Thursday, 20 March 2014
Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013; Second Reading
Last time we were addressing the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013, as I look back at my notes, there had been an extensive discussion as to the adequacy or otherwise of the level of consultation engaged in by the government about a similar bill sponsored by the previous government, now withdrawn, as I understand it, by the current government, and the level of consultation in this bill, which is similar in a lot of respects to the previous bill. Indeed, from memory, something in the order of 23 senators alone from South Australia had spoken on the bill so there is a level of interest in the bill from that state.
I do not want to go to the detail or the minutiae of the bill today. It has been extensively reported in the relevant Senate committee report, and the content of the bill, for those who have an interest in this topic, is both widespread and well understood. I do not propose to discuss the content of the bill itself, but I thought I might in my contribution this morning address the bill in the context of the mining and resources development in Australia.
It is well known to economic historians that the exploitation of natural resources—minerals, oil and gas, forests and the like—has been and continues to be and will continue to be one of the great drivers and creators of material wealth. There is nothing novel or revelatory about that proposition. It is certainly understood by economic historians, it is certainly understood by those who are involved in the industry and those who observe the industry, and it has been known since the dawn of civilisation. Indeed, the exploitation of natural resources has been one of the principal drivers of great empires since the dawn of time.
Three of the great wars fought by the Romans over hundreds and hundreds of years were about access to minerals and other natural resources in particular. Indeed, the final pacification of Spain under Pompey the Great was about access to gold and iron and salt. The invasion of England under the reign of Emperor Claudius was about tin, iron ore, coal and forest, particularly over in Wales, and the final conquest of Croatia, called Dalmatia in those days, under the Antonine emperors, was also about natural resources, iron and gold. And you only have to look at the rivers of blood that were expended in acquiring empires in South and Central America by the Spanish and Portuguese from the 16th century onwards to understand the importance of access to minerals—gold, silver, iron, lead and coal and God knows what else. So there is nothing new. Put simply, much treasure and much blood has been expended on the perceived need for currency and raw materials to access cutting-edge technology, whether it be swords or other forms of material used for aggressive purposes. There is nothing new, in summary, about the need to access and exploit natural resources.
I have been flying across the Nullarbor for the best part of 40 years—in my early days, perhaps 10 or 20 times a year; in my time in parliament, 40 or 50 times a year—backwards and forwards to the east coast. On those long flights across the Nullarbor, sometimes taking up to seven or eight hours, I have had cause to reflect upon the difference between the states of South Australia and Western Australia, having been born and raised in South Australia and having spent all of my adult life in the west. From time to time, as I have looked down from the plane window, the question I have thought about was: why do some lines on the map dating back to the 19th century so differentiate and distinguish two adjoining states? As you go to the far west of South Australia and the far east of Western Australia, the flora and fauna, the soil, the desert and the weather are similar, if not identical, on both sides of the border for hundreds of miles east and west and hundreds of miles north and south.
In 1982 South Australia and Adelaide had a population of around 1.1 to 1.3 million. The population was significantly larger than for Perth and Western Australia. The gross state product of South Australia in those days was significantly higher than that of Western Australia. So the question becomes: why has that been reversed? Why are things so different now?
Why is Western Australia's population 2.5 million to 2.8 million and, in the not-so-distant future, going to be greater than that of Brisbane, while South Australia's is relatively stagnant at about 1.5 million to 1.7 million? Why is the gross state product of Western Australia more than triple that of South Australia? It is a very important question, and there are a lot of consequences—political, material and industrial consequences—that derive from a response to that proposition.
The answer is clear, simple and obvious. Western Australia, at least since the 1950s—under Albert Hawke's Labor government, Sir Charles Court's government in the seventies and eighties, and successive governments of both persuasions since that time—has welcomed, embraced and sought out the development of minerals and resources in that state. It did not matter whether it was the Hawke government in the fifties or the current government in the second decade of the 21st century: both have been unconditional in seeking out development and maintaining Western Australia as a place for investment and development in mining and resources.
South Australia, by contrast, chose a very different path—firstly in the thirties under the government of Sir Thomas Playford but essentially followed by all governments since that time up until the present. That path that was embraced by Sir Thomas Playford and his government in the thirties and forties, followed by others, was one of an embrace of manufacturing industry, industrial protectionism and high-cost industries that lacked production scale because of cost.
So, as the final remnants of the opening up of Australia's economy from the 1980s, occasioned by the Hawke-Keating governments, play themselves out with the closure of the motor vehicle industry along the east coast of Australia, I suggest that this bill, sponsored by Senator Farrell, is to be welcomed with anticipation, glee and hope. It should be welcomed as a potential new foundation for the state of South Australia and as an opportunity for South Australia to be not an economic colony of Victoria but a serious mining and development state in its own right.
This bill, when you go to its heart, sends a statement of intent. The bill challenges the mindset that many years ago made the decision that this area was to be considered to be in some respects wasteland, in other respects the home of some Indigenous people and in other respects hundreds and hundreds of square miles of land to be reserved to the Department of Defence for exclusive use for their own purposes. It welcomes into those lands the opportunity for exploration and discovery of what a lot of people presume to be mineral-rich swathes of land.
This statement is made by Senator Farrell as a sponsor of a private senator's bill, but really the bill is consistent with the attitude of the previous government and, as I recall the comments of then opposition senators, now government senators, in the deliberative phases of the bill when it went through committee stages, is welcomed by them as well. It really suggests that South Australia—or certainly a number of elites in South Australia—has come to the view that it is time to join the states of Western Australia and Queensland in becoming a home to the mining industry and all the consequences that flow from that. So that is a welcome development.
In the few minutes that remain, I want to remind the chamber of the comments by Senator Johnston, who now, of course, has been elevated into the cabinet as Minister for Defence. I have looked back at Senator Johnston's contribution in the early stages of this bill, and he addressed issues of time, delay, consultation and protocols. He made the point that the government was opposing the bill at this stage, firstly because it wanted to redraft the bill in light of certain changes that had been brought to its attention. Principally his argument was that the government wanted to get it right. There is nothing particularly wrong with that sentiment, but it is a very early pointer to another defence bill that both the Minister for Defence and you as chair of the relevant subcommittee, Mr Acting Deputy President Fawcett, will recall. That was the Defence Trade Controls Bill of the last parliament. Senator Johnston would well remember the amount of work that the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee had to do over a period of almost 18 months to get that bill right. It must be put on the record that all of that forensic work engaged in by the committee—rejecting submissions by the Department of Defence; seeking out further advice and evidence from industry and technology players, universities and the like; and sending Defence back time and time again to engage in further consultation and to redraft particular provisions in the bill—was done in the face of the stringent, intense and continuing opposition of the Department of Defence.
I was much reminded of the lengthy process we had to go through as committee members—it was almost like pulling teeth to get information about the Defence Trade Controls Bill—in the contribution made in this debate by Senator Johnston, a person who has had a lot of exposure to the Department of Defence both as a minister in the previous Howard government and then for six years in opposition. As that contribution was made, I thought that perhaps the wool was being pulled over Senator Johnston's eyes in the context of this bill and that the protestations by the Department of Defence were not really as strict or a strong as they might have been.
It must be said that it is not readily or widely understood that the modern mining resources extraction and development industries are not merely about digging a hole in the ground, getting the product out onto a train or a truck, flogging it off to port and sending it offshore. It is not only about digging holes in the ground, and those who use that phrase (1) are mistaken and (2) generally do it in a pejorative and insulting manner.
The modern mining industry, as is inherent in this bill sponsored by Senator Farrell—this bill foreshadows a growth and development certainly at the exploration stage in those areas of land covered by it, the land up in the far north of South Australia—is more about welcoming that industry into the heart of South Australia. As the bill also recognises, the modern mining industry is about a lot of things: it is about engineering; it is about construction; it is about the use of seriously advanced high-tech equipment; it is about the manipulation and proper use of advanced software by highly skilled and trained technicians; it is about processing and analysis; it is about the service industries that follow such as accountancy, transport, communications, infrastructure development, finance, capital investment.
One of the very interesting things that is currently occurring in Perth is the growth of a localised capital-raising industry. As we all know Perth is now a very, very wealthy city in a wealthy state, and there are a large number of people who are well off. People who are well off tend to have surplus capital, and they tend to want to consolidate it and reinvest it so that the capital grows stronger. One of the interesting things that has occurred in the past two or three years is that a range of the investment banks out of the US, which have had their principal offices in Melbourne and Sydney, but principally Sydney, are now, instead of being fly-in fly-out workers and coming over to Perth to raise capital—coming over on Monday and leaving on Friday—establishing full-time offices in Perth to raise equity. One of the spin-offs of the growth of the mining industry in the last 10 or 15 years in that state has been the growth of ancillary and support industries.
In the area of capital raising and equity raising, now that you have stand-alone, serious offices employing dozens and dozens of people to do those jobs, you see the benefits of an expanding state and an expanding industry. Raising hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars, as some people in this chamber would be well aware, are not simple tasks. They are tasks that involve a lot of risk, they are tasks that involve a lot of price, they are tasks that involve extraordinarily lengthy negotiations to get the amount of capital raised and the repayment times right. And that capital-raising industry, equity-raising industry, is growing well in Perth because of the wealth that has been created and consolidated in that state over the last 20 years.
And Senator Farrell interrupts rudely and says, 'We'd like a share of it!' Well they do want a share of it. They are not silly in that state. This bill recognises the opportunity to get a share of mining, to get a share of transport, to get a share of investment so that that state can also grow away from a population of 1.5, 1.6, 1.7 million into the two millions and three millions. (Time expired)
I would like to make a short contribution to this important debate on Senator Farrell's Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013. This bill is principally a response to the recommendations of the final report of the review of the Woomera Prohibited Area in northern South Australia, my home state. The bill will essentially provide for the making of the Woomera Prohibited Area rules, which will include zones, amongst other things, which are to be demarcated within that area. It creates a permit system for access to and use by non-defence users of the WPA. It introduces offences and penalties for entering the Woomera Prohibited Area without permission and for failing to comply with the condition of a permit. It also provides for compensation for an acquisition of property from a person otherwise than on just terms that results from the operation of the new part VIB of the Defence Act.
As you would well know, Mr Acting Deputy President Fawcett, being a fellow South Australian, South Australia has a vast outback and Woomera is situated 480 kilometres away from Adelaide in the north-west pastoral region of South Australia. When I was growing up in South Australia, Woomera was always a very mysterious place in the far north of my state. As a young South Australian, I was always very interested in what went on in Woomera. It was the home of the WRE as it was back then—the Weapons Research Establishment—and I had many friends who grew up in Woomera. It was also home to people from overseas who came to use that facility for defence matters and testing of new technologies in the defence area. And since people have been able to visit the Woomera area, a lot of people have done so on the drive up to Darwin or elsewhere. It is an intriguing and interesting place and a key part of South Australia's history.
The area itself is unique in the world, a unique military testing range covering 124,000 square kilometres—that is equivalent to 1½ Scotlands. It comprises extensive lands north of the Indian Pacific Railway, from Maralinga in the south-west up to its north-west corner in the Great Victoria Desert, which stretches across the South Australian and Western Australian border; it runs across to Coober Pedy and west of Roxby Downs, and down to Woomera in the south-east. It is an enormous piece of land. The WPA is not only vast but it is also an area vital to the South Australian government. Not only is it used for testing by the Royal Australian Air Force but also parts of the WPA contain highly prospective mineral resources, including estimates of more than $35 billion in iron ore, gold and uranium. Additionally, the WPA encompasses significant amounts of the land of our traditional owners, and that is something that we have been mindful about in the creation of this bill.
To give the Senate a bit more background information regarding the bill: on 17 May 2010 the then Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, announced a review into South Australia's Woomera Prohibited Area to make recommendations about the best use of the WPA in the national interest. It was known as the Hawke review and it looked at ways to free up that vast area of 124,000 square kilometres for uses other than defence testing and other defence work. The review's interim report of 5 November 2010 identified the requirements of the various WPA user groups, assessed the extent to which these requirements were being met and proposed mechanisms to support better coexistence. The review found that introducing a comprehensive range management framework would increase the use of the WPA in Australia's national interests by better balancing national security and economic interests. Public comment on the interim report was sought before recommendations were finalised for inclusion in the final report. So quite a comprehensive review was undertaken there.
This bill is extremely important to South Australia. A similar bill with the support of the coalition passed in the House of Representatives last year, and the Labor government at the time hoped to have the same support here from coalition senators, but the bill was referred off to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, which was not able to report back before the rising of the 43rd Parliament. Unfortunately, with the change of government we also saw a change of heart from the coalition, and the government of the day, while promising to reintroduce a bill to effect the recommendations of the review, still have not produced that bill. It has been up to my colleague Senator Farrell to step into the breach. He has worked very hard to get the government to proceed with legislation. He, like me, knows the importance of this to South Australia.
As we have heard in contributions from government senators in this debate, their view is that they will wait for their own bill. We could be waiting a very long time, and you have to ask why they are delaying either supporting Senator Farrell's bill or introducing their own bill. Are they trying to punish South Australia? I cannot think of any good reasons, and certainly the reasons they have given in their contributions to this debate do not stand up.
The bill that we are debating today seeks to build and implement the findings in the Hawke report. It establishes a framework that provides all non-defence users within the Woomera Prohibited Area and industry more generally with a level of certainty of defence activity in the area and allows users to make commercial decisions with some assurance as to when they will be requested to leave the area because of defence activity. That certainty is very important for business, as we know.
The framework re-establishes the primacy of the WPA as a national defence asset and sets up a coexistence scheme that allows access by non-defence users on a conditional basis. These conditions are intended to protect the safety of all users in the WPA and to ensure appropriate national security protections for an area used to test defence capability.
The WPA operated as a testing facility from 1947; and, since the 1980s, areas of the WPA were made increasingly available to non-defence users including the resources sector, Indigenous group activity, pastoralists and the South Australian state government. Use has varied and has included activities such as open mining, pastoral tourism, environmental resources research and other uses. Recommendations of the Hawke review found that, while defence should remain in control of access to the WPA, it should exercise this right in a way that seeks to maximise the opportunity for non-defence users to operate within this very important area.
Maximising the potential of the WPA will bring exponential economic benefits to my state of South Australia and to the nation more broadly. Therefore, the review also recommended that defence should set restrictions on access by reference to its testing and evaluation activity in the WPA, with industry then making commercial decisions based on restrictions set by defence. So it clarifies usage and the interaction between the usage of the different groups that can have access to this area to make the most of it.
The bill in discussion here today seeks to implement the review's recommendations relating to the management of access to the WPA through three geographic zones—the red, amber and green zones. Access to the red zone must not be given to new non-defence users, the one exception being for a geological survey conducted by the South Australian government in collaboration with Commonwealth agencies. Zoning and time-share arrangements are subject to a seven-yearly review to ensure continued maximisation of the national value of the WPA, and any amendments to the coexistence framework will be recommended by the WPA advisory board and approved by the Minister for Defence in consultation with the Premier of South Australia and Commonwealth ministers for the relevant portfolio areas. As recommended by the review, pastoralists with an existing presence, Indigenous groups and other existing users as well as existing mining operations in the WPA will continue to operate under their current access arrangements. The access regime established by this bill only applies to new users, with existing users having the option of voluntarily joining the access regime established by these measures.
Technicalities aside, the bill is about improving and maximising the accessibility of the WPA for the benefit of all South Australians as well as for the rest of the nation. It will have the potential to create jobs, which are very important in that area of South Australia, and it will have the potential to attract further research and exploration into the lands, possibly creating benefits far beyond what we can currently imagine.
But, of course, we will not be able to pass this legislation unless we have the support of the government to do it. Senator Farrell in his contribution to this debate made it quite clear that we on this side are willing to work with the government to do what needs to be done to get this legislation through the Senate. We understand how important it is to South Australia now in the immediate sense but also how important it could be in the future as well. So I am hoping today that my fellow South Australian senators—Senators Birmingham, Bernardi, Fawcett, Ruston and Edwards—will recognise and appreciate the benefits of this bill. We support it because, as South Australians, we need this bill to pass so that we can give the people who live in the fine state of South Australia the best possible opportunities for the future. I would like to thank Senator Farrell for introducing this bill and I commend it to the Senate.
I am delighted to rise to speak to the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013 and make a relatively brief contribution. I absolutely enjoyed the contribution of my Western Australian Senate colleague Senator Bishop and join with his comments in terms of the frequency with which we Western Australians fly over the area that is the subject of discussion here today and reflect on how important it is that this area is opened up for commercial development—
Senator Farrell is interrupting me and attempting, of course, to distract me, which he will have no success in doing. I remind Senator Farrell and Senator McEwen, whose contribution I am following, as to why it is that the legislation has been delayed. I want to remind the Senate and obviously want to thank Senator Fawcett, because he in a previous life had military responsibility for this area in the defence segment. Our wonderful Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston, did make the observation:
The Coalition has agreed to complete the Senate Inquiry prior to the September 14 election—
that is the September 2013 election—
and is committed to progressing the legislation so that broader access to the WPA lands will commence before Christmas 2013 .
That was Senator Johnston in a media release. Of course, it follows on from comments by the South Australian Labor Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy in which he was very critical on ABC Radio in South Australia of the fact that it needed to be referred to a committee at all. He said that he did not understand the processes within the Senate whereby bills that come from the lower house go through a process, which obviously in this case has had the effect if not the design of delay. It is an example, he said, of where accusations can be made, false assumptions made when people have not done their homework—their homework, Senator Farrell—to understand why due processes are in place. He said that it is important from both the national defence perspective and an economic perspective that we get the bills right.
So I ask the question here this morning: why is it delayed? Has it been the coalition side? Has it been Defence Minister Johnston's delay? No, it has not; it has been the delay of Senator Farrell and Senator McEwen and, of course, the Australian Labor Party. And, just to remind the chamber and anyone else who might be interested, the Selection of Bills Committee—which, as we all know, considers and approves whether legislation coming from the lower house goes to a committee—was chaired by none other than a South Australian Labor senator. I am sure Senator Farrell needs reminding of this so that he can come to join me.
That committee signed off and approved that particular activity. At the time it had a majority of Australian Labor Party and Greens members. They controlled the vote. They approved that the bill be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, of which they held the chair at that time when those two parties were in government. It was chaired by, I understand, Senator Stephens—a wonderful, wonderful contributor and one whose absence will be sorely missed by the entire chamber but particularly by the then-to-be-depleted ALP ranks. Of course, Senator Stephens said at the time, 'Yes, it is reasonable we proceed.' But what happened? We understood and agreed at the time, and she said, there was an urgency around it. They agreed they would set up a time frame for the hearing—all in the sense of harmony. But what happened? The election was called. What did the coalition members do—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to Senator Farrell and Senator McEwen? I am sure it is in the front of their memories. The coalition members on the committee said, 'We would like to continue with the hearing,' which was only a matter of days away from meeting. We said that we would like to have that meeting in Adelaide; we would like to continue the hearing so that we could report. But, departing from that spirit of harmony, the government members at the time, the ALP members, said, 'No, the election is the priority,' and it was canned by the ALP and by the Greens.
And here we have senators on the other side, including Senator Farrell in his attempted interruption of me today, accusing the defence minister, Senator Johnston, of going back on his word. Of course, there is no need for me to repeat the media statement that Senator Johnston made in which he said, 'We will commence it before Christmas 2013.' Indeed, it did not happen and it did not happen—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to Senator Farrell and Senator McEwen—for the very reason you know, Senator Farrell, and that is that you stood with your foot on the hose. You stood there and denied the people of South Australia the opportunity of the mineral wealth that will flow from it.
You might ask, Madam Acting Deputy President, why I have such a keen interest in such an opportunity presenting itself into the future. The answer is very simple. It is because I, like all other Australians, want to see South Australia reversed from its circumstance of being a recipient state under GST funding to becoming if not neutral then a contributing state.
Senator Farrell interjecting—
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
Let me say it again, in case Senator Farrell has forgotten; I know Senator Bilyk knows it: The proud state of Western Australia contributes a net amount of $16 billion a year, which is $6,447 for every man, woman and child in my state, to the national wealth. I said that in answer to a question from Senator Polley the other day when she was pleading for royalties. I am going to come back to royalties—
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
I have not even got to Tasmania yet; I am still dealing with South Australia. I ask you: How much is the state of South Australia receiving in the GST distribution? The answer is $5.1 billion. Others than me can calculate and divide the number of residents of South Australia into the $5.1 billion, and they will find out exactly how much each South Australian is receiving. I have an absolute interest, as an Australian and as a Western Australian, in seeing these lands freed up for mineral exploration. As our Premier, Mr Barnett, has said, Western Australians are sick and tired of paying up for the national park island to the south of the mainland.
Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting—
Fortunately now—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, to Senator Whish-Wilson—with a change of government in Tasmania to a Hodgman-led government, we will start to see a reversal. Time does not allow me, in my 11 minutes and 15 seconds, to reflect on my own experience in business in Tasmania and the reason why I ultimately sold that business and returned to Western Australia.
I want to echo the words of Senator Bishop when he spoke about the benefits of the mining industry to a state and to a nation. Senator Farrell, in your last days here in the Senate I ask you to have an influence on your colleagues when they continually go on about these minerals under the ground being the property of all across the nation. Unless we have seen a change in the Constitution of this country in recent times—and I do not think we have—then the royalties for the minerals under the ground in each state belong to that state. It is for that reason largely that Western Australia does contribute that $15.5 billion net; whereas all of the other states, with the exception of New South Wales and Victoria, are recipients—as are this small territory, the ACT, and the Northern Territory. It is also, Senator Farrell—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—why I am so keen to see these Woomera lands opened up—of course, to respect the military past.
Senator McEwen was quite right when she said that it was always interesting and deeply mysterious to us, this Woomera land. What went on there? Who was there? We heard about the people from different nations who came to work. We heard about the scientific advances that were made at Woomera, but we never knew very much about it. Senator Fawcett, in his contribution, was able to expand on the information available to us.
What a shame it is that the ALP and the Greens stood with their foot on the hose to prevent the committee meeting in late August or September of 2013. Otherwise today we could have dealt with the committee—the committee could have presented its report, made its recommendations, put them before this chamber—and we could be well ahead of where we are on 20 March. But Senator Farrell need not spend too much time anxiously waiting, because it is my understanding that the hardworking Defence minister, Senator Johnston, and his team have now done the hard work. They have done the work that the ALP and the Greens denied us doing leading up to September 2013, and it is my understanding that it will not be long before the promised legislation, by Senator Johnston, will actually come before this chamber.
I hope we will see a reversal of South Australia's fortunes. I hope we will see a reversal of South Australia's political fortunes, because we spent 2010 to 2013 with a hung minority government federally, and no Australian enjoyed it. If you in South Australia find yourselves for the next four years in the position that this federal entity found itself in from 2010 to 2013, I assure you that you will not be out of your economic demise.
That allows me in my final few moments to reflect again on the importance of the Western Australian Senate election coming up 5 April, because heaven forbid we have a circumstance beyond that where this chamber becomes the reason for the obstruction of the passage of good legislation through this Australian parliament. The people of Australia voted very, very clearly in September 2013 as to what they wanted for this government federally. Nationally they said, 'We want an Abbott-led coalition government.' In my home state of Western Australia we won on the primary. Don't worry about the preferences; we won on the primary. We returned three very, very credible and honourable senators in that election: Senator Johnston; Senator Cash, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; and a wonderful person, Linda Reynolds, who is, I believe, the highest ranked female in the Australian Army. What a travesty it would be if on 5 April anything prevented Ms Reynolds from taking her place in this chamber as Senator Linda Reynolds after 1 July.
But that is what we are possibly facing in South Australia. We are possibly facing what we may be condemned to nationally. It allows me to urge the two Independents in South Australia to have a look at the future of that state; to have a look at the opportunity that presents to South Australia after so many years of failed Labor government in that state; to see what their own constituents want of them; to see that this particular bill before us today is an example of why the ALP must be moved out—an example of the lack of credibility of my colleagues on the other side, who came into this chamber and challenged and questioned why it was that Senator Johnston was not able to bring this forward by December 2013, when they themselves were the very reason why that did not happen.
In my concluding comments—because I know we have two very fine and honourable South Australian senators following me in making a contribution, on my left hand and on my right—I say simply this: when that legislation comes through, when it comes through in the best form, when it comes through in the form that it will, having been the subject of all of the established analyses that have to happen, all of the regulatory impact statements—do you remember that term, Senator Farrell, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President Ruston?
Don't get me started on the NBN, Senator Farrell—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—in relation to Senator Conroy, because I do remember in one of my early contributions asking Senator Conroy whether there was going to be any sort of a business plan or any sort of risk analysis for the NBN. He stood on this side and said, 'We don't need a business plan. We don't need a risk analysis.' I tell you what: when this legislation comes into the chamber, it is going to have all the boxes ticked. It is going to be good legislation. It is going to be legislation that is the result of all of the correct procedures—
Senator Farrell interjecting—
And it is at that time that I will be urging all, including Senator Farrell in his dying days, to support it.
I start off in a spirit of bipartisanship and say welcome and thank you to Senator Farrell for his sudden enlightenment in regard to opening up the Woomera Prohibited Area, because Senator Farrell is a very influential and powerful man in the Labor Party—
Indeed, Senator Farrell; I accept that you used to be and that you have been rolled again and again in recent times. But you should not lose heart. You should continue to strive for the light and come to the Liberal-National Party position on many issues, as you would appear—
Because, notwithstanding the fact that you were not only pushed out of being the Manager of Opposition Business and moved aside from any influence from within the opposition but also rolled by the Left in South Australia, by Jay Weatherill and Senator Penny Wong and others who clearly did not want you in the state parliament, I believe you have a great deal to contribute. I am one of your biggest fans, Senator Farrell, and I absolutely recognise how you have come to this epiphany—an epiphany where you have recognised the importance of a bill such as this, the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013, to the state of South Australia. I say it must be an epiphany because there must have been a miraculous conversion some time—
after the September election last year, because your party, the previous government—which we know was hopeless, and we have acknowledged and recognised the deficiencies in it—delayed and obfuscated and sat on this very matter for a very long time. It was pointed out by Senator Johnston, the defence minister, that, when this was talked about originally, the previous defence minister sat on it for two years plus. It was referred to a committee. There were numerous votes against it by the Labor Party. So how do you account for this miraculous conversion of Senator Farrell? I come to the conclusion that he is no longer beholden to the factional machine that made him such an important and influential member, because the factional machine dumped him, effectively. They said, 'We don't want you anymore, Senator Farrell. We don't want you in this parliament; we don't want you in the other parliament.' I think it is worth pointing out that while they were doing that they were taking advantage of one of those gentlemanly codes of chivalry, because Senator Farrell stood aside from his duly elected and democratically appointed position as No. 1 on the—
On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: I am obviously intrigued and flattered by Senator Bernardi's recounting of my political history, but can I point out that we are talking about the Woomera Prohibited Area legislation. Could you please direct the senator to come back to that legislation?
Yes, I may be labouring the point about how we got to the Woomera Prohibited Area legislation, but I would reference the fact that Senator Farrell has introduced this bill in opposition, after his party continued to delay any discussion, effectively, about this position. We understand that Senator Farrell has had this epiphany, and it was probably launched by the betrayal of his colleagues, stymieing his great contribution to politics. Anyway, I commend you, Senator Farrell, and I hope that you are not damned by my commendation. You are one of the gentlemen in this place, I think you are an honourable person and your intention here is probably very good. It is probably very sound.
You should learn, Senator Farrell, never to interject when someone is praising you. You should just accept it in good spirit and with good grace because my support for you in this respect is most genuine, particularly as you have been so terribly betrayed by the Left in your own party. Notwithstanding the fact that I think you have a great deal to contribute, they do not think so.
Let us return to this legislation. Senator Farrell, you are absolutely aware that this has been a Liberal-National coalition policy approach for a very long time. It was stymied while you were in government, but right now the new government is preparing its own legislation. So putting up your own bill is particularly opportunistic. I understand that you are trying to score some political points, but the fact is that we are in the process of drafting and introducing our own bill.
This is not about playing politics. I am not saying we particularly disagree with you, but we do see some flaws in this bill and I think you accept that and acknowledge it. But I support you—
for bringing it to the attention of the chamber. The problem with amendments—I do accept your interjection, Senator Farrell—is that you cannot really fix a bad bill. Unfortunately, this bill is wrong in many respects and I know the Minister for Defence outlined that in his speech, because you made the same interjection to him—'move some amendments'. But we do not want to be beholden to the policy positions of either the Greens or the Labor Party. We want to put forward something that is sensible and measured and in the interests of South Australia.
As Senator Fifield said, our amended version will address a number of points of particular concern to the South Australian and Northern Territory governments. I know, Senator Farrell, that you are not that worried about the concerns of the current South Australian government—because they betrayed you so callously and so publicly those few weeks ago by preventing you from pursuing your rightful place in the South Australian parliament. Nonetheless, we do think that dealing with the concerns of the South Australian and Northern Territory governments is important. The bill needs to include clarification of existing users, which includes the pastoralists, the railways and local Indigenous groups. They are typically groups that those on the other side of the chamber ignore. But we do not. We take consultation seriously.
We do not sit on planes cobbling together plans on the back of an envelope. We do not just make stuff up and give the department two days to implement something like the pink batts scheme, because the implications and ramifications of doing so can be catastrophic. They can be financially catastrophic, as in the case of the NBN, where upwards of $90 billion of taxpayers' money was committed on the whim of Mr Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister, and his fine pal Senator Stephen Conroy. Alternatively, the results can be catastrophic not only financially but at a personal level, as we saw in the case of the implementation of the pink batts scheme. I am sure, Madam Acting Deputy President, that you, along with everyone else in this chamber, would be horrified to think that a $4 billion or $5 billion spend was cooked up in two days on the instructions of the Prime Minister. There was no accounting for anything that happened and no consultation at all. So when we say that we want to consult with stakeholders, it is about a better framework and better governance. I think the Australian public are desperately looking for that and for more accountability for taxpayers' funds.
It is also worthwhile pointing out that a waiver of the regulatory impact statement requirement was granted for the previous government's Woomera bill. That bill's terms were substantially similar to the private senator's bill we are currently debating. A regulatory impact statement on proposed changes to Defence's administration of the Woomera Prohibited Area has now been finalised. This statement will inform any legislative or regulatory changes the government intends to make to the administration of the Woomera Prohibited Area.
I note Senator Farrell's interjection that this is more red tape. We are interested in the impact of regulation. We are interested in making things sustainable and making good policy. I know that is anathema to many on the other side who really do not care—it is just about how it is going to enrich their stakeholders or placate some vocal minority interest group. But we are dealing with a serious issue. We are dealing with an area that is a substantial part of South Australia, an area that offers great opportunity not only for Defence but for pastoralists, miners and other groups that can benefit from it.
You get one shot at this stuff. You do not want to go off half-cocked or ignore regulatory impact statements or not refer things to appropriate committees. Whilst I once again commend Senator Farrell for his interest in this area, he clearly does not have the depth of background necessary to enact this bill. That is why, unfortunately, the government will have to bring in its own bill. Our bill will address all the deficiencies in Senator Farrell's bill.
We could, with a spirit of bipartisanship, probably get the government's bill through in the next few weeks. Senator Farrell and his team could support it, which would be a welcome change.
I understand Senator Farrell's frustration. I once introduced a private senator's bill into this place. It was about protecting vulnerable children overseas from child-sex tourism. It was incredibly galling and disappointing to have that bill voted down by the then government on the basis that they wanted to introduce their own bill. They could not identify any deficiencies at all in my bill. In fact it replicated something they had previously supported prior to 2007—it absolutely replicated it; it was identical in many respects. But then, when they got into government, they decided they did not want to do it. The difference between the two cases is this. My bill was the same as something they supported in opposition. This bill we do support in principle, but it is flawed and deficient. That is why we need to introduce our own bill.
The existing access arrangements to the Woomera Prohibited Area have been in place in their current form since 1989. That was, I think, just after you ran for the seat of Adelaide, Senator Farrell. Would that be right?
I am sorry; I should not address Senator Farrell directly, Madam Acting Deputy President. I accept that. But I think it was shortly after Senator Farrell ran for the seat of Adelaide. Michael Pratt, I believe, was the successful person at that time—another betrayal, I would suggest, Senator Farrell.
The existing access arrangements are administered under the Defence Force Regulations 1952. As drafted, the bill applies to 'new users' seeking access to the Woomera Prohibited Area. New users are users that would not have access permission under the Defence Force Regulations 1952 at the time the bill came into force. Those who do have existing access permission under the Defence Force Regulations 1952 are referred to as existing users. I think that is important to clarify. The existing users include pastoralists, Indigenous groups, the Tarcoola-Darwin railway owner and operators, and the four existing mines. These users will continue to access the Woomera Prohibited Area under their existing arrangements that include leases, deeds and other permissions provided under the Defence Force Regulations 1952.
I will point out that Indigenous groups and the railway owner and operators have both raised concerns about their existing arrangements during consultation on the bill. I am not sure whether Senator Farrell and his team have consulted with the railway owner and operators and the Indigenous groups. I suspect not, given the Labor Party's track record of not consulting, apart from within their own circle of supporters. Consultation does not mean turning to Senator Stephen Conroy and saying, 'Shall we spend $96 billion on a national broadband network?' It actually goes to having a cost benefit analysis; it is about talking to the important stakeholders, not just to those who are going to be an echo chamber of your own view.
Defence have not always been renowned for consulting as widely as perhaps some would like. But they are continuing to work closely with all existing users in an attempt to respond to their concerns, which mainly consist of clarifying longstanding existing relationships. Those on this side of the chamber recognise that existing relationships and longstanding practices are not always codified. They are not always enshrined in legislation, and they have evolved through tradition and through understanding. I think that is the essence of developing and progressing society. In those circumstances, you have got to be very, very mindful of existing practices that are perhaps non-codified or, even if they are codified, of some of the leniency around them. I am sure—I feel confident—that those sorts of things have not been considered by Senator Farrell and the Labor Party in putting forward their version of this initiative. As I said, Defence are continuing to work closely with existing users and are responding to their concerns. It is about access arrangements and permissions with Defence. It is worth noting that new users have not been prevented from accessing the Woomera Prohibited Area. As of 24 January 2014, there have been 32 exploration deeds, four mining deeds, one petroleum deed, four extractive minerals deeds and one communication tower deed, and 1,836 personnel have been authorised to access the Woomera Prohibited Area.
All of these deeds, exploration agreements, communication towers and personnel are very important to the economic future of South Australia. This area is very prospective for minerals, and I am sure it would be in the spirit of bipartisanship to say that we need to develop South Australia's mining industry. I think there is enormous potential there for growth to generate additional gross state product. I think we know how crestfallen South Australian voters were at the decision by BHP Billiton not to proceed with the expansion of Olympic Dam. Having said that, there are many smaller explorers and smaller mining organisations that would be happy to invest in finding another potential Olympic Dam-sized deposit and would be seeking further mineral discoveries that could profoundly change the economic future of South Australia. If you need any reference point, you can refer to Western Australia and what the brave pioneers did there in exploration—and continue to do, might I say—with enormous success, opening up new areas and new fields, finding mineral deposits, developing them into mines, generating billions of dollars' worth of sales and export revenue for South Australia and creating tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs. I would love to see that taking place in South Australia and ensuring—
Senator Farrell, I accept your interjection. Madam Acting Deputy President, Senator Farrell is interjecting and suggesting I should vote for this. My mind is open, absolutely open, and I do want to support a bill similar to this. But when a cavalier approach is taken to producing ideas and putting them into the legislation—and I do not blame the drafting clerks for this; they can only work with the information they have been given—and when consultation has not taken place and when the bill is actually flawed, it makes it difficult to fix. I think it is right for the government, with the resources at their disposal, to produce a bill that will, I am sure, satisfy the intent of Senator Farrell and the Labor Party and also fix the holes in it. I am sure Senator Farrell will welcome a government bill, when it comes to that, because it will be more complete.
It is important—and I come back to it—from South Australia's point of view, that we open up the Woomera Prohibited Area to new users. We have not closed it off entirely; there is no question about that. I went through the exploration deeds and the mining deeds, and I have talked about how important it is from South Australia's perspective.
I must say I am very impressed with the Defence minister, Senator Johnston, because he has encouraged Defence to continue to consult with different stakeholders. I am advised that Defence met with rail companies in August of last year, just before the change of government, to discuss range administration. The parties agreed that the rail operator is an existing user—which I think is important—inclusive of all associated infrastructure. They also agreed to develop a working-level agreement covering consultation and notification arrangements. So Defence is capable of reaching broad agreements. But there are many people and stakeholders in this that need to be discussed, met with and dealt with. I am pleased that the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which is perhaps one of the most significant stakeholders, wrote to confirm the understanding reached. They stated they can work with Defence to identify windows that minimise disruption to the rail operator's business. That is a great step between commercial operators and one of Australia's largest government departments.
Further to that, Defence in September last year met with representatives of the South Australian Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy, and Defence SA, to discuss matters including pastoral leases in the Woomera prohibited area and the consultation process. So the consultation process is ongoing. It is premature for Senator Farrell to bring this bill to this parliament, particularly as his government opposed this bill so many times and stood in the way of it. But I have an open mind—(Time expired)
This bill, the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013, brought before the Senate by the opposition is a stark reminder of the different approaches that the two different parties bring to government. Labor in government was a party of either procrastination or acting in extreme haste. In some ways they were guilty of both those faults in relation to this matter. We in government are a party that seeks to make sure that what we do and what we pursue is done properly, the first time, through the proper processes and that we get things right.
The legislation before us, which is fundamentally similar to legislation brought into the last parliament in its dying days by the previous government, is flawed legislation in the context and point of view of key stakeholders. We are working through the right process to bring the right legislation into this place, and that will happen very soon.
You had ample opportunity to get it right, and you did not get it right. This dates back to the conduct of the Hawke review, started in 2010, which went through and demonstrated absolutely the importance of opening up the Woomera protected area for further minerals exploitation and development. This is something, I am pleased to see, Labor supports. At least on this issue they are not in bed with the Greens or any of the radicals as they seem to be on so many other issues. At least on this issue they do support actual economic development and advancement. I welcome the fact that Senator Farrell, from the right of the Labor Party, in this instance has managed to drag his left-wing colleagues, no doubt kicking and screaming, to a position of supporting continued mineral development and activity in South Australia and opening up this critical reserve in this critical area for further activities.
The Woomera protected area is vital. It is estimated that there is some $35 billion worth of resources in the Gawler Craton region, a vast sum. Some of it has already been tapped and is under development. There are four mines currently there—the Challenger goldmine; the Prominent Hill mine, with a primary focus on copper and gold; the Cairn Hill mine, with a focus on iron ore, magnetite, copper and gold; and the Peculiar Knob mine, with its focus on iron ore. We are not simply looking at a black and white issue at this stage, a situation where there is no activity and no opportunity. As my colleague Senator Bernardi rightly highlighted before, there are already a range of existing activities and there have continued to be a significant number of approvals given right into this year for continued exploration and activity within the Woomera protected area.
But there is an opportunity to improve the legislative setting that allows for coexistence on this 124,000 square kilometres of Australian territory. It is a vast tract of land and it is strategically important not just as a mineral reserve and an opportunity for economic growth but from a Defence perspective as well. That is why it is so fundamentally important that we get right the legislative settings to allow and facilitate the coexistence and co-use of this land to work properly in the future. Our defence forces need the certainty of being able to act in the best interests of the national security of Australia in terms of their activities on this land. And investors, miners, explorers need the certainty of knowledge that they will be able to go into the Woomera protected area and that their investments will be underpinned by the right degree of certainty in terms of the activities they undertake. The fundamental problem with the legislation that Senator Farrell suggests we should just get on with and pass is that it does not satisfactorily address all of those issues raised by the Hawke review and the following processes to give the adequate level of certainty to both Defence and miners and economic developers for the use of these lands.
We are committed to and have been going through a very extensive process to get it right. Defence have continued to work on this. Even while the previous government was trying to rush through its legislation, Defence were still working to try to fix the problems. They were still going through the proper consultation in July last year. They were continuing consultation in August because of issues that were identified with the legislation brought into this place. Defence were meeting with rail companies, who of course have particular access rights in existence already, to address their issues and work through the agreement around the existing user rights and work through agreements around how the associated infrastructure for rail is treated and ensuring that we have appropriate arrangements in place to protect their investments.
It was pleasing that in August the Australian Rail Track Corporation confirmed some progress in that regard. It continued in September last year with discussions with the South Australian government, who had identified their own concerns with the legislation brought in by the previous government. Defence worked through the relevant South Australian department and agencies representing the resources and energy sector to try to address some of the issues. So, at the very time that essentially identical legislation sat in this parliament that Senator Farrell, as a member of the then government, was urging that we pass, Defence was trying to work through problems with that legislation.
That is the contrast. In government they were urging the passage of flawed legislation even though they knew there were problems with it and even though departmental officials were trying to rectify those problems. Strangely, they now come in here, purely for political reasons of posturing and grandstanding around the South Australian election, and argue we should still pass what they know to be flawed legislation. Correct legislation will be on the table very, very soon, and then we will be able to make sure that we get the right arrangements in place to facilitate the opening up of these lands.
It is, as I said, very much a political machination by those opposite. They are not pursuing this because it is something that they think the government will never do. Senator Farrell seems to acknowledge happily that this government has given very clear commitments to do this and that we will do it.
Senator Farrell, as I said, you had years. The process started in 2010 and by the time you were tossed out of office in 2013 all you had managed to present to this parliament was flawed legislation. We are picking up those pieces. We are addressing some of the particular issues of concern from that legislation, and what we bring into this place will be something that works for both Defence and the resources and energy sector. We will not be driven by the political stunts of those opposite. We will not be driven by the timing of the South Australian election campaign.
Senator Farrell, it is interesting you make that point, because of course we all know that close to 46 per cent of South Australians voted Liberal, compared with around 36 per cent voting for the Labor Party. In a two-party preferred sense 53 per cent of South Australians supported the formation of a Liberal government ahead of the formation of a Labor government.
In fact, Senator Farrell, even in Woomera, even in the township that we are talking about, there was very strong support for the election of a state Liberal government. At the Woomera booth, 52 per cent of people supported the election of a Liberal government—52 per cent on the primary vote. Just 32 per cent of people at the Woomera booth could bring themselves to vote for a Labor government. Translated to two-party preferred terms, some 58 per cent wanted the election of a Liberal government. So there was very strong support from the people in Woomera, in the region that we are talking about here.
That is a good demonstration. They were not fooled. They were not tricked. They were not conned by your tactics. They could see through the fact that you were just playing political games with legislation like this. They understood that having a Liberal government in South Australia, working with a coalition government here in Canberra, was not just the best way to rectify issues like this and provide policy settings that will allow for economic development in the future but the best way overall to ensure that we have sound economic settings that allow South Australia and Australia to regain a competitive footing in the future.
The truth is we can open up the Woomera protected area further. We can make it easier for the resources and energy sector to get in there, coexist with Defence and explore and potentially develop assets. But, if the cost basis for doing so does not stack up, we will never see any of it happen anyway. The Labor Party of Jay Weatherill in South Australia and the Labor Party here remain committed to making it uneconomical for the type of resources development that we would like to see in Woomera to go ahead. Their commitment to maintaining the carbon tax, their commitment to maintaining the mining tax, their commitment to maintaining reams of regulation and their commitment to a high-cost economy and a big-spending government is such that, of course, it would not matter if this legislation passes or not. If they had their way, we would not see any economic development or activity in these areas, any more than we would anywhere else around Australia.
We have the opportunity, should a Liberal government still be formed in South Australia, to have two governments working on the same track of reducing the cost of doing business, of reducing the level of business taxes. The government here wants to get rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax—taxes that make mining, development and exploration in South Australia and across Australia more expensive. We have a Liberal Party in South Australia with a clear majority of the state-wide vote who went to the election with clear policies to reduce land tax and payroll tax and to actually make it more competitive as a place to do business.
The great problem South Australia faces is a dire, dire economic outlook. The Deloitte Access Economics report released last year placed South Australia's economic prospects last of all of the states—dead last. Usually South Australia, sadly, in recent years has battled it out with Tasmania for bottom place. Sadly for Tasmania, more often than not on economic indicators like unemployment it has come last and South Australia second to last. But in fact in terms of economic outlook, looking to the future, what the independent economics commentators have said is that South Australia's outlook is even worse than Tasmania's. Tasmania, we know, fortunately and thoughtfully elected, with a comfortable majority, a Liberal government on the weekend. So I am sure their economic outlook, already better than South Australia's, will now surge ahead with a government that is committed to stripping costs and red tape out of the Tasmanian economy.
I know that Senator Bushby, who worked so hard to help get a Hodgman government elected there, will be helping them ensure that their policies are complementary to those of the federal government in Canberra and that we do everything possible to make the Tasmanian economy a success again. South Australia needs that same opportunity. I hope that Mr Brock and Dr Such, if the power ultimately falls into their hands, recognise that the majority of South Australians wanted change at the weekend and that they recognise that Steven Marshall and his Liberal team offered policies that would make South Australia, again, a more attractive place in which to invest.
Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. As interesting as Senator Birmingham's analysis of the South Australian election result is, we are talking about the Woomera defence legislation here. I would ask you to direct that the minister return to that subject.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I understand Senator Farrell gets a little sensitive whenever we talk about the South Australian election, because of course Senator Farrell would not have been here today. Senator Farrell would not have been in a position to be pursuing this legislation today because, ideally, Senator Farrell would have been elected as the new Labor member for the state seat of Napier on the weekend at the South Australian election. Unfortunately, for Senator Farrell—unfairly, may I say—as someone who has been more than a loyal servant to the Labor Party over many years, he was pushed aside in a shameful and blatant factional move by Premier Weatherill, that I am sure many of those opposite—
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
I am sure you, Senator Bilyk, think that Senator Farrell was treated unfairly, don't you?
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
In fairness, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
Senator Bilyk, again, highlights a key difference between the parties. In talking about this legislation I have said there is the difference between a party of government that wants to get things right to start with and a party like the Labor Party that pursues shoddy legislation. There is also of course the difference between a party that stands by grassroots preselections. We may not always like the results of those grassroots preselections, but they are grassroots preselections where our party members have a vote and where we live by the consequences.
In your case, what happened to poor old Senator Farrell? Poor old Senator Farrell faced a situation where the Premier went on Adelaide radio and said, 'I'll resign, if I don't get my way. I'll stare him down publicly, I'll force him out of the preselection and he'll never get the opportunity to go to a vote'—never mind that it would have only then been a factional vote of the state executive that would have placed him straight in there.
I feel that Senator Farrell, who has been a long and loyal servant of the Labor Party, was unfairly treated. And I understand why he did not like me raising the fact that, at the state election, there was a clear majority to vote for change. At the Woomera booth there was a clear majority to vote for change—
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I will return to the legislation. If I were going to undertake a critique of Senator Farrell's political history, I would have mentioned Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and many other factors in Senator Farrell's political history. But I shall refrain from doing so.
However, I do want to come back to the fact that this is very important legislation. And when we have important legislation it is even more important that we get it right. That is what this government is committed to doing. I am happy, as other speakers have been, to have a look at some of the issues and particular concerns in this legislation as to why it is not proceeding at present and why it is that we are bringing a new package of legislation into this chamber. For example, as my colleague Senator Fawcett highlighted during earlier debates, recommendation 24 of the Hawke review stated:
The Defence Minister should have discretion to suspend all non-Defence access to the WPA—
Woomera prohibited area—
when there is an urgent national Defence requirement.
That flows on through, as he said, to the information paper, which, at paragraph 49, said:
In addition to suspension due to the accumulation of demerit points—
that is, if other parties have done the wrong thing—
it is proposed that the Minister for Defence would have the discretion to suspend all non-Defence access to the WPA—
Woomera prohibited area—
for the defence of Australia.
However, various economic stakeholders—people who, you would hope, would take advantage of this legislation—have questioned exactly what the definitional terms are of 'for the defence of Australia'. They have questioned what the compensation opportunities are under the legislation, should there be a suspension of their economic activities within the Woomera prohibited area. A range of unanswered questions exist in this legislation because it was so shoddily done by the previous government. They just did not go through it, dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and do the job the right way.
We are doing that. Senator Johnston will shortly bring this legislation to the Senate—I am assured, very soon—and we will make it happen. What is more, we will make the economic climate right so that this legislation can and will be of benefit and so that we genuinely do see economic activity and development in the Woomera prohibited area for the benefit of South Australia into the future.
Can I start my contribution to this important debate on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013 and this important area of legislative reform by at least congratulating Senator Farrell on having an interest in this matter. The previous Labor government had the opportunity, for two years, to do something about the Woomera prohibited area but did nothing. They sat on their hands. I just wish that Senator Farrell had had a more significant role in the previous government, particularly in the defence area.
I am conscious of the fact that Senator Farrell should have had a long career in this chamber. It would have been, I think, a quite distinguished career. Perhaps if he had been successful at the last federal election he might well be the Defence shadow. How much better it would be for Australia and the defence forces if we had someone of Senator Farrell's standing as the Defence shadow rather than the current Defence shadow, who seems to be only capable of abusing and insulting those people in uniform who defend our country so well.
I am sorry, Senator Farrell, that you will not be with us. Why you ever let Senator Wong bully you into standing aside from the No. 1 position you had on the South Australian Labor Senate ticket I will never know. The internal workings of the Labor Party are something that I can never quite follow. But I think Australia would have been far better served had you led the Labor ticket in South Australia at the last federal election and consequently that you had been elected. I will not go so far as to say you would have been the best choice for Labor Party leader in the chamber. I would venture to suggest, though, that in my opinion—and, of course, it is only my opinion—you could not have been worse than the current Labor leader in the Senate. But that is not a matter for me. It is nothing I have any influence over. Suffice it to say that I acknowledge that I think Senator Farrell could have made a more significant contribution to Australian governance in the years ahead had he been able to continue his term with us.
I am particularly interested in what happens in the Woomera area. I, like most Australians—and I think Senator Johnston mentioned this also in his contribution to this bill—believe in the mining industry. We are a country that is blessed with resources. We are not the only country in the world that is, I hasten to add. There are many countries in South America, Africa and northern Asia that have mineral resources as we do. We have to compete for international investment in mining with other countries around the world. But we have always done pretty well in Australia. Those wishing to invest would look at Australia think, 'There is a stable and sensible government. There are no sovereign risk issues in Australia.' That was until the Gillard-Rudd government came along and started to try to tax the mining industry out of existence. I think Senator Birmingham mentioned that the mineral resources of Australia, under our Constitution, belong to the states. The states, as we all know, get a significant part of their revenue from royalties from the mining industry. That is appropriate. But the Gillard-Rudd Labor government insisted on taxing the miners to the extent where investment very seriously dried up. We are still suffering from that.
This bill today that talks about what will happen in the future in the Woomera Prohibited Area is very important for a range of reasons. I want to firstly comment upon the mining industry. As someone who comes from the state of Queensland, I well understand the importance of a vibrant mining industry. The Bowen Basin and Galilee Basin coalfields up near where I come from are a significant contributor to the economy, particularly through employment. The many workers in those areas really make a contribution to the whole locality through their living expenses and the taxes they pay to my state of Queensland's coffers and the Australian coffers. I know well around Mackay, dutifully represented here by George Christensen, and Rockhampton, dutifully represented here by Michelle Landry, there are a number of new suburbs that have opened up in recent years to help house the families of the people who travel out to the mines in Central Queensland. So not only has it directly helped in mining revenue but it has helped things like the building and construction industry. It helps the retail industry. Right throughout, the mining industry is a very significant contributor to my state of Queensland.
I am conscious that South Australia has had its trouble financially. It has had 16 years of a Labor government, so that is a bit of a worry in itself. You would put that in the trouble basket. But under a Labor government its economy has really gone backwards. Its manufacturing industries have almost rusted to a halt. South Australia could have achieved much from a vibrant mining industry, but we know that, thanks to the federal and state Labor governments, the Olympic Dam process did not go ahead. This Woomera Prohibited Area is an area which could be rich in minerals and could assist the South Australian government with its revenue difficulties at the present time. That is why I think it is important to get right the Woomera Prohibited Area legislation.
I mentioned earlier—and I do not want to repeat myself as I want to be brief in this contribution because I am aware that there others who want to speak as well—that the Labor Party had years in government to do something about this and did nothing. So, whilst I appreciate Senator Farrell's interest in this now, I am just sorry, as I mentioned before, that he did not have the same sort of interest and influence under the previous government when they were able to do something.
One of the reasons I am cautious about this bill is the position of both the South Australian and Northern Territory governments, who have a vital interest in passage through this area. My understanding, from reports that I have read, is that they had not been fully consulted under the previous Labor government and that there were still issues that needed to be addressed. I am aware that the Department of Defence has been in continuing consultations with a number of different stakeholders across the area. I know that Defence has spoken with the rail companies, because the line goes through this area and it is important that the rail companies are able to develop a working level agreement in relation to what happens in this area.
I am sorry to say that Senator Johnston, the current Minister for Defence—and he is doing a mighty job, I might say—is not with us here today, but I know he is overseas in his role as Minister for Defence. He is not, I might add, in Western Australia campaigning, as some of our other Senate colleagues are this week. I wonder where Senator Ludlam or Senator Pratt are in contributing to this debate today. I suspect they are over there, campaigning in the Western Australian election. They are still, no doubt, drawing their salaries as senators here and simply abrogating their duties in this chamber—not participating in this debate, for example—and are over in Western Australia campaigning in a political campaign. That is unlike Senator Johnston, who is up for election on Saturday week. Senator Johnston is out there doing what he is paid to do and doing very well, I might say, as Minister for Defence. He is currently overseas pursuing Australia's defence interests in meetings with people overseas.
I am aware that Senator Johnston has gone very carefully into this. He has indicated and he indicated in his speech on this subject that he is in the process of having a bill prepared that will address the issues that the Labor government should have been addressing in the past three, four or five years. Senator Johnston is doing that. To do the legislation properly, he has had to consult very widely. That is because the consulting was not done under the previous government.
I am conscious that the Woomera Prohibited Area Advisory Board met in Woomera just before Christmas. The chairman of that advisory board is a former Senate colleague of mine, Stephen Loosley from the Labor Party. The deputy chair, strangely, is also a former Labor politician, Mr Paul Holloway; I think he was from the Northern Territory.
I rise on a point of order. I think if Senator Macdonald is going to make a contribution to this debate, he ought to at least be accurate in what he is saying. Minister Holloway, as he was then, was a member of the South Australian parliament and not the Northern Territory parliament.
I do not know that I can agree with the last part of Senator Farrell's interruption, but I do apologise to Mr Holloway. I accept and recall that he was a minister in the Labor government. Isn't it interesting though that, in that advisory board set up by the previous government, the chairman is a former Labor politician and the deputy chair is a former Labor politician? I suppose they are suited to the job. They have some experience.
Also on that committee are some ex-officio representatives from the Australian government from the relevant departments of defence, industry and finance. I understand the South Australian Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy and Defence South Australia are also part of that board. The board, just before Christmas, met with stakeholders—including the pastoralists, resource companies and rail companies that I have mentioned—to make sure that the new legislation when it comes in is correct. It is something that is essential and something that needs to be done.
I know there have been further meetings of that advisory board. I know that they are consulting with Indigenous groups, the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy and conservation groups as well. That consultation has been exhaustive under the new government, as it should be. I understand that, following those consultations, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has indicated to the Department of Defence that they can work with Defence to identify windows that minimise disruption to the rail operations through that area.
I have mentioned at some length the issues that the Northern Territory and South Australian governments have. This is a very important area for Indigenous people as well, and the Department of Defence has continued consultations with Indigenous groups on the proposed new arrangements. The bill does not apply to Indigenous groups, and their concerns relate primarily to existing arrangements under the Defence Force Regulations. I am conscious that Indigenous groups asked for written confirmation of their existing access permissions under the in-force Defence Force Regulations and for confirmation that any entitlement to compensation would be on what is called 'just terms'. I understand that the Department of Defence has actually given that written confirmation. Some of the Indigenous groups have also asked for agreements to confirm securing a working level consultation and communication, as part of the range operations.
I come from the North Queensland region. My office is in Townsville, the home of Australia's largest Army base. Consequently, anything to do with Defence is of great interest to me. I know it is of great interest to all Australians, because the defence of our country is very important. But the Woomera testing range is a very, very significant part of the whole defence operations of our nation. It is essential that this bill, which deals so importantly with that area, is right.
I am looking forward to the consultations being concluded: all the i's being dotted and the t's crossed. I anxiously await the bill that Senator Johnston will introduce into this chamber very shortly to address the issues which the former Labor government should have addressed previously and which they have left to Senator Farrell, as the opposition shadow, to introduce from opposition when, clearly, it should have been done in the last few years.
I have been allocated a longer time, but I do not want to delay the Senate. I know this is important legislation. I know others want to make a contribution. I might conclude at that point, indicating simply that I look forward to the matter being resolved with proper legislation in the very near future.
Like my South Australian colleagues I am disappointed that we have to be here today to debate the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013. The substance of the bill is obviously supported by the coalition, but we cannot support it. We do not want our opposition to the bill to reflect, in any way, shape or form, that we do not support the release of this area for the benefit of all South Australians.
At the risk of provoking a point of order, I, too, would like to acknowledge Senator Farrell's commitment to this issue. He is obviously very passionate about seeing the development of South Australia. He will be a great loss to South Australia when he leaves this place. It is very disappointing that the contribution that he was offering to make in South Australia, when he put his hand up to assist in the South Australian parliament, was not greeted with the same level of genuine belief that the Liberal Party in South Australia met it with. Instead, we will not be seeing Senator Farrell.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It is very nice that those on the other side of the chamber speak so very highly of my dear friend and colleague Senator Farrell, but it is not the discussion point here today. I suggest that those opposite need to speak about the bill.
I did acknowledge at the start of my comments that I was expecting a point of order from the other side of the chamber. Being a good South Australian, and recognising another good South Australian, I felt that I had to take the opportunity to say something about Senator Farrell, his commitment and his long service to South Australia. We will all feel disappointed when he is no longer serving at this level.
I return to the bill. It is disappointing that we are not able to stand here today and support this bill. As I said, it is certainly not because we believe that the intent of the bill is unsound. I draw the house's attention to the fact that on 12 December 2013, Senator the Hon. Mitch Fifield indicated to this place that the government was in the process of preparing an amended version of the legislation to be introduced in this autumn session.
There has been a lot of delay from the other side. I think we need to be very careful that we do not misuse the word 'delay' for prudent preparation. As has been said by many who have stood to debate this issue before me, there have been a lot of examples where some prudent preparation in the development of programs and legislation by the previous, Labor government in this place may well have saved not only hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars but also the great tragedies that we have seen. I refer, of course, to the pink batts program. The legislation around that, and the delivery of the program, was developed over a weekend.
So I think we need to be very careful that we do not start using the word 'delay' instead of using the term 'prudent, appropriate and responsible preparation' of a piece of legislation. In saying that, I draw the chamber's attention to the fact that, when we are talking about the kind of area that we have in the Woomera Protected Area, we should remember that it is a very large area, that there are a number of existing users that are already on site, and that there are a number of potential future users. It is really important that we make sure that the interests of all of those users are considered. We also need to make sure that the interests of the broader South Australian public are considered.
We need to consult with the South Australian government to ensure that the South Australian government's issues and concerns are addressed in this legislation. So, whilst it would be nice to be very quick with every piece of legislation and everything we promised to do on coming into government—we would have loved to introduce it all on day one—I would point out to those opposite that we did introduce on day one a piece of legislation which we had gone to the election with. That was to repeal the carbon tax, which was a fundamental promise in the coalition's election platform. But that legislation has not been supported. I draw that to the attention of those opposite, who keep on saying that things have been delayed. If we bring legislation into this place, maybe they might like to consider dealing with it responsibly instead of introducing their own legislation and then complaining to us that we are not doing with their legislation what they are doing to our legislation. I think that is a very good point. But we do support the intent of the opposition legislation.
One of the things I always speak about in this place is the extraordinary importance of rural and regional South Australia. There are two very important parts to the South Australian economy, and those are agriculture and mining. As Senator Birmingham pointed out, South Australia has had some terrible economic indicators over the last 12 months as shown by its report card—results that suggest that South Australia has fallen behind Tasmania. I intend no disrespect to Tasmania, but it is a very sad indictment of South Australia. I am very hopeful that Tasmania will take off out of the blocks really soon and become a powerhouse state so that its young people will want to stay there and its economy will start growing.
I am so concerned and keen to get this particular issue managed and transitioned into legislation in the most appropriate and efficient way for the longer term. I am disappointed that I cannot support this bill, because the economic future of South Australia in my opinion is going to rest very firmly on South Australia's ability to develop its mining sector. We had a terrible kick in the guts when BHP Billiton announced that it was not going to continue with its expansion of the Olympic Dam mine. I spent some time in the vicinity of Woomera—in Whyalla and Port Augusta—and saw the excitement there at the opportunities that BHP Billiton was going to bring to the region. It was not simply the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine; it would have been all the consequential effects—the smaller mining companies that could have piggybacked on that boom. In Whyalla now, there are the new housing developments. People were told they would receive huge returns for them because the mining boom would create a demand for housing. Contracts had already been signed and construction of the houses had begun before the news that the expansion would not happen. Those people will be lucky to recover half of their investment.
I am cognisant of the importance and implications of being able to open up this vast area that is so rich in resources for the benefit of all South Australians. When you look at South Australia and the South Australian economy, you realise that when we are given an opportunity we do a fantastic job of delivering maximum benefit. The brakes that have been put on the South Australian economy over the last 12 years have meant that so many of those opportunities have not been realised. The missed opportunities resulting from sovereign risk right across Australia are really sad. We could have done so much more in the mining sector if we had taken a more responsible approach to dealing with that sector. I must raise the issue of the mining resource rent tax. I know Senator Wong howled me down when I commented on the way that tax was having an adverse effect on the decision by BHP Billiton not to proceed with the Olympic Dam expansion. She was quite right: that mine was not subject to the mining resource rent tax. But we have to look at this in the broader context of the sovereign risk to Australia and the manner in which these decisions are made. If anybody is going to invest in Australia, they will make their decision on their assessment of the risk or the certainty of the environment. One environment that needs to be assessed is the political and legislative environment. If they are going to make a huge commitment to invest in South Australia or anywhere else in Australia, they cannot be confronted by a mining resource rent tax or some other piece of legislation or regulation or some other encumbrance that comes at the stroke of a pen. Of course, they are going to have second thoughts, especially if they have the choice of going to other places around the world, where they will not be exposed to the same level of sovereign risk.
The bill before us today has not had the level of rigour, especially in the consultation process, to ensure that these things are right. And in this there is a parallel with the mining resource rent tax. In South Australia we are so desperate to make sure that we can kick the economy along. It is so important to us that we can open up this vast tract to economic opportunity, but we need to make sure that we have the consultation and other processes nailed down so that we do not end up with problems in the future.
I would also like to raise some points in relation to agriculture in regional South Australia. It is the other component in the economic opportunities for South Australia. When you look at where economy comes from, in South Australia we generate new economy by what we grow or what we dig out of the ground. This particular bill refers to both of those things. We must make sure we get it right because South Australia relies so heavily on those two sectors.
I draw to the House's attention that, out of all the different people who are likely to be impacted by the change in legislation to open up the Woomera Prohibited Area to greater activity and use, there are the pastoralists who need to be considered. There are quite a number of pastoralists in this area. In October 2013 the South Australian government raised concerns about some of the potential unintended consequences of the legislation for their land management and economic objectives regarding pastoral leases in the Woomera Prohibited Area. I will draw the particular clause to the House's attention. They noted subclause 72TB(3)(j) of the bill which defines existing non-Defence users who may continue to operate their current access arrangements. It defines those people as persons who hold an 'existing pastoral lease' and are 'in the Woomera Prohibited Area for purposes related to the lease'. Attaching the rights to the person rather than to the lease would have had the consequential effect that any new holder of an existing pastoral lease would be subject to the new legislation and rules. The concern was especially relevant to the area that was designated as the 'red zone', where the bill states no new permits will be granted. The problem with this approach is that it would effectively preclude the sale or transfer of pastoral leases in this zone, which would have been detrimental to both the economic activity and the land management services provided by the pastoralists. The South Australian government at the time requested that Defence consider whether existing pastoral leases could be maintained under current arrangements as existing users, including in cases where a pastoral lease is acquired or extended. That is just one of the areas that the government sees as extraordinarily important to get right.
In the broader context, the bill that has been brought to this place by the opposition, through Senator Farrell, obviously has the intent of being a very positive piece of legislation for South Australia. That is just one example of where there are potential unintended consequences on South Australia—one particular stakeholder in the process. There is obviously a process that needs to be gone through and we need to be able to resolve those sorts of issues before we move to pass the legislation. In the situation that I have just described and we proceed forward with the legislation having this particular problem, we would have to come back and amend the legislation later to seek to fix this problem.
My argument would be that it is far better to just take a few more weeks, work this process through and make sure that the legislation that is before this place is able to accommodate all of the issues and concerns, knowing that we have taken the time to be thorough enough to investigate the unintended consequences of all of the aspects of this bill and that all of the people who are affected by this have had the opportunity to look at it in detail, through the eyes of the person who is actually impacted. That is such an important thing in legislation. It is all well and good for those of us here who have been elected to stand and say, 'Well, we've decided to do this because we know best.' Those of us who have spent most of our life in the private sector understand the consequences of bad legislation at the grassroots level. I can only say that I commend the government that they are taking the time to deal with all of the issues before we bring this legislation in. I have been on the receiving end of some of the most ridiculous legislation that has been enforced upon us in recent times, not just by the previous government here in Canberra—the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government—but there are also the consequences of much of the legislation and regulation that has been foisted upon us in South Australia by the South Australian Labor government over the last 12 years.
As Senator Birmingham commented in his contribution this morning, we have the extraordinary situation in South Australia where we may well end up with a another four-year term of a Labor government despite the fact that the people of South Australia spoke very loudly on Saturday. Fifty-three per cent of them said: 'We want a conservative government in place. We want a government that actually understands business. Most particularly, we want a government that understands rural and regional South Australia.' I cannot impress on this place enough the damage that has been done in the rural and regional sector in South Australia because of the lack of attention that it has had for the last 12 years by the South Australian government and the last six years by the federal government. I hope that the current government here in Canberra can do something to help South Australia, but nothing is going to be of greater benefit to the South Australian economy as the formation of a Liberal government in South Australia. Obviously, for the sake of the future of my children, my business and my future in South Australia, I hope I do not have to endure another four years of overregulation by the South Australian government. Most particularly, there is the fact that nobody pays any attention whatsoever to the rural and regional areas.
In conclusion, I commend Senator Farrell for his support on this particular issue. I am sorry that we cannot support this bill, for the reasons that I have stated in my contribution. I really look forward to the introduction of the considered bill from the government so that we can support it and get on with the job.
It is with great interest that I rise to make a small contribution to this debate on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Woomera Prohibited Area) Bill 2013 and, in doing so, I firstly want to commend my colleagues on this side of the chamber for their contributions this morning and on previous days in relation to this bill. I recognise and acknowledge the persuasive comments made by my colleague Senator Ruston—a person who, at her very heart, centre and core, is a passionate advocate for the rural and regional sector of South Australia. This bill directly affects that sector. If anyone has any doubt about that, they should listen to the comments that have just been given in this chamber by Senator Ruston, because they demonstrate how those of us on this side of the chamber are at our very core absolutely, wholeheartedly committed to the interests of that sector. It is also worth noting that it is not just Senator Ruston and Senator Farrell but also Senator Birmingham, Senator Bernardi, Senator Edwards and Senator Fawcett who have risen to make contributions on this bill and who have very real concerns and interests in relation to it.
This bill, which has been introduced by Senator Farrell, attempts to amend the Defence Act 1903 in order to establish a framework for administering access to the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia. I acknowledge and commend him on his continued interest in this area and in the Defence Act 1903, because I know that he does have real concerns about this issue. These concerns are shared by the minister and, as I have said, by senators who have been very engaged in the issue, who include not only senators from South Australia but also senators from the coalition who have been on the foreign affairs, defence and trade legislation and reference committees for some time now. As one of those senators, I know that this issue has been of particular interest to us for some years.
The bill enables the minister to make rules prescribing certain matters, including defining the WPA, the Woomera Prohibited Area, and the zones to be demarcated within that area. It also creates a permit system for access and use by non-defence users. The bill introduces offences and penalties for entering the WPA without permission and for failing to comply with the condition of the permit. It provides for compensation for any acquisition of property from a person otherwise than on just terms, and it also provides for a cap on compensation payable to a person for any loss or damage incurred in the WPA.
May I again commend Senator Farrell. He has admirably persisted in furthering the interests of the state of South Australia on this important matter, just as the coalition senators whom I have referred to earlier when I rose to speak on this matter have. The government has long shared those concerns—concerns that we have not adopted since the September election. As I said, they are concerns that we have canvassed, discussed and travailed on behalf of the interests of many through various avenues, including an inquiry by a committee.
We are here today debating this private senator's bill for one reason, and I have to say that that reason is the former Rudd-Gillard government's delay in considering this matter as a priority. It is why this matter has now been submitted by Senator Farrell as a bill to be considered during private senator's time. As Senator Farrell is well aware, the previous defence minister was only too happy to allow the outcome of Dr Allan Hawke's review, which was completed in 2011, to—and I hate to say it—sit in a corner and gather dust, because that is exactly what happened. This was so symptomatic of so many bills and issues of particular concern. It was their approach to what they considered a priority for the country and for South Australia. Notwithstanding the questions on this matter that were directed by the coalition time and time again, the review was stuck in a corner and gathered dust. It failed to take any take shape, as nothing further was undertaken in the minister's office to advance the matter for another two years. So if there is any question as to why this issue has not been considered a priority and a matter of some urgency then that question has to be directed at those who sit on the other side of the chamber, because they determined that they would sit on this matter and not advance it.
This reflects somewhat on the now opposition's approach to all matters of defence, because when you look at their approach to the defence budget it was essentially to trash it and to take billions of dollars out of the defence budget to prop up their failing policies in so many other areas. This, in effect, undermined any proper strategic approach that could have been taken with the investment of money in defence. In essence, I think they used the defence budget as their slush fund—and that should be condemned, and I condemn it here today. However, they have been quite open clear on the intended direction in this area.
My colleague Senator Fifield has indicated that this legislation is in the process of being prepared in an amended version, with a planned introduction in this autumn sitting—and there is a reason for that. As I said, this is no flight of fancy; we have been making serious, considered deliberations on this matter. This has been undertaken in a proper, comprehensive, thorough way, and the minister, I understand, has his own version of this that is to be introduced, as I said, in the autumn sitting. But an important part of that was a thorough and more consultative approach than the previous government sought to undertake, so that all stakeholders had an opportunity to make their submissions and give us their considered views on how they would be affected by any bill. I am informed by Senator Johnston himself that this amended and more thorough legislation is nearing completion and that the concerns of those stakeholders in South Australia and in the Northern Territory have been more adequately addressed and will be more adequately addressed.
I am not sure whether Senator Farrell is frustrated by the way in which this has been undertaken. I can only presume he is, seeing as he has submitted his own bill. I can appreciate that frustration, but I think it is frustration and vexation that he should direct towards his own colleagues, those on the other side of the chamber. This coalition government wants to introduce the right bill. We want to do it right first up. We want to do it right so that it fixes a number of failings in the bill that we are now debating.
Having been on either the Senate or joint foreign affairs, defence and trade committees for close to six years now, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of very important defence facilities, and that has really informed my appreciation of what we are debating today. I understand and recognise the importance of the defence industry to South Australia and I view that as one of a number of reasons why we must ensure that legislation encompassing one of the world's premier weapons-testing ranges is absolutely first rate. We must recognise the importance of the Woomera Prohibited Area not just to Australia but to broader international interests. We are talking here about a national asset of significant importance, so it is fundamental that this be addressed in a proper way and that we get it right first up. The consultation process that has taken place over a significant amount of time has been very comprehensive and incorporates the views of a lot of people—as I said earlier, taking into account all stakeholders.
On 5 September 2013, Defence met with representatives of the South Australian Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy, and Defence SA to discuss matters, including the pastoral leases that are captured in this area, and have gone through a consultative process with them. In December 2013, a WPA Advisory Board meeting was held in Woomera itself. I note that the WPA Advisory Board comprises the chair, Mr Stephen Loosley, who has presided over it in the most competent way, and I cannot underscore how fortunate we are to have someone of his expertise as chair; the deputy chair, Mr Paul Holloway; and senior ex-officio representatives of the Australian government departments of Defence, Industry and Finance, and the South Australian Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy, and Defence SA. The board met with a number of stakeholders, including pastoralists, resources companies, and rail owners and operators. The pastoralists and resources companies advised that coexistence with Defence in the WPA is working well. The rail companies still have some concerns about potential future disruption but have a better understanding of how they can work with Defence, and Defence is continuing to work with them to develop communications protocols. A further WPA Advisory Board meeting, I understand, was held on 18 February 2014 in Adelaide. I am not aware if they have already met, but I know that it was certainly in the pipeline to meet with Indigenous groups, conservation groups and the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy.
In closing, I stress to Senator Farrell that the minister is bringing something to this chamber which we hope will actually factor in the concerns of the broader stakeholders, and I ask him to wait.