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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3365

Senator BROWN(10.39 a.m.) —I support this move by Senator Margetts to protect one of the most delightful places in Western Australia, and indeed Australia. It is as important to the national parliament as it is to the state parliament because the D'Entrecasteaux National Park is of national significance and is listed on the Australian Heritage Commission's list of the national heritage.

I simply want to read into the Hansard a letter from an archaeologist at the Western Australian Museum to underscore the archaeological significance of Lake Jasper, which is targeted by the sandmining imperative which has led to the Western Australian parliament rescinding part of the D'Entrecasteaux National Park. This comes from Mr Charlie Dortch, who is speaking as an individual but works at the Western Australian Museum. He says:

Lake Jasper is Western Australia's largest and most significant fresh-water lake, and is also the locale of an ancient and unique underwater cultural landscape. My aim here is to show how that over a few short years the lake's once pristine condition has deteriorated, and to confirm its great age and unique cultural heritage.

He first went to Lake Jasper in 1988 when carrying out an archaeological survey. He found tree stumps and stone tool scatters in the lake's inshore zone that were partly exposed at low water levels. He says:

At the time the lake and its environs unquestionably were in pristine natural condition. Over the next seven years, I directed WA Museum diving teams investigating the 4 kmĀ² lake floor. In six diving seasons, our team showed that the lake floor is a submerged ancient landscape that had been occupied by human beings, as shown by the presence of stone tools and tree stumps in growth position to depths of ten m. In 1994, we learned that Lake Jasper's deepest and still not fully sounded part, which is at a depth greater than 17 m, was a much smaller lake that long pre-dated the filling of the existing lake.

In other words, in ancient times there had been a smaller lake. The Aboriginal community of this region occupied an area which is now largely submerged. That was their life over thousands of years. He goes on to outline the serial incursions on the lake, not least the extension of motorised aquatic sports.

He details how this lake does not have an outflow. It does not have a creek or river flowing from it. It simply is a natural sump and the water drainage from it is into the subterranean component of the lake. Rubbish going into the lake—the detergents, oil and so on from those water sports—has no way of escaping. It sinks to salify the lake and degrade the archaeological landscape as well as the natural values of the lake.

On top of that, he confronts the prospect of this proposal for sandmining in the lake's near vicinity and the unknown outcome of that. I think most Australian citizens would be outraged too, if they were able to take part in this debate, at the potential impact of a venal approach to a vital component of Australia's national park system. What they are after is to make a few dollars and the state will get some paltry sum, like $12 million or $17 million in royalties overall, to degrade one of the most beautiful little places in Western Australia.

I support totally Senator Margetts' imploring the Senate, as a national conscience, to act on behalf of those people fighting to protect this area. The Western Australian state parliament, no doubt lobbied by the mineral sands industry, has said, `We will put the natural values, the archaeological values, second to the quick dollar for this overseas sandmining interest.' It is the wrong way to go. This parliament in Canberra has the power to alter things, to protect an environment, when a maverick state government fails to do so.

Senator Margetts has pointed to the use of the corporations power. Let me just say to the Senate that, if it is good enough to use the corporations power—as recent governments have done—to say to the Victorian government, `We'll move on you. If you don't legislate to allow banks to charge interest on credit cards, we'll use the corporations power,' then it is surely good enough to use that same power to protect something of inestimable and timeless value to this nation and to all future generations. Let's get our priorities right here. That corporations power is avail able. We have national responsibilities to the environment. Here we have the opportunity to make a stand in the Senate in defence of that environment.

I totally support this motion. I hope the Senate will support it. I hope that, as an outcome of that support, the Howard government will do the right thing, by using the powers it has available to it to protect this vital part of the national estate. The consequence of not acting is a continued deterioration of Australia's environment. The Howard government will take responsibility for that. When it comes to the subject of excision of national parks, we come to a pretty low ebb in terms of our national responsibilities to the environment.

If we cannot make a stand in this national parliament on protecting national parks—which, by the way, are under threat in New South Wales at the moment from the woodchip industry, which wants to incise national parks so it can move in and raze some of the last great stands of forests in New South Wales—then nothing is sacrosanct. Nothing is inviolable. I again say: how come we can use inherent powers of the constitution to guarantee banks can charge interest on credit cards but we have failed so far to use those same powers to come to the protection of this great country's natural environment? I support the motion.