Arkaroola Protection Bill

16 Feb 2012 archivespeech

This speech is to indicate the Liberal Party's support for the Arkaroola Protection Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:49): I rise to indicate the Liberal Party's support for this bill. Arkaroola and the protection of it is a matter that has been debated several times in these chambers in recent years. I apologise to the council if I have made some of these comments before, but I think it is important to place them on the record again in relation to this bill, which will provide ongoing protection for the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

A number of Liberal members visited Arkaroola in 2010, I think it was in August, including our leader Isobel Redmond. There were probably nine of us all up, and we were very grateful to the Sprigg family and the locals who showed us around. We were able to come to a good understanding of what the unique values of that special place are and the need to protect it for future generations.

The most environmentally and geologically significant parts of Arkaroola fall within what is called an environmental class A zone. This zone sets out the conditions under which mining activities may be permitted; that is, 'that a deposit's exploitation is in the highest national or state interest that all other environmental, heritage or conservation considerations may be overridden'. The potential uranium deposit at Mount Gee in Arkaroola is supposedly approximately some 30,000 tonnes. In October 2009, the Labor government sought to water down the provisions of the environmental class A zone with the release of its paper 'Seeking a Balance', which as a document supposedly to facilitate the co-existence of protecting the environment with mining activities was short on detail, substance or reference material. It was a hastily constructed document containing motherhood statements, with much space devoted to coloured photographs. The consultation period having to be extended by six weeks was an admission that the government had rushed the process to fit in with the upcoming election.

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary contains a number of endangered species of plants, birds, frogs, fish and the nationally threatened yellow-footed rock wallaby. Its mountains provide a refuge for temperate endemic species which are less likely to survive in other parts of a bioregion, especially in times of extended drought, and the existing zone for this area recognises the vulnerability of this region and expresses an appropriate level of caution regarding our future development activities. We were opposed to the government's attempt to water down that class A zone and my leader in this place tabled a bill which would have enshrined its protection by amending the Development Act.

When the state government granted Marathon a 12-month extension on its exploration licence in December 2010, it failed to tell South Australians whether or not it would be allowing mining in the wilderness sanctuary. At that stage, our leader had called on the government to come clean about whether or not it supported mining. This bill extends the proclamation made on 29 July 2011, a proclamation that mining be prohibited in the Arkaroola region under section 8 of the Mining Act. However, exploration was permitted to continue.

Marathon Resources has been engaging in uranium exploration in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary for several years, most notably through its tenement at Mount Gee. However, its exploration licence is due to expire shortly with no right of renewal.

This bill establishes the Arkaroola protection area (APA) in which mining and exploration are prohibited. The bill makes related amendments to the Development Act 1993, the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 and the Pastoral Land Management and Conservation Act 1989. One of the key sections of the bill is section 7, which refers to the management plan, which I note has no statutory review period and I would appreciate some comments from the government as to when it envisages that the management plan may be reviewed.

The minister will be required to develop a management plan for the APA, with the primary objective of environmental protection. The minister must consult with any groups or people who hold interests in and around the APA—well, it will not be Marathon Resources but would have been—native titleholders and the Sprigg family.

Section 8 is the review of a development plan; that is, the minister must review any development plans relating to the APA within six months of the management plan being published. The zoning of the APA will likely be revised. I would appreciate whether the government envisages that the class A zoning will be removed.

Section 9 prohibits mining operations and regulated activities. Mining rights and rights to undertake regulated activities will not be able to be acquired or exercised, and that does not affect tenements adjacent to the APA. Section 10 allows for regulations which the Governor may make inside the APA prohibiting the removal of native plants and the imposing of fines not exceeding $10,000.

I am grateful for the briefing I received from the minister's office and the department in November. I did ask at that time to be provided with status regarding Marathon's negotiations for compensation. They had their annual meeting not long after that period, and certainly there had been missives in the press that had indicated that they were having arguments with the government. I did not receive any formal information from the government. I am told that that should have been provided to me by minister Koutsantonis, but the silence on that issue was quite deafening.

As I have said, mining has been banned in Arkaroola since the Governor's proclamation on 29 July. This bill largely transfers that protection into legislation. A key addition is the abolition of mining exploration and the requirement for a management plan. So, much of the detail will be referred to the management plan, which must be consistent with nature conservation; conservation of objects, places or features of cultural value to the Adnyamathanha people; supporting scientific research and environmental monitoring; and fostering public appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of the Arkaroola area. I would also appreciate knowing for the record whether that management plan will be published and where it will be available.

I note that pastoral leases rights are unaffected by the bill. I was told in the briefing that the bill itself does not seek to extinguish pre-existing rights for compensation, and that crown law advice is that the bill adds no legal liability to the government with regard to compensation, and those details have not been provided to either house of parliament. That was one of the concerns in relation to whether that bill was to be passed last year.

I would like to spend a few moments making some remarks about the way in which this has been done. It is the Liberal Party's firm view that this is yet another complete stuff-up by this government. It is a good outcome for Arkaroola, but it has not been a good outcome for the taxpayers and it certainly has not been a good outcome for Marathon shareholders in that they were given a right to explore and the rug was pulled out from under them.

I understand that, for several months, the government would not talk to them about their particular claim for compensation. That has now been settled, but it falls well short of the mark. It is certainly not ideal that the taxpayer should be funding these sorts of things but, in our view, the government had the opportunity on several occasions not to renew the lease, yet it did so. Then, in order to provide himself with some sort of legacy, the former premier, in his vanity and at great expense to the taxpayer, has taken this action.

It was interesting to note that, prior to the retirement of the previous premier, there was a segment on ABC Radio that was looking at his legacy. Several different commentators were asked to be interviewed, including Professor David Paton. The compere asked him:

David Paton, when you hear Mike Rann say that he wanted to look at the triple bottom line and he wanted to make sure that the environment was improved as well, in the 10 year period that you had the Rann Foley Government how did the environment fare?

The compere had mentioned the protection of one of the great icon sites of South Australia, Arkaroola. Dr Paton said:

...if you put a 10 year sort of comparison across that, the environment's actually probably deteriorated over that time and so has the level of funding that's actually given to environmental areas.

So, that is the view of at least one of our academics in this whole post-Rann period.

I am not sure that Marathon wrote to all members, but they certainly wrote to me at the end of November, following the passage of this bill in the House of Assembly, from which the comments of the former premier had been reported in The Advertiser. In that, they stated that Marathon has spent $17,173,662 in direct exploration costs in Arkaroola and had sought that the proclamation be declared void. I am amazed that exploration was ever allowed in this particular site but, having allowed them in, the government has treated that particular company very shabbily indeed. I think it will have an impact on other companies that may seek to do business in South Australia because they will look at this particular situation and know that there is some sort of political prerogative that any of the rights they may have under other situations may well be pulled out from under them.

Now that they have reached a settlement this issue is all done and dusted, but it is an expense that the taxpayer should never have had to pay and Marathon should never have been led up the garden path to think that they may be allowed to continue activities in that area. I am pleased that Arkaroola will be protected and, with those comments, I commend the bill to the house.