Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
Christmas Island Mining
My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell. I refer to phosphate mining operations on Christmas Island, which were allowed to continue in 1991 on the clear condition that they would never be allowed to clear more rainforest. Can the minister confirm that the mining company Phosphate Resources Ltd has recently conducted unauthorised clearing within the Christmas Island National Park? If so, what area is involved and what action does the minister intend to take against the company?
I have visited Christmas Island. I have in fact looked at the mining operations. Obviously, I have looked very closely at the proposal that is currently before the government to expand those operations. In some respects, those expanded operations would in fact impact on the fantastic rainforest on Christmas Island. As Senator Siewert knows, it is an extraordinary piece of Australian territory and an extraordinary piece of natural heritage for the world. It is something that is deserving of very high levels of protection.
We are very disturbed at any reports of breaches of the conditions that pertain to those phosphate mining operations on Christmas Island. All reports of incidents that impact on the biological, biodiversity and natural heritage values of the island that are subject to the stringent protection of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will be fully investigated and, where prosecutions are recommended, prosecutions will be made.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask that the minister undertakes to get back to me about the unauthorised clearing. I understand that it would have been done by the same company that is currently seeking approval to expand mining on the island and to overturn the existing moratorium on rainforest clearing on Christmas Island. If the clearing is found to have occurred illegally, would the minister have confidence that this company be trusted to act within conditions imposed on any mining? If so, how can the minister justify this confidence?
I am very happy to report back to the Senate and to Senator Siewert because she has displayed an interest in the very short time that she has been here—I was being a little bit cautious there. I do not agree on all things with the Greens but I do share with Senator Siewert a very strong interest in the environment of Christmas Island and other parts to the west of this place. It is a magnificent part of heritage, and I would have thought that if you were a mining company seeking to expand your operations on such a pristine environment as Christmas Island, you would be incredibly cautious about how you impacted on that very important environment. To answer your question, I could have very little confidence in a mining operator that illegally hurt our rainforest. (Time expired)