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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4458

Senator CRANE(6.25 p.m.) —I rise to make a contribution to the second reading debate on the D'Entrecasteaux National Park Protection Bill put forward by Senator Margetts and Senator Murray. The first point I wish to raise refers to the head of power under which they have introduced this bill. I find it quite remarkable the way in which they are using section 109 of the constitution. It states:

When a law of the State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail—

that is, the Commonwealth law shall prevail over the state—

and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.

The important point is that, because this can only apply to corporations and this legislation is split between foreign corporations and Australian corporations, if this legislation were carried we would see a much tougher test for individual non-corporation mining operations than for corporations. So it is giving a softer test for foreign owned corporations and Australian owned corporations than non-corporation business structures.

It is interesting to look at this. Under the Western Australian legislation, for those not covered by this—and I think we are all very aware in this place of what the corporations power means under the constitution—a decision to excise has to be passed by both houses of the Western Australian parliament. The situation then has to exist under the Western Australian legislation—

Senator Margetts —It has already gone through both houses. It went through like that!

Senator CRANE —It is important that this be explained because it proves the flaw in your bill. It then requires an EPA assessment. Following that, under the processes of the Western Australian law—and this law was brought in in 1991 under the then Lawrence government—it requires both the Minister for Mines and the Minister for the Environment to sign off on the deal. It has not all been signed off yet.

Your legislation would make it easier for corporations—and I make particular reference to foreign corporations—to mine in national parks. I find that extraordinary in legislation coming from the Greens and the Australian Democrats combined. I suggest, without being uncharitable, that you have not done your homework into the actual impact of this piece of legislation if—heaven forbid—it were ever to become law.

There are other roles the Commonwealth has in this, which Senator Campbell has outlined. I will not go into those other than to refer to the requirements of export licences and the genuine role of the Commonwealth where the law would apply equally to whoever was carrying out the operation, regardless of whether they were corporations or not.

One thing that is very important in dealing with legislation is to have consistency in the impact it will have across all sectors of the community. This legislation is not consistent.

Senator Margetts —I did not see you complaining about using the corporations power over IR—to take away workers' rights.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Patterson) —Order! Senator Margetts! Do not be tempted to respond, Senator Crane.

Senator CRANE —I will take your advice, Madam Deputy President. We will have a detailed debate on that particular subject when it comes forward. Let me tell you, I am really looking forward to it. I have been waiting for a long time to have the next debate on IR and I am going to enjoy it.

Senator O'Chee —Six years.

Senator CRANE —A little longer than that, too. There are a number of articles that I would like to table which I am not going to have time to go through. One item relates to some comments made by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Faulkner, when he was somewhat derogatory towards Senator Parer. It has become a hallmark of Senator Faulkner now. Every time he gets on his feet, he has to have a bash or a belt at somebody. Most of the points are answered by Senator Parer in a letter that was written to the Financial Review on Thursday, 17 October 1996 and headed `Australia world leader in modern mining practice'. I table that article.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Patterson) —Are you seeking leave to table that?

Senator CRANE —I do not have to seek leave to table it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Yes, you do need to seek leave to table it.

Senator CRANE —Do I? Okay. I shall seek leave.

Senator McKiernan —Only the frontbenchers don't.

Senator CRANE —Oh! There are different rules in this place, are there?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Are you seeking leave to table those documents? If you are, the convention is that you show them.

Senator CRANE —I understand that. I did not realise there was a different rule for frontbenchers and backbenchers. I shall have the articles circulated in a moment or two, but I shall first nominate what they are. The next paper is headed `The D'Entrecasteaux National Park excision of mineralised area', which has a significant amount of information in it. The following one is headed `Process likely to be followed regarding Jangardup South'. Then there is a map of the area which I would like to deal with and which I also present here.

In addition to this, I thank Senator McKiernan for having passed to me a pamphlet which I do not believe I have received as yet, although it might be in Perth. I also seek leave to table that pamphlet. I thank Senator McKiernan for this document, which is headed `Jangardup South project'. I seek leave to have that tabled as well. That being the case, if I can get them handed around, senators can have a look at them and make a decision one way or the other, but I have given everyone an indication of what they are.

I will move to my next point, and there are some aspects of this I wish to make. In doing so, I re-emphasise the point that the legislation which is operating in Western Australia in terms of this—subject to a couple of minor amendments—is the legislation of the previous Labor government in Western Australia. So, in effect, there is no real difference between either major parties in Western Australia, my home state.

The only difference of note between the parties over the mining issue in national parks is that Premier Lawrence proposed that there would be no mining in national parks. However, in the recognition of high resource values in five of the 62 national parks, special provisions were made to allow for the continued exploration and excision of mining leases. With the excision of small areas from two national parks—Watheroo and Neerabup—only three national parks would be subject to exploration and mining. I will not go over that any further, because Senator Campbell has already touched on those aspects of it. I just make that point.

As we work through the actual aspects of the proposal—and I have not got the maps right now to do that—we find that the proposal states that 368 hectares will be available for mining. In return, 1,083 hectares of private land will be transferred to the executive director of the Department of Conservation and Land Management. That is a ratio of three to one, bearing in mind that, when the mining operation is done, the original 368 hectares will also be returned to the national park. In fact, there will be, over time, a net gain of 1,083 hectares of private land.

I also make the point that much of the area to be mined—as has already been stated—is former grazing land or private land. When we talk about this area, we are talking about an area that has been extensively grazed for many, many years. In fact, the area that will go back into the park will be significantly increased.

There is also rehabilitation that goes with that. The rehabilitation in the mining areas of the south-west of Western Australia is undoubtedly world class. A number of operations there have won world awards for their rehabilitation programs. I am absolutely confident that this will occur in this situation with Cable Sands.

The next point relates to a point Senator Brown made in his contribution. I think I have got this right; I am not in the business of misrepresenting people. He asked who would want mining within 300 metres of the lake. The reality of this proposal and the operations involved is that the land being put into the park on the other side of the lake—land which is under the control of CALM, as all public lands in Western Australia are controlled by CALM—is agricultural land. If we were quite honest about it, it is far more likely that there would be damage to the lake from fertilisers used on farming land than from any mining operation, although I am told that this has not happened. That is advice I have been given, and I have no reason to question that. I really think the point that has been raised there is not valid.

There are a number of benefits from the proposal which I would like to highlight, and I have touched on some of these briefly. The first is that the state's conservation estate will be increased in area, although there will be a decrease of three square kilometres in the area of the national park in the interim. Once mining is completed and restoration of native vegetation is at an acceptable stage, the area of the class C reserve will be returned to the national park. The national park area will be increased by about 10 square kilometres ultimately.

The next point I want to make in terms of this relates to the improvement of water quality in the south-west of WA. This is a very important benefit from the proposal. It is required and a lot more work has to be done. The water quality in Lake Jasper will be better protected. Cable has already ceased intensive farming practices on its private land, which has thereby increased the protective buffer between Lake Jasper and the nearest farm land from the 300 metres that I have already mentioned to 2,600 metres—which is nearly nine times further away. This will be permanent once the mining has been approved.

The other point is that employment and wealth generation will continue with a well-established mining company which has a good reputation for mine rehabilitation and native vegetation restoration. Parts of the private land which are partly cleared could be added to the national park as the flora is returned to suitable quality, or used for other purposes, such as sport and other recreational activities, within the national park without further clearing of native vegetation. As to any perceived threat to Lake Jasper if mining proceeds, I re-emphasise the points I made about the buffer and farm fertilisers and the threat to water quality.

But I come back now to where I started and restate the fact that I find it remarkable that we have a piece of legislation before this chamber which will establish lesser standards, lesser requirements for dealing with the management of national parks by corporations, particularly foreign corporations, than exist under the state legislation. If a corporation's power were being used to improve the situation, I could understand the objectives behind these measures. But there will be far less scrutiny, with no reference whatsoever to environmental protection assessments and no reference whatsoever to who will manage the land in that particular area in the bill.

We know who has responsibility for the management of land in Western Australia—CALM. It is an organisation that was set up many years ago. It has changed its name a couple of times but, essentially, it has been the same organisation for the last 40 or 50 years. When we analyse the cost benefits of the proposal before us we see that land management in Western Australia would have significantly less control. The disciplines required would be significantly less. This proposal would also override the present provisions under the Soil Conservation Act and a number of other acts because of the way—I emphasise again—it relates to foreign corporations and corporations of Australian origin.

On those grounds alone, I believe we should not support this particular legislation. But we should also take into account the environment, the people who are working hands on, the people who have the scientific knowledge and background. Once again, there is a diminution of that particular aspect.

This bill also runs into the problem of the right of a state—in this case, the right of Western Australia—to manage land. That right is clearly spelt out in the constitution. It is my understanding that it would require the High Court to say whether this piece of proposed legislation overrides the rights of the states to manage land.

I conclude by saying that I do not think that this bill has been carefully thought through. It is fundamentally a political stunt. Were it to become law, the environment, mining operations and all the aspects that go with them in Western Australia would be far worse off and nowhere near as well managed, controlled and disciplined as they currently are.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Patterson) —Senator Crane, in his speech, sought leave to table a number of documents. Is leave granted?

Leave granted.