Decision : CONF 205 V.170-194
Kakadu National Park (Australia)
V.170 In noting that the Jabiluka uranium mine site (on a mineral lease surrounded by Kakadu National Park) remains on a stand-by and in an environmental management phase, the Bureau examined reports received from the State Party, IUCN, the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation and environmental groups.
V.171 The State Party informed the Bureau that the Jabiluka Mineral Lease was granted under Northern Territory legislation in 1982 for a period of 42 years. The operating company has approvals under Australian law to develop the Jabiluka project subject to a number of legislatively binding conditions. Mining at Jabiluka will only commence after mining activities at Ranger start to be scaled down such that both Jabiluka and Ranger will not be in full scale production at the same time. Current estimates of the remaining life of Ranger indicate that mining at Jabiluka could commence between 2008 and 2010. The Company has confirmed that mining will not proceed until there is consent from traditional owners, and not before 2008. In the meantime, the Australian Government continues to monitor the adequacy of environmental protection. Furthermore, the Australian Government has accepted the recommendation of the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of ICSU for a formal review to be conducted no less than once every five years.
V.172 The Bureau noted the reports on the first sighting of cane toads (Bufo marinus, an invasive species) in Kakadu National Park on 12 March 2001 and on the development of cane toad mitigation strategies based on a risk assessment.
V.173 The Bureau noted that with higher than average rainfall in early 2001, the mining company has instigated a number of measures to enhance the Interim Water Management Pond (IWMP) to ensure that no contaminated water from the Jabiluka site enters Kakadu National Park. These measures include reducing the catchment of the IWMP to as small an area as practical, storing water in the underground workings, and implementing the reverse osmosis process to purify water in the IWMP to allow irrigation of revegetation areas on site.
V.174 The Bureau recalled that the Committee at its twenty-fourth session in Cairns (2000) requested "the Australian Government allocate resources as soon as possible to enable the implementation of the landscape and ecosystem analysis and monitoring program recommended by the ISP and IUCN and the appointment of a water resource specialist to the Office of the Supervising Scientist". The Committee also requested the Australian Government to establish an Independent Science Advisory Committee (ISAC), which would “… be able to report openly, independently and without restriction”.
V.175 IUCN stated that while there does not now appear to be any likelihood of mining at Jabiluka for many years to come, many conservation and Aboriginal interests remain concerned about the situation at Kakadu. There is special concern over the treatment of wastewater at Jabiluka. IUCN commented that the State Party should move quickly to fulfil its undertakings given in Cairns.
V.176 The Delegate of Australia reported that all their commitments to the Committee in relation to Kakadu National Park are being implemented. He informed the Bureau that resources had been allocated for the implementation of a landscape and ecosystem analysis and monitoring programme. The Supervising Scientist has been conducting discussions with stakeholders including traditional owners on the Kakadu National Park Board of Management, the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (ERISS) and the Kakadu Research Advisory Committee on the scope and content of the program which will:
- focus on the conservation of the natural World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park;
- be capable of distinguishing possible mining related impacts at the landscape scale from effects due to other causes; and,
- provide information for the periodic report of the State Party in 2002.
V.177 The Delegate of Australia informed the Bureau that it is planned for the full programme to commence by the 2001-2002 wet season. Furthermore, the Supervising Scientist, with the support of the principal stakeholders, commenced in March 2001 the first project in the programme whose aim is to describe the distribution and map the extent of major ecosystems within the Alligator Rivers Region.
V.178 The Delegate of Australia also informed the Bureau that the recruitment of a water resource specialist to the Office of the Supervising Scientist is underway. He also noted changes to the membership and role of the existing Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC) to meet the needs identified by the ISP of ICSU in its recommendation on the establishment of an Independent Science Advisory Committee (ISAC). The Chair and the majority of the voting members will be appointed following selection by the most appropriate body representing Australian scientists and engineers, possibly the Australian Academy of Science.
V.179 He also informed the Bureau that the Supervising Scientist has sought the advice from the existing ARRTC members, which includes representatives of the Aboriginal people of the region, on the fields of expertise that should be covered by the new members to be appointed to meet the recommendations of the ISP of ICSU. This advice has been provided to the Minister for Environment and Heritage.
V.180 The Supervising Scientist has also consulted with scientific colleagues in Australia and with the Secretariats of several possible institutions on the most appropriate body to select the independently appointed members of ARRTC. He recommended to the Minister that the most appropriate body was the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS).
V.181 Following a request from the Minister, FASTS conducted a wide-ranging consultation of its member societies to select suitable scientists and engineers as members of the revised ARRTC. FASTS advised the Minister of the names of the 7 persons that it recommends for appointment to ARRTC on 30 May 2001. These recommendations have been accepted unchanged. Letters of appointment are in the process of finalisation and the first meeting of the new committee is expected to take place in September 2001.
V.182 The Bureau recalled that the Committee at its twenty-fourth session in Cairns (2000) "encouraged the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners to resume and continue their efforts in a constructive dialogue, in order to develop together a process leading towards the protection of Kakadu's cultural heritage".
V.183 ICOMOS emphasized the importance of utilizing the postponement of mining operations at the Jabiluka site to deepen the discussion between the Mirrar Traditional Owners and the State Party.
V.184 The Bureau noted information received from the State Party concerning the re-commencement and continuation of the dialogue with the Mirrar Traditional Owners of the mine site and other stakeholders.
V.185 The dialogue between the State Party and traditional owners of the mine area continues, but successful dialogue is a two way process that requires both parties to be willing to communicate. There is ongoing and broader dialogue on the protection of the overall cultural values of Kakadu National Park that continues successfully in the context of the Board of Management of Kakadu National Park, involving traditional owners from all major clan groups. This process is exploring the best means of ensuring the management and protection of the cultural values of Kakadu National Park.
V.186 Five days of productive dialogue with traditional owners from the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, their executive and staff took place during March and April. There was also substantive discussion with other key stakeholders such as the Northern Land Council, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, the Company and the Northern Territory Government. The senior traditional owner and her staff then met with the Minister for Environment and Heritage and held constructive talks, in which the Minister agreed to follow up talks by officials.
V.187 The Delegate of Australia stated that his State Party will continue to report openly and transparently on the dialogue with the Traditional Owners. The State Party stressed that this renewed domestic dialogue and co-operation by all parties is the best means to facilitate agreement for the ongoing protection of Kakadu's cultural values.
V.188 The Bureau also noted details from the State Party of continuing progress, under the Kakadu Regional Social Impact Study (KRSIS), to ensure improvement in the social and economic circumstances (housing, essential services, indigenous education and health care) of Aboriginal people living in the Kakadu region (Annex III) - letter from Environment Australia dated 26 June 2001).
V.189 The Bureau noted the report of the State Party concerning the first sightings of cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Kakadu National Park and commends it for its approach.
V.190 The Bureau requested the State Party to report regularly to the World Heritage Centre on results of monitoring programmes and research activities concerning this issue.
V.191 The Bureau requested that the State Party provide a report by 15 September 2001 for consideration by the twenty-fifth extraordinary session of the Bureau, on the progress with the landscape and ecosystem analysis, the recruitment of the water resource specialist and the establishment of the Independent Science Advisory Committee.
V.192 With reference to the decision of the twenty-fourth session of the Committee encouraging the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners to resume and continue their efforts in a constructive dialogue, the Bureau requested the State Party to keep the World Heritage Centre regularly informed of progress.
V.193 Following the adoption of the recommendation by the Bureau, a representative of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation read a letter signed by the Senior Traditional Owner, Ms Yvonne Margarula (see Annex IV).
V.194 A response from Environment Australia to the letter of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation was circulated and the Bureau agreed that it be incorporated into the record of the meeting (see Annex V - letter from Mr Roger Beale dated 27 June 2001).