State of Conservation (SOC)
Kakadu National Park
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
Requests Approved: 0
Total Amount Ap proved: 0USD
October 1998: World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS / IUCN joint mission
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Mining projects;
- Protected area considered inadequate at the time of inscription
Current conservation issues
In co-operation with the Australian Supervising Scientist, the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and a representative of IUCN made a site visit to the Jabiluka and Ranger Mineral Leases from 3 to 7 July 2000 (see WHC-2000/CONF.203/INF.5).
The World Heritage Centre has received the following letters and reports (all of which were transmitted to the Australian authorities and to the relevant advisory body/bodies for review and comment):
12 September 2000 Letter and report from Australian environment groups (Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Centre NT Inc and Friends of the Earth)
- Reference to (i) Failed programme of corrective measures, (ii) further evidence of the inadequacy of the monitoring and regulatory regime for uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region and (iii) increased corporate uncertainty.
- Concluded that property should be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
15 September 2000 Letter and summary of a detailed study of the history and environmental performance of the Ranger Uranium Mine, Gavin M. Mudd, University of Queensland.
20 September 2000 Letter and report from Mr Geoff Clark, Chairman of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
- 27 detailed recommendations including recommendation for inscribing the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
22 September 2000 Letter and report from Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation
- Refers to the objection of the Mirrar people to participate in the proposed cultural heritage management process as they say it would facilitate the development of the Jabiluka mine.
- Recommends "That a high-level, expert advisory mission including representatives of ICOMOS, ICCROM and IUCN visit Kakadu National Park prior to the twenty-fifth Session of the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee with a view to assessing the current status of identified threats to World Heritage values".
22 September 2000 Letter from Senator the Hon. Nick Bolkus, Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage and Member of the Senate Environment References Committee that inquired into Jabiluka Uranium Mine Project in 1999
- Restated key majority findings of the Senate inquiry (inclusion of Kakadu on List of World Heritage in Danger and cessation of Jabiluka uranium mine) and referred to uncertainty following recent acquisition of Energy Resources of Australia by Rio Tinto.
5 October 2000 Copy of letter from Senator the Hon. Robert Hill to Ms Yvonne Margarula, Chairperson, Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation dated 22 September 2000
- Request for all stakeholders to meet in Jabiru or Darwin in the next few months to discuss how to prepare a Cultural Heritage Management Plan for the Jabiluka Lease.
5 October 2000 Copy of letter from Senator the Hon. Robert Hill to Mr Gatjil Djerrkura OAM, Commissioner, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission dated 22 September 2000.
- Sought confirmation from Mr Djerrkura that he would be available as facilitator for a meeting to discuss the process of Cultural Heritage Management Planning.
In addition, the following report was received from IUCN on 29 September 2000.
1. "The proposed development at Jabiluka is in a state of transition and the mission was presented with new information in relation to aspects such as water retention pounds, water circulation and treatment, and tailings disposal. These are assessed in the ICSU report but it is important that any new developments are subjected to scientific peer review and appropriate analysis.
2. The mission reviewed information associated with the leakage of tailing water at the Ranger mine lease and reported leaks of contaminated water from old mines in the Park. IUCN considers the tailings pipe leak to have had minor ecological impact. However, IUCN notes the delays in reporting this leakage and the inconsistency in responses between the Northern Territory Supervising Authority and the more detailed response of the Australian Government Supervising scientist and ERA to the incident.
3. IUCN believes this vindicates the need for the Federal Government of Australia to resume direct control and authority for the activities and operations on a mine lease within the World Heritage Area.
4. IUCN notes that the natural values in and around the Jabiluka lease require further documentation. In particular, a full analysis of the rare and endangered, or endemic, flora and fauna, and refugial or relictual habitats likely to contain these biota needs to be undertaken.
5. IUCN specifically recommends that a survey of the flora and fauna of the local area in and surrounding the Jabiluka lease site, should be implemented, paying particular attention to the potential for the occurrence of rare and endangered, or endemic species, and refugial or relictual habitats likely to contain such natural values. Where such elements are located, an analysis of the degree of threat posed to them as a result of all aspects of the development proposed for the region, should be instigated.
6. There should be a synthesis undertaken of existing and new information on both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems to establish, for example, trophic relationships, and to provide for an understanding of key ecosystems functioning in the lease site or adjacent to it. Building on the synthesis, ecological modelling should be commenced with a view to the delivery of an ecological understanding of potential cumulative and/or interactive effects of all developments on the lease site or adjacent to it.
7. IUCN notes the importance of transparent and open engagement of all stakeholders in issues associated with Jabiluka, particularly traditional owners, the scientific community and non-governmental groups.
IUCN recommends the Bureau request the State Party to provide assurances that:
a) the key natural values of the lease site and adjacent areas will be documented and evaluated in the light of all types of potential impacts, preferably before further development proceeds; and
b) formal assessment will be conducted for all new aspects of the proposal, including long-term monitoring protocols, and approvals will only be granted if analysis shows that risks to natural values are negligible."
Analysis and Conclusion
Link to the decision
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.
Link to the decision
VIII.29 Kakadu National Park (Australia)
The Committee recalled that in July 1999, the third extraordinary session of the Committee examined the state of conservation of Kakadu National Park with reference to the development of a uranium mine on the Jabiluka Mineral Lease in an enclave of the Park.
The Committee examined the state of conservation of this mixed cultural and natural property in two parts relating to natural values and cultural values.
The Committee was informed that the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of the International Council of Science (ICSU) and a representative of IUCN had participated in a mission to Kakadu National Park and the Jabiluka and Ranger Mineral Leases in July 2000.
The Committee noted the conclusions of the report of the ISP of ICSU presented by Professor Brian Wilkinson, the leader of the ISP (WHC-2000/CONF.203/INF.20) (see Annex XI), the statement made by IUCN to the Committee (see Annex XII) and the response of the Supervising Scientist of Australia (see Annex XIII).
The Director of the World Heritage Centre informed the Committee that on 28 November 2000 the State Party had advised that a new agreement had been signed between the Northern Territory government and the Commonwealth government to provide further regulation of mining in the Northern Territory.
The Delegate of Australia thanked the ISP of ICSU and IUCN for their constructive participation in the mission in July 2000. With reference to a concern raised about the change in ownership of the mining company Energy Resources of Australia Inc (ERA), he informed the Committee that the Minister for Environment and Heritage had written to ERA on 22 September 2000, to ensure that they meet commitments made to the World Heritage Committee in July 1999. The Minister's letter had been copied to the new parent company of ERA, Rio Tinto. ERA replied on 31 October 2000 confirming it would honour the commitments.
The Delegate of Australia indicated his full respect for the advice of the ISP and Supervising Scientist concerning monitoring. He stated that he would seek resources for early implementation of monitoring at Jabiluka as part of normal budgetary appropriation procedures.
Responding to questions relating to the ISP's recommendation to establish an Independent Science Advisory Committee for the proposed mine and mill at Jabiluka raised by the Delegate of Finland, the Delegate of Australia informed the Committee that the appointment of the chair and the majority of the voting members of the existing statutory scientific review committee will be made by learned societies in Australia such as the Australian Academy of Science and the equivalent academy for engineering and technology.
The Committee adopted the following decision concerning the protection of the natural values of Kakadu National Park: The twenty-fourth Session of the World Heritage Committee, recalling
1. The Committee decision of July 1999 that ICSU should continue the work of the ISP to assess, in co-operation with the Supervising Scientist and IUCN, the Supervising Scientist's response to the first ISP report
2. That the overall conclusion of the ISP is that the Supervising Scientist has identified all the principal risks to the natural values of the Kakadu World Heritage site that can presently be perceived to result from the approved Jabiluka Mill Alternative proposal; these risks have been analysed in detail and have been quantified with a high level of scientific certainty; such analyses have shown the risks to be very small or negligible and that the development of the approved Jabiluka Mill Alternative should not threaten the natural World Heritage values of the Kakadu National Park
3. That the ISP assessment has been made only in relation to the proposal to develop Jabiluka as described in the April 1999 Report of the Supervising Scientist to the World Heritage Committee and does not necessarily relate to any future new proposals for the Jabiluka Mill Alternative
4. That Australia has provided an assurance that all new aspects of the Jabiluka proposal would be the subject of formal assessment by the Supervising Scientist and that any significant changes would be referred to the Chair of the scientific review committee (see below) for comment
5. That the ISP has made a number of recommendations related to processes that should, in its view, be followed in the final design of the project and on the ongoing regulation and monitoring process
6. That the Australian government has accepted the intent of all of the recommendations of the ISP and the IUCN. In particular, (a) The Australian Government has decided to amend the membership and role of the existing statutory scientific review committee to meet the needs identified by the ISP in its recommendation on the establishment of an Independent Science Advisory Committee. 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. This Committee will be able to report openly, independently and without restriction (b) The supervisory role of the Supervising Scientist has been strengthened through the Agreement between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments dated 17 November 2000
7. That Australia, noting that the natural values of the lease and surrounding areas have been extensively investigated and documented through the environmental assessment process for Jabiluka, has undertaken to extend this work in the manner recommended by the ISP and the IUCN.
The World Heritage Committee:
8. Welcomes the work of the ISP and the IUCN and the response of the Australian Government to their recommendations
9. Requests that 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
10. In the light of the above, concludes that the currently approved proposal for the mine and mill at Jabiluka does not threaten the health of people or the biological and ecological systems of Kakadu National Park that the 1998 Mission believed to be at risk.
The Director of the World Heritage Centre referred the Committee to the text of the recommendation of the twenty-fourth extraordinary session of the Bureau. Since then, the Committee had been informed that he had received a letter dated 28 November 2000 from Yvonne Margarula, Mirrar Senior Traditional Owner, informing him that discussions between the Mirrar and the Australian Government in relation to a new process regarding cultural heritage protection (as outlined in the Bureau recommendation) had broken down. (See Annex XIV).
The Representative of ICOMOS reflected that when ICOMOS had evaluated the Phase I and Phase 2 nominations of Kakadu, for inclusion on the World Heritage List, the cultural values had been assessed in relation to the area's archaeology and rock art. It had only been in the evaluation of Phase 3 of the nomination that the living cultural traditions were properly considered.
The Representative of ICOMOS stressed that for any cultural heritage impact assessment there must be cultural mapping. He acknowledged the existence of an impasse between the Mirrar Traditional Owners and the Australian government and suggested that the same process as had been used for the review of scientific issues by the ISP of ICSU should be used for resolving the issue of cultural mapping. He suggested the establishment of an independent international group to consult with the Mirrar and the Australian government to find a way forward.
The Delegate of Thailand cautioned against intervening in domestic affairs by establishing an independent international group to deal with cultural issues at Jabiluka.
The Delegate of Hungary trusted that a solution could be found and made reference to the outstanding importance of the living cultural heritage of Kakadu National Park and expressed his concern with the current situation reported to the Committee.
The Delegate of Australia expressed his concern about the breakdown in dialogue between the Mirrar Traditional Owners and the Australian government. He however saw it as "an interruption" and "not termination" of the dialogue process. He informed the Committee that the Minister for Environment and Heritage was ready to recommence talks at any time. Explaining what could have been the cause of the interruption, he referred to the letter from Yvonne Margarula that referred to concern to allegations that financial incentives had been offered to the Mirrar People (see Annex XIV). He stressed that indeed at no time had such an offer been made by the Australian negotiators.
The Delegate of Australia informed the Committee that he considered that the only commitment made by the Australian government to the Committee in July 1999 that had not been fully met was the development of a cultural heritage management plan and cultural mapping. He recalled that the Jabiluka mine was on stand-by and in environmental management mode and that commercial production would not take place for a considerable time reflecting the commitment to sequential mines. He stated that the mining company was legally obliged to provide a Cultural Heritage Management Plan and that the Australian government was concerned that a correct process for its preparation be found as soon as possible through a process of domestic negotiation.
The Delegate of South Africa expressed her agreement with the independent review process proposed by ICOMOS and suggested use of a facilitator. She appealed to the Australian government to agree to a process involving an outside facilitator noting that Kakadu is a site of value to all humankind not just Australia.
The Delegate of Finland suggested that a similar method of working to that which had been used to address scientific issues at Kakadu should be used to ensure progress on cultural heritage issues.
The Delegate of Canada acknowledged the importance of the living cultural values of Kakadu and expressed the wish of Committee members to see their protection. If an agreement between the Mirrar and the State Party was not possible, then involvement of a third party should be considered.
The Observer of Papua New Guinea stressed the importance of recognizing living cultural heritage values right at the beginning of the process of World Heritage identification and protection.
ICCROM commented that while they had strongly supported the recommendation proposed by the twentyfourth session of the Bureau, particularly given its emphasis on process, they were concerned that "process" was being interpreted in different ways by different delegates, as "mediated dialogue" by South Africa, and as "study" or "scientific reference group" by ICOMOS and others. ICCROM felt that clarification of the implications of reference to process was necessary for the consolidated recommendation being drafted to be fully effective in assisting the State Party.
Yvonne Margarula, Mirrar Senior Traditional Owner, was invited to address the Committee. She spoke about her country (her traditional lands) and of the sacred sites and "dangerous sites" (djang) at Jabiluka. She said that her country was "in danger" because the Government of Australia said that they were lying when they said the site was sacred and the Mirrar appealed for help from the World Heritage Committee. The Delegate of Australia said that the Minister for Environment and Heritage stressed that he did not believe the Mirrar were acting dishonestly.
The Committee adopted the following decision on the protection of cultural values at Kakadu National Park:
11. Noted the concern of the Traditional Owners that serious impacts on the living cultural values of Kakadu National Park posed by the proposal to mine and mill uranium at Jabiluka still exist.
12. Considered that the Committee's previous decision regarding cultural mapping and the preparation of a cultural heritage management plan for Jabiluka cannot be implemented at this stage and that an approach founded on partnership between all parties concerned is required to ensure the protection of the living cultural values of Kakadu National Park.
13. Recalled that at the twenty-fourth session of the Bureau in Paris (2000) ICOMOS indicated its willingness to "participate in activities leading towards resolving cultural heritage issues pertaining to the management of Kakadu National Park".
14. Noted that the State Party is prepared to consider a new process to address any outstanding issues relating to cultural values. Any new process would be facilitated by the State Party, in consultation with Traditional Owners and other domestic stakeholders.
15. Expressed disappointment about the current interruption in dialogue between the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners.
16. Reaffirmed the importance of the living cultural heritage of Kakadu National Park.
17. 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.
18. In the event that the interruption in the dialogue continues, requested that the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners consider a facilitated dialogue to achieve an agreed-upon process by the twenty-fifth session of the Committee in 2001.
The Bureau is requested to examine the following and submit its recommendations to the twenty-fourth session of the World Heritage Committee:
(i) examine the final report and recommendations of the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of the International Council for Science (WHC-2000/CONF.203/INF.5),
(ii) examine the report and recommendations of IUCN (see above),
(iii) examine any new information on "progress 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" to be provided by the Australian authorities, ICOMOS and ICCROM at the time of the session.
Kakadu National Park
- Management systems/ management plan
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).