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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4461

Senator BISHOP(6.42 p.m.) —I rise to speak in the debate on the D'Entrecasteaux National Park Protection Bill 1996. The bill, as tabled, certainly has the hallmarks of brevity and simplicity. The consequences of the bill, should it become law, are the exact opposite of those earlier descriptions. The bill, were it to become law, would have enormous ramifications both short-term and long-term. Let us first look at the pertinent aspects of the bill. The preamble says:

A Bill for an Act to protect land that is or was a part of the D'Entrecasteaux National Park from mining and other intrusive activities, and for related purposes.

Going to the substance of the bill, clause 3 defines `corporation' as meaning:

(a)   a foreign corporation to which paragraph 51 (xx) of the Constitution applies; or

(b)   a trading or financial corporation to which that paragraph applies.

A `national park area' means an area that:

(a)   is part of the D'Entrecasteaux National Park in Western Australia; or

(b)   was at any time part of that National Park.

Clause 4 is headed `Protection of national park area'. It says:

A corporation must not, without the written approval of the Minister, carry out any of the following operations in a national park area:

(a)   mining operations or exploratory operations in connection with mining operations;

(b)   excavation operations;

(c)   any other prescribed operations.

The intent of the bill is clear. It seeks to prohibit mining or exploratory operations in connection with mining operations in the national park areas as defined. It seeks to prohibit excavation operations and any other prescribed operations in the national park areas as defined.

At the outset, I wish to express very strong reservations about the thrust of this bill. I will itemise those reservations under five separate headings.

Firstly, it is in part inconsistent with—indeed diametrically in opposition to—the national policy of the Australian Labor Party. We should be clear on that aspect. The policy of the Australian Labor Party is to prohibit mining in national parks and I do not dissent from that very sound policy. However, the national policy position of the Australian Labor Party expressly authorises exploration activities in national parks. So, to the extent that this bill prohibits exploration activities in national parks, it is contrary to the policy of the Australian Labor Party.

Secondly, it is contrary to the policy adopted by the caucus of the Western Australian state parliamentary Labor Party. I shall return to that policy in more detail later.

Thirdly, it is contrary to what has been the practice of all Western Australian governments since 1990, under the leadership of premiers Dowding, Lawrence and Court. That position, as referred to earlier, can be deter mined from what is known as the resolution of conflict policy, which was tabled in this debate.

Fourthly, the bill expressly uses the corporations power to attempt to create a national park. I know that the extent of the corporations power has been reviewed by the High Court of late. But even with the current composition of the High Court, it seems a long bow to suggest the internal regulation of public companies extends to the creation of national parks and regulation of mining activities.

In this context, the bill is deficient, and apparently deliberately so, because it does not seek to regulate the activities of private companies, trusts, family trusts, partnerships and the like. It is not beyond the wit of humankind to establish one of those entities to engage in mining activities in a national park. It causes me to question the intent and credibility of the park when there is no attempt to regulate other legal entities.

Fifthly and most importantly, the bill will have the direct consequence of putting out of work some 80 directly employed miners. With a multiplier effect, this means almost 300 people have employment directly or indirectly associated with the current mine. With the families of those persons, the number totals some 900. They are indeed weighty matters that have caused me to review my attitude to this bill.

On the other side of this debate, one must acknowledge the views held in the community about mining, resources or extraction activities and national parks. Strong views are held concerning these issues and we would be fools to ignore that the Greens and the Australian Democrats received between seven per cent and 10 per cent of the primary vote in different states around March this year. Their vote is certainly centred around green issues. I acknowledge those views exist in the community and properly are up for discussion and resolution.

Indeed, earlier this week, there was a debate about logging and woodchips in Tasmania. In my room I listened to the contribution of Senator Brown from Tasmania. He spoke with great feeling about the insect colonies, the various species of fauna, the different colonies of marsupials and the importance of trees. This morning there was some debate over live sheep exports. Senator Margetts essentially argued for rights for sheep.

I do not denigrate those concerns and wish those parties well in the prosecution of their claims. But in the scheme of things, if the issue is about priorities, my priority can only be that of the men and women of the local communities, the miners and their families currently employed on the existing mine site, not the subject of this bill.

I believe it is sensible to avoid polarisation and taking extreme positions in this debate. Polarisation, extreme positions and positional negotiations are ultimately self-defeating and intellectually barren. I suggest that all parties in this debate—and it appears to be coming back onto the agenda if this bill is any example of the future—need to avoid denigration of their opponents. More importantly, they need to cease adopting intractable positions and they need to seek to find a middle path or compromise in this debate concerning mining activities and reservation of parks.

In this respect, I would suggest to the Senate that we are well served by the actions of the Western Australian parliamentary Labor Party and successive state governments since 1990 in Western Australia. We should look at the history of mining in this area and the mechanisms adopted by the Lawrence Labor government in 1990 to resolve the issue of mining in national parks.

Firstly, it should be noted that there has been a mine site extracting titanium, a mineral sand, in Jangardup since 1994. The area was explored in 1987 and has been developed since 1993; and extraction activity has continued since around mid-1994. The area of the existing mine site was, and is, immediately adjacent to the national park under discussion. The existing mine site, not the subject of the bill, will be exhausted in late 1997 and early 1998.

Earlier this year, Cable Sands Pty Ltd applied to the Western Australian government to excise an area of approximately 380 hectares on the boundary of the national park and sought parliamentary approval to mine that new site. That new mine site is known as Jangardup South and is about four kilometres south of the current mine site.

It is the proposal of the company to mine that site, and the excision bill, as outlined earlier, has passed through both houses of the Western Australian parliament. It is the proposal of the company to transfer the existing work force to that new mine site and to employ some additional 20 or 30 workers. If the bill under discussion today became law, it would prohibit that mining activity now excised from the national park. The proposal is thus quite contentious.

This matter was considered by the Western Australian parliamentary Labor Party in June of this year. That body, in resolving the issue, determined to apply what is known as the resolution of conflict policy.

The resolution of conflict policy was created around 1990 when, as I recall, Dr Lawrence was the leader of the state parliamentary Labor Party in Western Australia. That policy was devised to try to resolve the conflicting Green and mining interests in the area of national parks. That policy was applied by the Lawrence government and, as I understand it, is applied by the current government, although I stand to be corrected on that issue.

Let us examine that policy because it offers a very sensible middle path to the resolution of these issues. In respect of the D'Entrecasteaux National Park, the policy expressly applies four principles. It says that further exploration of the national park is expressly authorised for 36 months from November 1990. Secondly, after this period no more than one per cent of the total land area will be excised from the park. Thirdly, additional land of equal or greater size will be incorporated into the park. Fourthly, the relevant company will commit to value adding and secondary processing of the mined product in Western Australia.

So that resolution of conflict policy, as outlined in those four points, was adopted by the parliamentary Labor Party in 1990 when Dr Lawrence was the leader of the government in that day. It was applied throughout the life of her government and, as I under stand it, has been applied by governments after that time.

The state parliamentary Labor Party endorsed those principles and added a number of other restrictions in June of this year when it considered this issue. Firstly, it required a report from CSIRO relating to hydrology of the Lake Jasper area; secondly, an environmental assessment of the proposed mine site; thirdly, revegetation of the mine site to acceptable nature vegetation standards; and, fourthly, a further statement concerning a commitment to secondary processing.

So the Western Australian state parliamentary Labor Party brought a very moderate and sensible approach to this problem of mining in national parks. It followed longstanding policy established by the Lawrence Labor government: it accepted excision of the boundary area of the national park for the purpose of mining; it required the company to purchase and gift to the state a parcel of land of equal or superior condition to that which had been excised; it required complete rehabilitation of the mine site at the conclusion of the mining process; and, finally, it required value adding of the mined product.

I would submit to the Senate that this is a most sensible and balanced position. It protects the long-term integrity of the park; enlarges the size of the park; protects the vegetation, the flora and the fauna by requiring rehabilitation; allows development, wealth creation, value adding and employment to grow; resolves conflict; is not all for one side or the other, but it does protect the long-term interests of greens and conservationists; advances the immediate interests of miners, mine workers and their families; and is a considered and rational approach to resolution of these seemingly intractable documents. I commend that resolution of conflict policy to the Senate for consideration.