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Decision : CONF 201 V.B.36
Kakadu National Park (Australia)

The Secretariat recalled that the Bureau, at its twenty-first extraordinary session in November 1997, had invited the Australian authorities to provide the World Heritage Centre with any new information concerning the proposed uranium mine at Jabiluka in Kakadu National Park. The Australian authorities were requested to provide information pertaining to their efforts to ensure that the proponents of mining in the enclave, within but outside of the boundaries of the Park, address the seventy-seven environmental conditions imposed by the Government. The Bureau was informed that the mine’s proponent provide a six-monthly report to the Government on the progress which has been made in the implementation of these conditions.

The Secretariat informed the Bureau that additional information concerning the state of conservation of Kakadu National Park had been recently provided by the Australian authorities and had been made available to the Bureau as Information Document WHC-98/CONF.201/INF.12. The Secretariat mentioned a letter received from the lawyer for the Mirrar Aboriginal people who referred to the responses by the Bureau and Committee on the state of conservation of Kakadu at its twenty-first session as “entirely unsatisfactory”. The Secretariat also informed the Bureau that a submission from four scientists in Australia had been received in which they criticise the quality and process of the Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Jabulika uranium mine. The scientists state that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) largely ignores cultural heritage and calls for a new EIS to include proper assessment of the ecological and cultural impacts of the proposed mine. Furthermore, the Secretariat and the Chairperson referred to the many letters theyhad received which expressed concern about the state of conservation of Kakadu National Park and called for the inclusion of Kakadu on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

IUCN presented a detailed statement concerning the state of conservation of Kakadu. In summary, IUCN suggested that the Resolution on Kakadu, adopted at the World Conservation Congress in 1996 and the precautionary principle be used to guide IUCN’s advice to the Committee. IUCN recommended that mining activity should be deferred until the Committee is satisfied with the implementation of the seventy-seven environmental conditions and requested the necessary information and resources for IUCN to participate in a multi-disciplinary mission to the site and report to the twenty-second session of the Bureau and Committee if requested by the Bureau.   IUCN’s statement was distributed to the Bureau and is included in this report as Annex VI.

The Observers of Australia, responded with detailed statements which are annexed in full to this report as Annex VII and Annex VIII.

ICOMOS expressed the need to better assess the full diversity of cultural values, including spiritual values and living cultural traditions, at Kakadu and in the Jabiluka mining lease. ICOMOS also commented that at the time of inclusion in the List (in three stages, 1981, 1987 and 1992), nomination as a cultural landscape had not been possible. ICOMOS raised the possibility of Kakadu being considered in the future as a cultural landscape of potential World Heritage value.

The Delegate of Benin recalled that concern had been expressed about the state of conservation of Kakadu at the twenty-first session of the Bureau and the Committee in Naples, Italy in December 1997. He stressed the need for the Bureau and the Committee to now take action and make a closer examination of conditions at the site. He agreed with IUCN that a joint mission by ICOMOS and IUCN was needed to provide a clear report, to seek further information from the Australian authorities and the traditional owners and to prepare an analysis and recommendations as to whether or not the site should be included on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The Delegate of Japan commented favourably on Australia’s management of its World Heritage properties. He agreed that it would be useful to dispatch a mission to Australia to collect further information on the state of conservation of Kakadu and to prepare a report for submission to the Bureau and the Committee in Kyoto, Japan in December. The Delegate of the United States of America similarly commented on the high level of protected area management practice in Australia, and agreed that an expert analysis would be useful. He offered his country’s assistance in the mission. The Delegate of Morocco also agreed that a mission was required and suggested that one or two Bureau members should also join the mission.

The Chairperson summarised the debate as having reached consensus on the need to proceed on the basis of the precautionary principle even in the absence of complete data. He noted that the Bureau had received detailed information from the Australian Observers, and that they had expressed the utmost co-operation and full acceptance of the precautionary principle of the Australian Government. He stated that there was also general agreement that the information about the state of conservation of Kakadu presented to the Committee and Bureau required greater clarity. Finally, he emphasised that the multi-faceted environmental, cultural and legal issues relating to the conservation of the site highlight the need for a fact-finding mission. The Australian Observer reiterated that the record of conservation at Kakadu was very good and that the Australian Government did not consider that the World Heritage values were threatened. She stated that, for these reasons, a mission would be welcomed.

The Bureau noted the extent and level of representation to it concerning uranium mining in the area of Kakadu National Park. Uranium mining in an area of high natural and cultural values is of sensitivity and potential concern. The Australian Observers had reported in detail on the progress to date in imposing conditions on mining such that it does not affect the World Heritage or other natural or cultural values in this area. Progress had been good, and the care taken to protect World Heritage values is adequate.

Because of the importance, complexity and sensitivity of the issue, however, the Bureau proposed that a mission to Kakadu be undertaken by a team headed by the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee with the participation of the Director of the World Heritage Centre, IUCN and ICOMOS. This mission would examine the situation further, have discussions with relevant Aboriginal groups, officials, non-governmental organisations and the mining company, and report to the Bureau and Committee sessions in November-December 1998.

Context of Decision
Themes: Conservation
States Parties: Australia
Properties: Kakadu National Park
Year: 1998
Decision Code: CONF 201 V.B.36