Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Christmas Island Mining

3:29 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage (Senator Ian Campbell) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to Christmas Island.

I am very pleased to hear that Senator Ian Campbell would have little confidence in anyone who would hurt our rainforests, because I am very concerned about the rumours coming out of Christmas Island about illegal clearing of rainforest in the national park there. I am also pleased to hear that he is going to investigate that. Christmas Island, as many people in this place probably know, is a unique and very special environment, one that I had an opportunity many years ago to visit.

Currently, the government has before it an application to extend mining into the rainforest on the island, which will overturn nearly 20 years worth of sensible policy on Christmas Island. As many people know, phosphate mining has been going on on the island for the last 100 years, with the result that 30 per cent of the island’s rainforest has now been permanently cleared and no-one has ever really been able to figure out a way to rehabilitate the limestone moonscape. Anybody who has been up there would know it is a moonscape that is the result of mining.

The original mined areas remain cleared today. When the mine finally did close in 1987, some enterprising former employees applied to reopen the mine to recover valuable resources from the old stockpiles and rework some of the areas that had already been cleared. This was approved in 1991 on the strict condition that there would be no further clearing of rainforest permitted. This company has had that long, from 1991 to 2006, to work out a way into the future and to work out that this mine would close when those stockpiles came to an end.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage has an application before him to clear a further 200 hectares of pristine rainforest, some of which has common boundaries with the national park on Christmas Island. They want to extend the mine for another five to seven years. You do not have to be Einstein to work out that in another five years we will get another application for 200 hectares or so, with the reasoning that the precedent was set in 2006.

I will acknowledge that the Australian government has a mixed history with its treatment of Christmas Island. That treatment has ranged in the past from neglect to making it a dumping ground for unwanted asylum seekers—unwanted by the Australian government, that is. Then there is the more enlightened work that has been the highly successful program to protect the island’s red crab population from assault by the yellow crazy ants.

Everybody knows that the future of Christmas Island is ecotourism, not mining. In fact, mining undermines the values on which this island will in the future depend. It undermines people’s enjoyment of the environment, where all they can see is a moonscape and where there will be less and less rainforest.

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What are all those union workers going to do on Christmas Island without mining?

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Funny you should mention that. The Christmas Island Chamber of Commerce voted resoundingly against more rainforest clearing and native vegetation clearing. That is your economic argument for you. The future of this island is with ecotourism and with proposals such as the international research station, not clearing rainforest. You know what? We are going to run out of rainforest and phosphate at some stage, and then they will have no future at all. People do not want to go and see moonscapes. If you go up there, that is what you will see and that is what you will see increasingly if this proposal is allowed to go ahead.

How can we trust any company, if they have illegally cleared and if it is proved, and give them permission to go and clear more rainforest? It is ridiculous that in 2006 we could even be considering the clearing of absolutely unique, irreplaceable rainforest on this island on which a community will depend in the future. It is short-term economic thinking to increase a mine by clearing rainforest vegetation and increase the mining there for five years, when into the future people will be relying on the environment and ecotourism to sustain this unique environment. I am pleased that the minister is going to assess this illegal clearing, but I urge him to look at the bigger picture and reject any mining and any further clearing of rainforest on this island. If the government is investing in Christmas Island, it should invest in infrastructure and training that moves away from mining and into ecotourism and into proposals for international research centres that will make this island really the jewel of the Indian Ocean.

Question agreed to.