Statement by Senator the Hon Robert Hill to the World Heritage Bureau, UNESCO, Paris

July 7, 1999

Mr Chairman

    Thank you for the opportunity to address the Bureau on an issue, which is important not only for Australia, but also for the further development of the World Heritage Convention.

    I take the opportunity to reaffirm Australias support for the principles espoused in the World Heritage Convention.

    Australia remains, however, resolutely opposed to the listing of the Kakadu World Heritage Area on the in danger list.

    We do so on two grounds.

    Firstly, the facts, when presented free of the emotion which has surrounded this issue to date, simply do not support such a listing.

    They indicate, in fact, that Australia has set in place a system of management and protective measures for Kakadu which represents worlds best practice.

    Secondly, Australia has said consistently that the Committee cannot list a property against the objections of a Member State. This has been confirmed by independent legal advice.


    Kakadu is an issue which the Committee has addressed on three separate occasions dating back to 1981.  The original inscription of Kakadu in 1981 was made with the knowledge that there were three separate, clearly defined uranium mining leases, one of which was Jabiluka.

    The Committee revisited the issue in 1987 and 1992 as Stages II and III of the Kakadu National Park were assessed and accorded world heritage status.

    These additional inscriptions were made at a time when the Committee had had several years to assess any impact of the Ranger uranium mine which had been operational since 1981.

    Ranger, a large open cut uranium mine, has now been operational for more than 18 years. It is the most intensively monitored uranium mine in the world.

    The independent office of the Supervising Scientist has advised that the Ranger Mine has had no adverse environmental impact on Kakadu National Park.

    It would be directly inconsistent with the Committees previous decisions to now rule that an underground mine with a significantly smaller physical impact than Ranger could be considered a threat to world heritage values.

    Under the preferred Jabiluka option, the mine would cover less than one square kilometre while the Park itself stretches over almost 20,000 square kilometres.

    It has undergone a rigorous and transparent environmental assessment process lasting almost three years.

    The monitoring systems and regulatory measures put in place for the operation of Jabiluka have drawn on the 18 years experience at Ranger.

    The volumes of evidence from the operation of Ranger along with the additional information provided by Australia in response to the Committees concerns about Jabiluka should give the Committee every confidence that the world heritage values of Kakadu will be managed and protected in a manner consistent with the Convention and consistent with worlds best practice.

    For the Committee to hold otherwise would be, in effect, to change the rules after nearly 20 years in a manner which is grossly unfair to the State party - Australia.


    Australia has also been a sensitive manager of the cultural values of Kakadu. All recognised indigenous sacred sites on the Jabiluka lease will be protected under Australian law.

    Australia recognises there is some disagreement, including disagreement between relevant indigenous communities, over the extent and significance of certain sites.

    These sites are not in the world heritage area.

    Even so, Australia is committed to developing a comprehensive cultural management plan for the Jabiluka lease and is seeking the cooperation of the traditional owners.

    Under Australian law, mining on indigenous land in the Northern Territory is prohibited without the consent of the traditional owners. This right is not available to non-indigenous Australians, reflecting a recognition of the special link between indigenous Australians and their land.

    In this instance, the Mirrar, along with other affected Aboriginals, gave their informed consent to mining on the Jabiluka lease in 1982. This was reiterated in 1991. The current senior traditional owner does not support mining. However the regional Aboriginal body upholds the legitimacy of the agreement.

    Australia is also conscious that there is a wide range of views among traditional owners of Kakadu on the issue of mining. The Mirrar are the traditional owners of less than five per cent of Kakadu National Park, including the Jabiluka lease. The traditional owners of the other 95% of Kakadu have not indicated support for the in danger listing, and many of them support mining for the economic, cultural and social benefits it can deliver.

    Australia, and the Committee, must consider the hopes and aspirations of all traditional owners living within Kakadu National Park.


    Against this background, Australia has demonstrated a level of commitment to the World Heritage Convention that is second to none.

        For example Australia was one of the first nations to ratify the Convention.

        Australia is the only nation in the world with domestic legislation that specifically implements the Convention.

        No country in the world has more natural sites on the World Heritage List than Australia.

        We have management plans in place or under preparation for all our World Heritage properties Australia spends more than $50 million each year on our World Heritage properties (in addition to the amount spent by provincial governments).

        We are particularly proud of our record in protecting Kakadu National Park.

        We have established and maintained an innovative joint management arrangement with the traditional owners of the Park.

        We are successfully protecting an area of 20,000 square kilometres - an area nearly twice the size of Lebanon.

        Notwithstanding the fact that the Jabiluka lease is outside of Kakadu National Park and was specifically excluded for the purposes of uranium mining, Australia would never have approved the new mine without being absolutely satisfied that it would not threaten a park we regard as a national treasure.

    In order to be certain that Kakadu will not be damaged, we have imposed the worlds most stringent and rigorous regulatory and monitoring regime. The regime is enforced by two levels of government - the national government and the government of the Northern Territory.

    The Northern Territory Deputy Chief Minister is here today to reinforce the commitment from both levels of government to strictly enforce that regime.


    Australian governments at both national and provincial levels have the greatest confidence in our environment protection measures. We have, nevertheless, sought to respond in good faith to the issues raised by the Mission to Kakadu and subsequently by the ICSU and advisory bodies to the Committee.

    Australia prepared a detailed response to the Mission report and through the Supervising Scientist we have undertaken further scientific analysis to refine environmental requirements and provide an even greater degree of certainty that Kakadu National Park is under no threat.

    Having listened carefully to the comments from other state parties, Australia has also developed further assurances on the environmental, social and cultural issues which we will put to the Committee for its consideration.

    These measures will:

        Enhance the existing environmental protection regime governing Jabiluka and Kakadu;

        Address the social and economic conditions of the Aboriginal communities living in Kakadu; and

        Provide additional assurance that the cultural values of the Park including those of the Mirrar - are protected.

    In addition, in consultation with ERA, the company which holds the Jabiluka lease, we will be responding to the expressed concerns of some Committee members about the potential impact on the natural values of the Park if both the existing mine at Ranger and the new mine at Jabiluka were in full commercial production at the same time. I can say now that this will not occur.

    We would be prepared to respond constructively to any further reasonable requests that the Committee may put forward in discharging its duty.


    In summary, Australia has always been and remains firmly committed to the World Heritage Convention. We have addressed the issues raised in relation to Kakadu National Park in good faith.

    We believe that Kakadu is securely protected and that there is no basis for listing it as in danger. We urge the Bureau and the Committee to recognise the efforts Australia has made to protect Kakadu and to respect the provisions of the Convention which would prevent an in danger listing in the absence of Australias consent.

    We look forward to concluding this issue next Monday in a way which promotes the cooperation amongst parties on which the Convention is based.


Media contact:

MATT BROWN 0419 693 515 or 0011 33 685 11 7946