent of ministerial direction. It makes its decisions on the evidence that it adduces and the scientific studies that it conducts. It seems appropriate, therefore, that it should have a statutory obligation to appear before the Resource Assessment Commission. We accept the amendment because of that.

If we go to amendment No. 3, the second point made by Senator Panizza is that an awful load is put on the Chairperson of the Resource Assessment Commission in determining whether people are entitled to payment or not. At first blush, it may appear to be true, but we appoint at a good salary people with a lot of experience and who have prestige and standing in the community to make responsible decisions. The least important decision that the Commission will make is whether people should be paid for coming before it. All its other decisions on how to balance environmental concerns and developmental concerns are of vastly greater importance in terms of the national good. So I do not think we can quibble with the quality of people who will be making these decisions. Therefore, I do not accept the argument that these people will not be able to make this particular class of decision. In the case of this particular class of decision, clearly the type of material that they present and its value to furthering the interests of the inquiry will be something to be taken into consideration when deciding whether they ought to be paid for preparing or presenting that and appearing to do so.

Given that we have got a wide range of organisations with various economic and financial capacity, from perhaps major mining houses on one side to a voluntary regional environmental group on the other, there should be some equality in being able to present an argument to the Commission and adduce information and facts. Because financially a local regional body may not have the capacity of a mining house to do that, there ought to be some means of evening up the scales so that the Commission can hear all the evidence. Let me now turn to the question of the meaning of these words--

Senator Lewis —Your boss is coming in here to get you to hurry this up.

Senator Macklin —The House of Representatives is waiting.

Senator COOK —The House of Representatives is waiting, but the Senate is used to causing it to do so. However, I will not delay the other place any further. This is an important question. I thank Senator Lewis for asking it. I now propose to answer it. In our view, there is no distinction or particular point to be drawn from the fact that some words that have been added appear in brackets and other words do not. The words that appear in brackets and the words that have been added that do not appear in brackets are, in our view, a more current usage of the language. The language that was in the original Bill was language which was drawn from the Australian conservation strategy. That is a document of some years back. The usage of terms in this area has altered since that time. It seems appropriate to us that we recognise that that is so, but we say that it does not add to the meaning of the words that are there. It expresses that meaning in a more modern or more current way.