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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 946

Senator COULTER (1.36 p.m.) —I came running in here when I heard Senator Campbell speaking on this subject because, as he pointed out, I gave notice of motion on this matter this morning. I probably owe Senator Campbell a slight apology, not for anything that I have said, but for something that I might have said when I first heard him when I was back in my office.

  Having listened to him more carefully in the chamber, I can say that he seems not to be objecting to World Heritage status for this area but rather to the processes which are used, or sometimes misused, in relation to World Heritage listing. To that extent I would have to agree with him. I think it has been used on several occasions as a political football. I hope he is not disagreeing with the importance of the Lake Eyre basin.

  I would like very briefly to speak on that subject. It was in 1984 when I as president of the Conservation Council of South Australia, and Mr Barry Cohen as the then Minister for the Environment, first made the proposal that the Lake Eyre basin be made a World Heritage area. The reason for that was that just as the Galapagos Islands are a World Heritage area then so also should be the Lake Eyre basin. It was on those islands that Darwin observed the differentiation of different species of birds and other animals. They were islands separated for some considerable time by water. It was there that he twigged to the notion of evolution, the way in which speciation occurs through genetic variation and the impact of different environments.

  The Lake Eyre basin, with the ponds along the Cooper and Diamantina rivers, and also the mound springs, is analogous to the Galapagos Islands. There is speciation there to the extent that there are quite unique species occurring in perhaps only one of those mound springs. They are islands of water separated by a sea of desert. The exact same process has gone on, that process of evolution, which has given those unique species. For very important biological reasons it is important to protect that area. It has exactly the same importance as the Galapagos Islands in terms of that evolutionary model.

  The other characteristic which encourages us to set it aside as a World Heritage area is that it has very important links with both the Aboriginal culture and with white culture following European settlement in Australia. It was precisely because of the presence of those mound springs through that very arid desert region and the waterholes on the Cooper and the Diamantina that Aboriginal people were able, over countless centuries, to go through that area and use that area for their hunting and other purposes.

  Of course, when European settlement occurred then again the availability of that fresh water allowed the area to be used for exploration and eventually for the pastoral activities to which Senator Campbell has referred. So there are important cultural reasons also why that region should be protected.

  Another point that I want to make is that there is a great deal of misunderstanding in relation to the continuance of activities in an area which has become a World Heritage area. I suspect that those pastoralists and those miners and potential miners, and so on, in the area of the Lake Eyre basin who are concerned about the protection of the area as a World Heritage area are needlessly concerned. They believe that somehow or other it is going to lock the area up and prevent a continuation of many of those activities.

  Certainly, in relation to the unique wildlife which occurs in many of those mound springs, it will mean fencing off those mound springs so that the cattle do not go in and break them down as has happened in the past. But that is already happening to some extent because the pastoralists themselves have recognised the importance of protecting those areas.

  The best example—and we may yet get to debate it today—of a World Heritage area which has continued to be used for a very important economic purpose is, of course, the Great Barrier Reef. According to legislation that we will be debating today, the reef brings in somewhere between $1 billion and $1.6 billion each year. The designation of the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage area has not stopped fishing, it has not stopped tourism, it has not stopped a whole lot of activities which are very important economic activities. What it has done is ensure that the qualities for which the area is designated World Heritage are protected.

  I think that many of the activities in the Lake Eyre Basin are quite consistent with heritage designation provided that they are carried on in a reasonable way, such as the protection of mound springs from being broken down by cattle, polluted by manure from cattle, and so on.

  I press very strongly for the protection of the Lake Eyre Basin by World Heritage listing for the reasons that I have outlined. It has very significant qualities, not just for the people of Australia but for the people of the whole world. It presents a model of evolution just as important as that of the Galapagos Islands, which are World Heritage listed, and it has, of course, very important cultural links both with Aboriginal culture and with the early European settlement.

  I hope that the Government will do as I outlined in my notice of motion and will allay the unreasonable fears that people have in that area and, picking up Senator Campbell's point, that it will properly consult those people so that they feel as though they are part of it and will feel some commitment to protect the area as a suitable World Heritage property.