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Tuesday, 15 August 1989
Page: 12

Senator McLEAN —I address my question to the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. I preface my question by congratulating the Minister on his stand taken on the Channel 10 Face to Face program on Sunday 30 July, that he would fight to protect the South Alligator River in the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. Obviously, the Minister is well cognisant of his powers under section 9 of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983. Will he give an undertaking that if Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd (BHP) deems the exploration stage of the Coronation Hill mine to be successful and indicates its intention to go ahead with the mine, he will declare the South Alligator River to be endangered and will take action similar to that taken in respect of the Franklin River in Tasmania? Secondly, of course, the Minister will be aware of the probability that any mining in the Koongarra Project area would be very detrimental to the South Alligator River, as Koongarra lies in the catchment area of that river near the Nourlangie Creek. In the light of his determination to protect the river, will the Minister give an undertaking to support my private member's Bill to repeal the partially unproclaimed Koongarra Project Area Act passed illegally by the Fraser Government on the last day on which it held the balance of power in the Senate and against which the Australian Labor Party spoke so vehemently at the time?

Senator RICHARDSON —As Senator McLean would be aware, I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I thought the most likely result was that mining at Coronation Hill would go ahead. But, of course, the proviso to that has always been that the environmental impact statement, which took so long to prepare but was handed to me just a couple of weeks ago on site at Coronation Hill, revealed that the mining could proceed without damaging the South Alligator River. Of course, it is that river which gives life to so many of the things that make Kakadu the very special place that it is. I undertook to make sure that I did my job of protecting the river and, once we have examined that fairly weighty document that has been handed to us by the joint venturers, I will be in a position to at least make a recommendation to the Government.

In so far as the Koongarra mine is concerned, of course, any mining, if it were to take place there, could only take place if the Government, or, in particular, the Labor Party, were to change its uranium mining policy. The Prime Minister has announced that there will be no consideration of such a change by the Party until its 1991 conference, which is some time away. If a vote were to be held on the subject today, I think there would be no change to the policy and Koongarra would not go ahead. But it is difficult to predict what will happen in two years' time, so I can say no more than that. As far as what possible damage uranium mining at Koongarra might do to the South Alligator, from my inspections of Koongarra-which are not backed up by scientific evidence, but are based on having a look-I would have thought it somewhat easier to prevent environmental damage at Koongarra than at perhaps any uranium mine in the country. I doubt very much if it would present the environmental problems that other mines might. From my inspections it certainly appears that mining could be done there without damage to the environment. But of course there is the larger question of uranium mining and whether or not it ought to take place.