Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Kakadu fails to make World Heritage listing

By MURRAY HOGARTH, Environment Editor

The Howard Government last night won its battle with environment groups over Kakadu National Park when a United Nations committee in Paris resolved not to place the world-famous park on an international endangered list.

The decision, by the 21 nations of the World Heritage Committee, marked the climax of a two-year fight between the Goverm-nent and opponents of the Jabiluka uranium mine.

The outcome is a victory for the Minister for the Environment, Senator Robert Hill, who headed Australia's delegation in Paris and addressed the meeting.

The committee came down in favor of the Government and uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA), despite hearing an impassioned plea from Aboriginal elder Ms Yvonne Margarula.

Ms Margarula, the senior traditional owner of the Miffar people, called for Kakadu to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the Jabiluka mine.

The committee also ignored calls for an in-danger listing from its three formal advisory bodies on natural and cultural heritage.

The advisory bodies said that an immediate in-danger listing was justified, and warned that failure to take such action "would risk diminishing the standards for which the World Heritage Convention enjoys such high international prestige".

Sources said that nations voting on the Kakadu matter were unwilling to force an in-danger listing on an unwilling Australian Government.

But it was expected that the committee would place a range of conditions and caveats on the mine project.

Green groups maintained a protest vigil outside the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organisation (Unesco) yesterday.

After leaming of the result, conse ation movement leaders warned that they would step up the anti-Jabiluka campaign, despite their failure in Paris.

The Australian Conservation Foundation executive director, Mr Don Henry, said it was a hollow victory.

"I think the tragedy here is that political bullying by the Australian Government to push Jabiluka has risked the whole World Heritage Convention," said Mr Henry.

Australia has spent more than $ 1 million on an international lobbying campaign since last December, when the committee called for a voluntary halt to the mine.

Earlier yesterday, Senator Hill had expressed hope that ERA's offer last week to limit full production at Jabiluka until the neighboring Ranger mine shut down would be enough to sway at least some committee members.

The Government has approved the mine and had vowed to ignore any unfavorable recommendations by Unesco, but still wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having Kakadu declared at risk.

A prominent envirorunental scientist said yesterday Australia may have dealt Unesco a death blow over Jabiluka with sleazy tactics reminiscent of the International Olympic Committee bribery scandal.

Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney, of the Australian National University, said the Govemment's campaign against an in-danger listing for Kakadu could have already irreparably damaged the credibility of the World Heritage Convention. "Whatever happens , Australia seems to be proceeding to wreck the entire Organisation," Professor Mulvaney said.