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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3397

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) - in reply- I think it is very fitting that Senator Mulvihill should speak on legislation of this nature because he was probably one of the earliest members of Parliament in Australia, if not the earliest, to be consistently advocating the cause of conservation and the cause of national parks. He did it for many years before it became fashionable, before it became trendy, before many people had even given the slightest consideration to the matter. I can well remember that there was a time when a lot of people used to make jokes about Senator Mulvihill bringing up matters relating to the red kangaroo. It has now become quite common for everybody to pay at least Up service to the principles of nature conservation in which Senator Mulvihill played an early role, in fact the earliest role I think of us all in this Parliament, with his advocacy from the very first day that he became a member of the Senate.

The Opposition is supporting the 2 Bills which are before the Senate, although Senator Carrick has told us that he will be moving some amendments. We had a quite long discussion last night on the amendments. I do not want to go into them at this stage because they will be dealt with in Committee, albeit briefly, I trust. Some of the amendments tend to delimit the constitutional assumptions which are made by the Bills. Whether or not this is a good thing is a debatable point. If we are exceeding our constitutional power in the Bill it would seem that there is another place where that can be dealt with rather than here in the Senate. .

The only thing I would like to add at this stage is some reference to the amendment which has been moved by Senator Carrick to the effect that the Australian Government has in some way bypassed the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory and that the statutory authorities and voluntary environmental and conservation groups in the Territory should be involved in these matters. I have been provided with some information on the Government's role with regard to the Northern Territory which I think refutes the substance of the amendment. The material which has been given to me by the Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Conservation reads as follows:

On 6 November 1973, Dr McMichael and Dr Boden - who are both officers of the Department - attended a meeting of the Northern Territory Legislative Council in Darwin. The Government leader, Mr Martin Finger drew the attention of the Council to the fact that Drs McMichael and Boden were in attendance and available to discuss the proposed National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill with Members.

Only Mr W. J. Fisher and Mrs D. Lawrie took the opportunity to have discussions with Drs McMichael and Boden.

Discussions were had on 6 November 1973 and again on 20/21 November 1973 by Drs McMichael and Boden with the Secretary of the Department of the Northern Territory and Members of the Northern Territory Reserves Board.

On 27 April 1974 Dr McMichael and Mr Gare -

Also an officer of the Department of the Environment and Conservation - attended a public seminar on National Parks held in Darwin and answered questions in relation to the proposed legislation.

Subsequently, despite conflicting legislation introduced in the Northern Territory Legislative Council through the Department of the Northern Territory, the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill was prepared as authorised by Cabinet, and two copies were forwarded to the Secretary, Department of the Northern Territory, on 1 9 August 1974. One of these was for the comment of the Northern Territory Reserves Board. The Secretary, Department of the Northern Territory, forwarded his comments on 10 September 1974. Despite a written request to the Department of the Northern Territory on 29 October 1974, no comments from the Reserves Board itself have yet been received, though the Director of the Board did forward his personal comments on 3 September 1974.

The Department's view is that every effort has been made to consult with those in authority in the Northern Territory in this matter. Difficulties have been created by persons unwilling to see the Australian Government set an example in the management of national parks and wildlife in relation to areas and problems of national significance. An example of the product of such attitudes is the Northern Territory National Parks Ordinance 1974, a most defective piece of legislation, to which the Governor-General's assent has so far been withheld.

Cabinet's approval of 17 September 1973 recognised the need to manage nationally significant areas in the Northern Territory, (e.g., Simpsons Gap, Katherine Gorge, Finke River and Kakadu National Parks) through an Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, and to place wildlife management in the Northern Territory under such a body also.

There is nothing in Cabinet's decision, nor in the Bill at present before Parliament, to prevent continued management of parks and reserves not of national significance by the Northern Territory Reserves Board or any other appropriate Northern Territory agency.

Northern Territory involvement in management decisions regarding wildlife and declared areas under control of the Service will be through effective delegation from the Director of National Parks and Wildlife to properly trained professional staff resident in the Territory, who will consult with local interests. In addition, arrangements can be made for a Northern Territory advisory committee on national parks and wildlife to advise the Minister. The director could be a member of such a Committee, however, it should be recalled that Cabinet specifically decided against a statutory Advisory Committee or Council.

A telegram was sent by Dr Goff Letts, the majority leader in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, to the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) to which the Minister has replied. I think that the matters which have been raised in the amendment moved by Senator Carrick are probably dealt with quite adequately in those telegrams in addition to the information which I have just given to the Senate. The telegram from Dr Letts was in fact addressed to Mr Whitlam and was dated 18 November. His telegram reads:

National Parks and Wildlife Bill due further consideration this week will have greatest impact Northern Territory stop There have been no public hearing or proper consultations as suggested in first principle of stated functions of Dept Environment and Conservation stop I have prepared statement for first meeting Legislative Assembly this week stop Not opposed certain concepts in Bill e.g. greater national coordination facilities for training consolidation existing statutes and organisations but must insist on local participation in control and management wildlife and national park stop Without any consultation the Canberra Bill will supersede local legislation stop Minor amendments not enough stop Recommend defer or withdraw Bill until (a) Joint Parliamentary Committee on N.T. tables report (b) Government considers executive role newly elected Assembly after studying above report (c) Ministers for Northern Territory and Environment have discussions Assembly representatives (d) Northern Territory public properly consulted stop Further passage Bill this week would show contempt Territory people and new Assembly.

That is a very strong telegram from Dr Letts particularly in view of the circumstances which were outlined in the memorandum from the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Conservation. Dr Cass replied in a telegram of 20 November last to Dr Letts as follows:

Appreciate your interest and concern National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill stop.

Legislation has been drafted after attendance of senior officers at Legislative Council meeting of 6 November 1973, and subsequent discussions with Northern Territory Reserves Board and officers of Department of Northern Territory stop.

Bill has been prepared to empower Australian Government to set national example by management of nationally significant areas and wildlife resources, in accordance with declared Government policy and with recommendations of House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation stop.

No objection to areas of local significance being managed by an appropriate Northern Territory agency stop I have always envisaged also that a local advisory body would advise on national park and wildlife matters in Northern Territory stop.

Government's legislative program must proceed stop Please be assured of Northern Territory interests being considered at all times in matters of environment and conservation.

I believe that these telegrams and the facts which I have presented to the Senate make completely unnecessary the amendment which has been moved by Senator Carrick. I trust that the amendment will be rejected and in any event that the Bill will rapidly proceed through its second reading stage.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Carrick's amendment) be added.

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