Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I rise to support the Completion of Kakadu National Park (Koongarra Project Area Repeal) Bill 2013. Last week, Djok senior traditional owner Jeffrey Lee AM was here in the parliament when this legislation was introduced into the House. Jeffrey Lee is to be commended for his tireless and courageous efforts to protect his country up against some very powerful interests. Because of his endurance, Koongarra was finally recognised in June 2011 by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as having both cultural and environmental significance.
Jeffrey Lee made a statement when this bill was introduced:
I have said no to uranium mining at Koongarra, because I believe that the land and my cultural beliefs are more important than mining and money. Money comes and goes, but the land is always here. It always stays if we look after it and it will look after us.
In 1979, the land Jeffrey has looked after—an area of 1,228 hectares right beside the famous Nourlangie Rock, with its remarkable rock art—was excluded from the Kakadu National Park because of its potential uranium resources. The French owned company AREVA—the largest nuclear energy company in the world—owned the lease and wished to mine the 14,000 tonnes of uranium there, so much so that they attempted to stop the UNESCO World Heritage Committee from debating and deciding to fold the area into Kakadu National Park at the express wishes of the Djok traditional owners.
Koongarra should have been in Kakadu long ago, but it will finally have the protection it deserves upon the passage of this bill when it is officially included in the park. This is a win for the long-term future of the region and for the integrity of the Kakadu World Heritage area.
But let us be clear, Kakadu—the jewel in Australia's tourism industry, with its natural wonders such as sandstone escarpments, huge waterfalls, tropical rainforests and wetlands alive with birds—is threatened by another mine. The Ranger uranium mine was literally forced on the Aboriginal people when their right to refuse was ripped away through legislation in 1978. Ranger is a leaking disaster. My colleague, Senator Ludlam, has established through Senate estimates hearings that over 100,000 litres of contaminated water leaks into the ground beneath Kakadu National Park every day. In addition to that, over 150 leak spills and licence breaches have been recorded since the mine opened. In 2011, uranium processing at Ranger was suspended for six months following a tropical wet season that left the tailings dam near capacity.
Yet, despite ongoing problems and ageing infrastructure, the ERA is considering the expansion of Ranger. The construction of a tunnel for underground mining in the guise of 'exploration' has commenced without any environmental scrutiny. This exploration is clearly the first stage of what could become a new underground mine. The Greens strongly believe—along with the many people who have written to the environment minister, Tony Burke—that the minister should take up his responsibility to scrutinise this nuclear action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The minister would be protecting the environmental and cultural significance of Kakadu through so doing.
While I call upon the environment minister to protect Kakadu from the ongoing threat at Ranger and want to stress that this bill is misnamed—Kakadu is not complete until Ranger is closed—I wish to commend him today for delivering on a Labor election promise to bring Koongarra into Kakadu National Park, which the Greens welcome and congratulate him for.
The ALP still has a very confused nuclear policy. On one hand, the mining and exporting of the uranium that literally fuelled the Fukushima nuclear disaster is promoted. Labor also wants to pour uranium into India, a state with a history of illicit nuclear procurement and inadequate export controls and a country that is continuing to expand its nuclear arsenal and missile capabilities, making the subcontinent the hottest nuclear stand-off in the world. On the other hand, today Kakadu is protected from more uranium mining with this bill. On one hand, Labor supports the use of nuclear weapons in our own security policies by participating in the US nuclear umbrella and thereby legitimising the possession of nuclear weapons. On the other, it strives to be an advocate of nuclear disarmament, sponsoring the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
Despite this profound confusion, sometimes Labor gets nuclear policy right, and today is one of those times. I commend this bill to the House.