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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 3881


Senator BROWN(11.24 a.m.) —A very clear and cogent case exists for the urgency of this matter. Work is proceeding for the resort at Hinchinbrook that the Minister for the Environment (Senator Hill) has given the go ahead for. There has been an injunction holding up that work, but that injunction was lifted last week. Amid claims of environmental damage, the developer, Mr Williams—who has no record of environmental sensitivity which I would accept as legitimate—has begun what will end up being a very destructive process of establishing a completely unwarranted and untoward development in the region of the World Heritage areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the wet tropics.

The minister says there is no urgency. That is because he is becoming a master of the pre-emptive. His delivery of the documents to Senator Woodley to the Senate at midnight the other night shows how sneaky the process can become when there is simple manoeuv ring going on by the minister to hide from the real debate, which is his abrogation of authority as chief environmentalist in this country when giving the go ahead for this destructive proposal on the Hinchinbrook Channel.

He says that he withheld internal memos. I, for one, want to see them. I think everybody involved in this process wants to see them. He says there is transparency even though we cannot see. He has failed to respond properly to Senator Woodley's prior request for a return of all information to the Senate. He says that those internal memos are not our business, or are too hard to get or are going to cost money. They are sitting on his desk. He says he cannot get the e-mail or he has not got e-mail to provide us, which is a clear come on to anybody who wants to be secretive in the future to exchange information with Senator Hill's office by e-mail.

That is the way you are going to be sheltered. He is going to hide that from those people in the public who want to know what this minister is doing when, on the one hand, he purports to be the Minister for the Environment and, on the other hand, he is saying, `Go ahead,' to Keith Williams. It would be nice if he would modify this destructive proposal. When Keith Williams says, `No, it's the mega-proposal or nothing,' the minister goes weak at the knees and says, `Let's have the mega-proposal.'

Already we know that there has been further environmental damage at the site over the weekend. It is posited in all sorts of terms about what is minimal and acceptable and so on, but environmentalists on the scene reported damage to the mangroves by the removal of dead logs coming from previous destructive activities of Keith Williams and his bulldozers on this fragile site. The authorities themselves—and I mean by this the authorities under the protection of this minister—have reported that they had to remove plants for later replanting elsewhere, because they would have been destroyed by Mr Williams's activities.

So you cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, the destruction has begun under this minister's go ahead and, on the other hand, he says it is not urgent to give information to Senator Woodley. What is he coming at? That is an insult to the Senate's intelligence. It is an insult to the people of Australia who are watching this issue and the people at Hinchinbrook, and in Queensland in particular, who are horrified by this mega-proposal, by this mega-developer who has caused such environmental crassness in his previous developments such as the one at Hamilton Island.

So the matter is urgent. We are well aware that this minister, instead of standing up for the environment, is becoming a master at subterfuge and at doing everything he can to hide the facts which this Senate ought to be delivered with. (Time expired)

   Question put:

   That the motion (Senator Woodley's ) be agreed to.