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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3387

Senator BROWN(12.41 p.m.) —I do not oppose the legislation, but having been in Taiwan in the last two months, I want to make some comments. Firstly, it is high time that we reviewed Australian policy regarding the recognition of Taiwan as an independent entity in the community of nations. One of the drawbacks of not doing so is that Taiwan is forced to enter into de facto bilateral arrangements such as this. The shortcoming in that is that it is not party to many important international agreements. I want to concentrate on environmental and social justice agreements. It is not party to many of the world agreements which would put upon the Taiwanese authorities the obligation to look after their environment in a way which the rest of the world sees as essential in the 1990s.

What I saw in Taiwan was a dam building project for 14 dams on an island half the size of Tasmania to capture waters running off a mountain range up to 4,000 metres high which runs down the eastern side of the island. The island has 22 million people packed onto it. It is seen as one of the tigers as far as the fast growing economies of Asia are concerned. But the environmental conditions on the island, the environmental wherewithal of Taiwan, are simply horrendous.

In a southern city, I was taken to the largest river flowing to the ocean, where Taiwan has what is called the great wall of garbage. For kilometres, there is garbage piled 30, 40, 50 metres high, being bulldozed into a U-shaped valley, simply changing the course of the river. That is illegal. It has illegal operants in charge of it. I am talking here about gangster organisations which are able to undercut legitimate landfill operations on this island which is desperate for areas in which to dump its rubbish.

Meanwhile, in the river itself, other illegal operations are sandmining, to the extent where the major bridge across the river is being undercut and undermined, its foundations having been exposed for 3, 4, 5, up to 8 metres, by the effects of these illegal sandmining operations. And they are flaunting this in front of government. Nobody does anything about it, except a very brave, small band of environmentalists who end up with death threats and being threatened into silence as a result of their efforts.

Senator Bolkus spoke about the concern that Australian uranium ought not be finding its way into Taiwan. In earlier months of this year, the Taiwanese parliament, the Yuan, had a special vote on a fourth nuclear power station. It took three government members crossing the floor to vote down the prospect of another nuclear power station in a country where Tai Power, the huge power corporation, does not know what to do with its nuclear waste from the existing three power stations.

It has been looking at dumping that waste in the Marshall Islands. It has been looking at all sorts of non-domestic means. Its latest plan is to find a block of land on this highly populated island to dump its waste, at least as a temporary measure.

By the way, that vote in the Yuan in Taiwan took one member being brought into the parliament on a stretcher. His problem was he had objected to the social and environmental effects of a construction operation in Taipei so the gangsters got him and cut the tendons in his arms and legs. He was in intensive care and had to be brought out of there on a stretcher to vote on that vital vote against the fourth nuclear power station.

Senator Panizza —Haven't they got a pairing arrangement?

Senator BROWN —I do not think we should be too flippant about the very important message I am trying to bring to this Senate—that is, while we are making trading arrangements like this to benefit business with Taiwan, we ought to take some responsibility for the struggle of the Taiwanese people to protect their environment and to be able to exhibit their democratic rights, which they cannot do at the moment without fear of physical damage to themselves as well as suppression of the point of view they want to put forward. Taiwan is a democracy emerging from a dictatorship.

I was pleased to visit the nascent Greens Party, the newest Greens party in Asia. As I said two days ago in this place, it exhibited that sort of fearlessness which is attendant on environmental efforts in Taiwan by last year floating a boat out into the impact zone of the mainland Chinese government's rocket tests off Taiwan when China was trying to frighten voters in the lead-up to the presidential elections in Taiwan.

I visited the Bin Nan wetlands on the south-west corner of Taiwan. Here we have some 3,000 hectares out of 80,000 hectares of wetlands left in this tiny island. These wetlands, amongst other things, are used by birds migrating from Siberia and Japan to Australia each year. They are disappearing at an awesome rate. This 3,000 hectares at Bin Nan is proposed as an industrial estate.

I can cite a couple of impacts of that besides the loss of those important bird habitats. It will mean the damming of some of those rivers coming out of the mountainous eastern region of Taiwan, in particular the damming of the Yellow Butterfly River, which is famed around the world for the efflorescence of butterflies, 50 million of them, a couple of times a year in an amazing natural phenomenon which would be obliterated were the dam at Meinun to proceed in Taiwan.

The water table in the area of these wetlands is falling at a rate of up to eight metres as water is sucked out from underground to supply, in particular, the burgeoning industrial needs of this tiger economy. We have to accept here in this luckier country some responsibility in entering into taxation arrangements favouring trade with Taiwan to heed the calls of the Greens, the environmentalists and the average citizens of Taiwan.

I can give one more example of the plight they find themselves in. On the day I left Taiwan, a headline in the English language newspaper was an injunction from the police commissioner in Ilun city—a million people or so in central Taiwan—that if residents continued to object to a landfill being gouged out of their suburb, he would send in 1,000 police and they would be arrested as trespassers and trouble makers. My heart goes out to those people on that tiny island who are trying to protect what little there is left of a decent living ambience, let alone the natural environment of what has been, and what remains in remnants, a magnificent, spectacular and particularly beautiful island in times gone by.

I would urge the government to rethink its policy towards Taiwan's lack of recognition in international fora. That is going to become mightily important in the years ahead if we are going to see the Taiwan authorities take on their responsibilities for protecting their domestic environment not only for the improved livelihood of 22 million citizens but also because the Taiwanese environment is of global significance.

Let me end by saying that I would like to hear from the government that it is considering falling in with the sympathy of the majority representatives of the Taiwanese people who voted against that fourth nuclear power station by prohibiting the export of uranium from our shores into the nuclear power proposals of Tai Power and the consequential hazard they mean for the people of Taiwan, if not for all the people of the Pacific region.