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Friday, 30 April 1971

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I take this opportunity to state, first of all, that I stand four-square with Senator Georges on his plea in relation to the crown of thorns problem. I do so on the basis that I believe that while nobody today opposes outright any of the conservation causes, a tendency has developed to roll with the punches or to adopt what might be called a 'defence in depth' attitude. The point that I am making is that a number of assurances are received. Pious promises come from State Premiers and their various departments but nobody seems to take the matter a stage further.

Senator Georgesalready has indicated his fears in relation to the problem of the Great Barrier Reef. As a corollary to this, 1 remind honourable senators, as some of them know, that I have been agitated about the inevitable conflict of interest that arises in so many of these fields between the Department of the Interior and the Department of National Development. I pay a tribute to the Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, for the diligent way in which he obtained an answer for me in relation to my question on the national park at the top end of the Northern Territory. The answer that I received this morning indicates, as I feared, that this will be the typical story of people with a vision splendid who seek 1,000 square miles for national park purposes and then, at the behest of the Department of National Development, traces of some valuable mineral are discovered and immediately a 'hole in the ground' complex arises.

I make this point: Whether the request comes from Senator Georges or from me, the Department of the Interior and the other departments which are not more or. less under the thumb of mining interests must stand up and be counted in relation to these conservation matters. It is inevitable that some plan to exploit national park areas will arise. This problem affects tourism which is of concern to Senator Wright as Minister in Charge of Tourist Activities, We are not achieving the big victories that we want. Too many qualifica-tions, in regard to whether a question affects this sphere or another sphere, are raised.

I wish to introduce now a much more serious question. You, Mr Acting Deputy President, will recall that the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution, of which you were chairman and I was a member took evidence from the Department of Shipping and Transport. It was extremely difficult for me to get a clear answer on information that I sought regarding an assessment of the various dispersants and detergents that are used to combat oil spillages. We were told that the Department obtained the best that were available. The next clue in my search came following a spillage of oil in Sydney Harbour. The then Minister for the Navy indicated that products from the GamenGamen Chemical Co. were being used. I made inquiries on this topic when I was overseas and obtained the information that the earlier products of this company - be they Gamlen OSR, Gamlen Sea Clean, Gamlen D or Gamlen CW - have all proved to be unsatisfactory for one reason or another including inefficiency at promoting emulsification of oil, high toxidity and low flash point.

I say very deliberately that whether oil spillages for which these products are needed occur in an area of the Great Barrier Reef or in any of our ports, we seem to accept some of these overseas assessments of the potential of these products on face value. Deliberately I will not mention one or two other products which are regarded by my informants as far superior to the products that I have mentioned. I put it squarely to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) through his representative here, Senator Cotton, that if other products were substituted for those which are used now better results would be achieved. The present attitude seems to be similar to the attitude adopted to some brands of jam. We do not want to change even though we know that those jams arc not good enough. But when we are dealing with our marine life this attitude is not good enough.

I want to indicate to the Minister for Shipping and Transport that this is a matter about which I will have a lot more to say when his departmental shipping advisers appear before the Senate Estimates Committee. These minor oil spillages add to the fears of a lot of conservationists. The Commonwealth does not have a coastguard service and the Services are reluctant to assist in this area of activity.

The Minister for Works (Senator Wright) knows that the United States of America has a corps of engineers engaged in flood mitigtion relief work. He also is aware that there are a host of other ways in which much more is being done under the Federal systems that operate in the United States and Canada. I find as I advocate Commonwealth action in this regard that I have no less an ally than the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Askin, who states that the Commonwealth should do much more in the general fields of research and work relating to beach erosion. I am not referring to the work that the Minister knows was done in the electorates of Barton and St George which arose as a result of other work carried out by the Commonwealth. I am talking about shire councils on the far north coast of New South Wales. I know that my Victorian colleague, Senator Poyser, has had similar overtures. So far as the various conservation causes that we have advanced are concerned, I believe that the Commonwealth has to move in and do more by way of providing fringe benefits.

Also, I think it is time there was more positive action on the question of the Refugee Seamen's Convention. I received via the Minister for Health (Senator Greenwood) one answer which said that the Commonwealth had some sort of inner reservation about this matter. I believe, quite seriously, that we should be told what these reservations are. I understand that there are 8 signatory countries to this convention. Not all those countries have violent ideologies; they have rather moderate forms of government. Again I give friendly warning that this is another matter which will receive a very good airing when full discussion on the Estimates takes place.

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