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Decision : CONF 202 IV.B.46
Kakadu National Park (Australia)

The Bureau took note of the following documents which were requested by the third extraordinary session of the Committee in July 1999: WHC-2000/CONF.202/INF.6 entitled «Australia’s Commitments: Protecting Kakadu National Park» and WHC-2000/CONF.202/INF.7, a report from the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of ICSU concerning remaining scientific issues relating to the mining of uranium at Jabiluka. In addition, the Bureau noted the correspondence that the Centre had received, from the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), expressing concerns over an accumulation of water in the Interim Water Management Pond (IWMP) at Jabiluka. The Bureau was informed that in a letter dated 17 April 2000 to the Director of the Centre, the Permanent Delegate of Australia to UNESCO had pointed out that there is no imminent risk of overflow from the IWMP and that the Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) is now reassessing the water management system and that the final option adopted will ensure the continued protection of the World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park.

The Bureau noted that a leak of tailings water contaminated with manganese at the Ranger Uranium mine (a mine operated by ERA in an enclave of Kakadu National Park) had been reported in early May 2000.  In a statement issued on 3 May 2000, the Australian Government had emphasised that it treats reports of such incidences of leak of tailings water seriously and that full explanation had been sought from ERA and the Northern Territory regulatory authorities. According to the statement issued by the Australian Government, no tailings water had escaped the containment zone at the mine site and that the independent statutory authority, i.e. the Supervising Scientist, had advised that on examination of available information there was no evidence of environmental detriment outside the project area and the water quality downstream had not been affected. The same statement emphasised that there has been no downstream impact on the World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park. The Supervising Scientist had been requested to undertake an independent assessment of the circumstances leading to the leak and of the likely environmental impacts. GAC, Australian NGOs and the Northern Land Council (NLC) had submitted reports on this subject to the Centre which were transmitted to the Permanent Delegate of Australia to UNESCO; the Australian Government had responded to the concerns of all the reports in separate letters addressed to the Director on 21, 23 and 26 June 2000.

In mid-May, the Centre had received copies of the exchange of correspondence between Senator Hill, Minister for the Environment and Heritage of Australia and Ms. Yvonne Margarula, Chairperson of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, concerning discussions on how to proceed with cultural heritage mapping and the development of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) for the Jabiluka Mineral lease.

The Bureau noted that the Australian authorities provided the two following reports to the Centre, during the course of its twenty-fourth ordinary session (i.e. on 27 June 2000):

  • Investigations of tailings water leak at the Ranger uranium mine prepared by the Supervising Scientist, Environment Australia (June 2000); the Bureau noted that this report was being submitted to the Australian Parliament on the 27 June 2000; and
  • Kakadu Region Social Impact Study (KRSIS)   – Community Report. Report on Initiatives: November 1998 – June 2000, by Bob Collins, Chair, KRSIS Implementation Team (June 2000).

The Bureau was pleased to note that the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of  the International Council for Science (ICSU) Mission to the site is to be fielded from 3 to 7 July 2000. The IUCN Representative informed the Bureau that an IUCN expert will join the team and IUCN hoped to have substantive discussions on natural heritage values of the Kakadu National Park during the mission. IUCN suggested that further discussions on substantive issues related to the conservation of natural heritage values await the completion of the mission and be addressed during the twenty-fourth extraordinary session of the Bureau in Cairns, Australia, in November 2000.

The Representative of ICSU expressed her satisfaction with the collaboration between her Organisation and the Centre in facilitating the work of ISP, established by ICSU to address scientific issues of the Jabiluka mine. Prof. B. Wilkinson, the leader of the ISP and of the team to visit Kakadu from 3 to 7 July 2000, recalled the decision of the third extraordinary session of the Committee, made in July 1999, that called for the continuation of the work of the ISP of ICSU to address and resolve a certain number of outstanding scientific issues. He said that the progress report submitted by the Supervising Scientist has been helpful to reduce uncertainties with regard to some of the issues, while the resolution of others necessitated a field visit to Kakadu. He said that those remaining issues will be addressed during the ISP of ICSU mission to the site in consultations with the Supervising Scientist and his consultants, ERA, Park Manager and staff and some Australian scientists who continue to express concerns regarding the Jabiluka mine and the potential impacts it could have on the integrity of Kakadu. He also informed the Bureau that he has recently received information on leakage from the Ranger mine and concerns raised by that incident that are relevant to the management of the Jabiluka mine would also be discussed.

The Representative of ICOMOS noted and agreed with the position of IUCN and noted that ICOMOS would have to review the additional new reports before entering into substantive discussions on the state of conservation of Kakadu. He suggested that further discussions on Kakadu be delayed until the extraordinary session of the Bureau in November 2000.

The Delegate of Hungary noted that the ISP of ICSU mission would visit the site from 3 to 7 July 2000 and will gather new information concerning scientific issues relevant to the Jabiluka mine. He asked whether an archaeologist or an anthropologist was part of the ISP of ICSU mission. The Delegates of Zimbabwe, Finland and Greece agreed that, if feasible, it could be a useful addition.

Responding to a question raised by the Chair as to whether ICOMOS will be able to propose an expert in archaeology or anthropology to join the ISP of ICSU mission, the Representative of ICOMOS responded that the time available between the end of the Bureau session (1 July) and the departure of the mission team (3 July) is insufficient to find a suitable expert. He also suggested that since the ISP of ICSU mission is intended to address well defined scientific issues during a very-short period of 4 days, it would not be advisable to include a cultural heritage expert as part of that mission and that ICOMOS would be willing to consider other ways to participate in activities leading towards resolving cultural heritage issues pertaining to the management of Kakadu National Park.

The Delegate of Australia noted that his Government had provided several voluminous reports on several occasions and looked forward to receiving the ISP of ICSU mission due from 3 to 7 July 2000 to discuss the scientific issues that need to be resolved. He said that the ISP of ICSU visit is tightly focused around scientific issues and that Australia would not agree to any mission with an open-ended reference similar to that which visited Australia and Kakadu at the end of 1998.

The Australian Delegate informed the Bureau that his Government had nominated an independent person, an elder from the Aborignal community, to be the lead person for coordinating discussions for the preparation of the Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) for Kakadu. The Australian branches of ICOMOS and ICCROM as well as representatives of the NLC have been invited to participate in these discussions. The Delegate noted that ERA has a legal obligation to prepare the CHMP and is required to ensure participation of the Mirrar people. He noted that the Gundjehmi, however, have not accepted the elder nominated by the Government to lead the discussions of the CHMP.

The Delegate of Australia also briefly addressed issues pertaining to the accumulation of water in the IWMP and expressed the view that there is no threat of leakage. With regard to the leak of tailings water reported from the Ranger mine he said that there is no threat to water quality in the region and that his Government had taken the issue seriously and called for a report from the Supervising Scientist. He pointed out that the report of the Supervising Scientist had been handed over to the Centre. He also said that ERA is still negotiating with the NLC on various matters concerning the Jabiluka mine and that no activities have been started to exploit the mine.

The Bureau noted the Report of the Australian Government on progress in meeting its commitments to the World Heritage Committee and the assurances that the recent leak at the Ranger Mine did not affect water quality in the World Heritage Area. The Bureau also noted that a Report by the Supervising Scientist that had been commissioned by the Government on the leak and related matters had been finalised and submitted to the Centre. The Bureau requested the Centre to submit the report of the Supervising Scientist to the advisory bodies for review and reporting at the twenty-fourth extraordinary session in November 2000.

The Bureau noted that the Independent Scientific Panel of ICSU would be visiting Kakadu in the week of 3-7 July for a site-visit to review the second report of the Supervising Scientist. The Bureau also noted advice that Australian authorities had invited ICOMOS to provide anthropological and cultural advice for the development of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan. It noted that Australia ICOMOS had accepted the invitation on 28 March 2000.

The Bureau recommended that at its twenty-fourth extraordinary session in Cairns, it considers the report of the Independent Scientific Panel of ICSU. The Bureau requested that all affected parties and the Australian Government work to find a constructive solution to addressing the economic, social and cultural expectation of the people of Kakadu while protecting the full range of World Heritage values.

Context of Decision
Themes: Conservation
States Parties: Australia
Properties: Kakadu National Park
Year: 2000
Decision Code: CONF 202 IV.B.46