Presentation by Professor F. Francioni (Italy) concerning the World Heritage mission to Kakadu National Park (Australia), 26 October-1 November 1998

I wish to thank the Chairperson and the Committee for the opportunity to report on the main findings and recommendations of the mission to Kakadu. I again draw the attention of the Committee to the mission report provided as information document WHC-98/CONF.203/INF.18.


On October 26 to 1 November I led a mission to Kakadu National Park to determine and describe any ascertained and potential threats to the World Heritage values of the Park, particularly in relation to possible threats arising from the Jabiluka uranium mining proposal.

Several days ago I gave a presentation to the Bureau which outlined the mandate, organisation and membership of the mission, and the process of report preparation. My remarks are included in the Bureau report WHC-98/CONF.203/5.

At that time I expressed my thanks to the Australian authorities for their co-operation in organising and facilitating the mission. I also expressed my sincere thanks to the six other members of the mission team - Mr Bernd von Droste (Director, UNESCO World Heritage Centre), Dr Patrick Dugan (IUCN), Dr Patricia Parker (ICOMOS), Dr John Cook (US National Park Service) and two Australian nationals, Professor Jon Altman and Dr Roy Green.

The mission report focuses primarily on ascertained and potential dangers to the World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park posed by the Jabiluka mining proposal, and presents 16 recommendations.

The mission concluded that there are severe ascertained and potential dangers to the cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park posed primarily by the proposal for uranium mining and milling at Jabiluka. The mission therefore recommended that the proposal to mine and mill uranium at Jabiluka should not proceed. (Recommendation 1).

FIRST OVERHEAD (Map of Kakadu National Park showing the three stages of inscription on the World Heritage List)

You will recall that Kakadu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in three stages - Stage I in 1981, Stage II in 1987, and Stage III in 1992. The site is inscribed on the basis of its cultural and natural values.

The Park's cultural World Heritage values relate to its outstanding rock art sites, archaeological sites and sites of spiritual importance to Aboriginal Traditional Owners. The archaeological remains and rock art of the Kakadu region represent an outstanding example of people's interaction with the natural environment. The cultural sites exhibit great antiquity and have a continuous temporal span ranging from tens of thousands of years ago to the present. At the same time, they also form part of a living cultural tradition which continues today amongst the Traditional Aboriginal owners and custodians of the area.

The park is extensive and is located in the monsoonal tropical environment of Northern Australia. The Park contains features of great natural beauty and magnificent, sweeping landscapes of World Heritage value. The focal points are the internationally important wetlands and the spectacular escarpment and its rocky outliers.

SECOND OVERHEAD (Map showing the location of the Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra Mineral Leases)

There are three Mineral Leases in enclaves within Kakadu National Park. One of these enclaves includes an open cut uranium mine known as Ranger which has been in operation for 18 years and is expected to continue operating for another seven or eight years.

FIRST SLIDE (Aerial view of Ranger uranium mine)

The current proposal to mine uranium at Jabiluka would therefore see two uranium mines operating in the Kakadu region at the same time.

The Australian government informed the mission, as it has done at recent sessions of the Committee and the Bureau, that the procedures followed for the Environmental Impact Assessment of the Jabiluka mining proposal were in accordance with legal requirements, and provided the opportunity for public and expert inputs. The Australian authorities have provided information of the more than 70 environmental protection conditions that have been placed on the mining proponent.

There has been some debate over the processes adopted to evaluate the proposal for the Jabiluka mine and the options for milling the ore from Jabiluka on-site or alternatively at Ranger, 22 km away. The mission was concerned by claims that there had been a recent diminution in environmental controls for the Jabiluka mine.

The Australian government has decided that all tailings the pulverized residues left after extraction of the uranium - from the Jabiluka mining proposal would be stored underground. Furthermore, the government has assessed two options for the milling of the ore proposed to be extracted from Jabiluka. These are known as the Jabiluka Milling Alternative (JMA) and Ranger Milling Alternative (RMA).

The mission recognised that the RMA would have less direct impact on the Jabiluka area but that this would require building a road joining Jabiluka to Ranger and this road has been opposed by the senior traditional owner because of fundamental opposition to mining. Despite not being the preferred environmental option, ERA is currently planning to install a mill to process the uranium ore at Jabiluka.

Despite the concern expressed by the twenty-second session of the Bureau which met in June, at that time construction of the Jabiluka mine commenced. The Bureau had noted that "Uranium mining in an area of high natural and cultural values is of sensitivity and concern".

The following photographs show the status of the construction of the uranium mine at Jabiluka at the end of October 1998. The Jabiluka mine, unlike the open cut uranium mine at Ranger, is an underground mine. However, the underground mine requires significant surface works and facilities. You will see that a mine portal provides an entrance to the 1,800 metre mine decline currently under construction. The retention pond is already apparent.





The mission was concerned that the construction of a mine, and mining of uranium, at Jabiluka have been presented to the Committee as a fait accompli and commented that it is relevant to note that Paragraph 56 of the Operational Guidelines clearly states States Parties should inform the Committee of their intention to undertake or to authorize major restorations or new constructions which may affect World Heritages values and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse "

The mission seriously questioned the compatibility of mining, and particularly uranium mining and milling, in such close proximity, and upstream from, a World Heritage property, and regarded the Jabiluka mine as contributing threats which are posing both ascertained and potential dangers to the cultural and natural values of the World Heritage property.

Scientific uncertainties and the need for risk assessment

The mission determined that there are three issues of scientific uncertainty that lead to a finding of potential danger: (i) the degree of uncertainty concerning the quality of the hydrological modeling carried out in designing the water management plan for the mine site; (ii) the degree of uncertainty concerning the effectiveness of the concrete pasting process as a means of storing the tailings in the mine void, and (iii) the possible impacts on catchment ecosystems.

The mission concluded that application of the Precautionary Principle requires that mining operations at Jabiluka be ceased. (Recommendation 2).

Visual impact

The mission recognized that the location of the mine site in an enclave within the Park boundaries, and in particular in the area between the escarpment and the Magela floodplain, diminishes the natural beauty of the magnificent, sweeping landscapes of internationally important wetlands and adjacent escarpment. This present impact will be increased further should the road from Jabiluka to Ranger be constructed as currently proposed (RMA - Ranger Milling Alternative) or, alternatively, should the uranium ore to be extracted from Jabiluka be milled at the mine site (JMA - Jabiluka Milling Alternative).

The view was expressed to the mission that the visual impact of the underground mine at Jabiluka is insignificant when compared with the open cut mine Ranger which I showed as my first slide. The Jabiluka mine site is readily visible from the air from where visitors making overflights are especially well able to appreciate the sweeping landscapes for which Kakadu was inscribed on the World Heritage List and is famous.

The mission therefore concluded that the visual impact of Jabiluka is a distinct and significant visual impact that constitutes an ascertained danger for the natural World Heritage values of Kakadu in that it constitutes a deterioration of the "natural beauty or scientific value of the property" as set out in Paragraph 79 (i)(b) of the Operational Guidelines. The mission recommended that further visual encroachment on the integrity of Kakadu National Park should be prevented. (Recommendation 3)

Dangers to the cultural values of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease

The Mission was informed of the anthropological and archaeological significance of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease. Despite the fact that the Jabiluka Mineral Lease is an enclave from Kakadu National Park, overwhelming and uncontested evidence provided to the mission indicated that the cultural heritage values of the Mineral Lease are at least the equal of the abutting National Park and World Heritage property.

The Jabiluka Mineral Lease is the location of a very important archaeological sites, known as Malakananja II used to justify the inclusion of Kakadu Stage III on the World Heritage List. "Grindstones, amongst the world's earliest evidence of this technique of food preparation" were discovered at the site and "some of the world's oldest evidence of the technology of edge-ground axes and the preparation of pigments of at least 13,000 years ago" have also been found at the site.

The mission was concerned that the cultural integrity of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease (and in particular of the Australian Heritage Commission areas including the Jabiluka Outlier and Malakananja II) is potentially under direct threat from the proximity and scale of the mine construction. This has the potential to impact on the cultural values of the adjoining World Heritage property. These threats would escalate as mine development proceeds and would include impact of dust and vibration or rock art and archaeological sites. The mission was made aware of control and monitoring processes now having been put in place in this regard and noted that a leading expert in this field is now being consulted by the Supervising Scientist.

The mission concluded that it is important that the cultural sites of local, regional, national and international significance located within the Jabiluka Mineral Lease are adequately protected to standards set by international best practice in cultural heritage management. Furthermore, the mission concluded that international best environmental practice and a precautionary approach must also extend to the protection of cultural values (Recommendation 4).

In this regard the mission noted the recent commencement of work on the Cultural Heritage Management Plan for the Jabiluka Mineral Lease. The Mission endorsed the Australian Government decision announced to it, to subject the Interim Cultural Heritage Management Plan to peer review. The Mission recommended that every effort be made to ensure thorough participation, negotiation and communication with traditional owners, custodians and managers to ensure the compilation of an accurate cultural inventory that will lead to the conservation of the cultural sites located within the Jabiluka Mineral Lease.

The Bowyeg Djang (Gecko Dreaming) site

The mission was informed of the general locality of the Boyweg site a site of mythological importance to the traditional owners of the Park. The site covers part of the valley where the mine and shaft are being developed.

This is causing concern to the Mirarr Aboriginal people, and in particular their senior spokesperson (Ms Yvonne Margarula). Given the scale and depth of the Jabiluka mine decline, and its underground proximity to the Bowyeg site, such concern was, in the view of the mission, understandable.

The mission reached a consensus opinion that the mining proponent should voluntarily suspend all activity that would directly or indirectly impact the areas proposed as encompassing the Boyweg site. The Mission recommended, as an utmost priority, exhaustive cultural mapping of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease and the Boyweg site and its boundaries to ensure protection of these integral elements and associative values of the outstanding cultural landscape of Kakadu (Recommendation 5).

Threats to the living cultural heritage of Kakadu

The integrity of the World Heritage associative values recognized by the inclusion of Kakadu National Park on the World Heritage List on the basis of cultural criterion vi depends on the ability of affected Aboriginal communities to continue their traditional relationships to the land. The mission was of the opinion that this ability, and therefore the living cultural heritage values for which Kakadu National Park was inscribed, are demonstrably under threat. The living traditions are being directly and indirectly impacted by mining activity at Jabiluka and by other social and economic distresses.

In this regard, the mission recommended the immediate and effective implementation of the Kakadu Regional Social Impact Study to begin to ameliorate the negative regional socio-cultural impacts of development on Aboriginal people as these impacts are a potential danger to the cultural values recognised when Kakadu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List according to cultural heritage criterion vi. (Recommendation 6)

The mission considered that Jabiluka serves as a critical threshold in the relationship between the Aboriginal people of Kakadu, and the impact of development infrastructure upon their country and beliefs, and therefore that any continuation or escalation of disputation on this issue has the potential to further fracture the regional Aboriginal polity, further undermine the living cultural heritage of indigenous people, and in particular the Mirrar, in the region.

In summary, the mission considered that the strongly held beliefs of the traditional owners must be respected to ensure the protection of the living cultural traditions recognised through World Heritage inscription. (Recommendation 7)

Lack of recognition of the Kakadu cultural landscape

The mission was made constantly aware that the living cultural tradition of Kakadu, recognised through World Heritage inscription, is underpinned by the special relationship between the Aboriginal traditional owners and their land. However, at the time of the December 1992 Stage III inscription of Kakadu National Park on the World Heritage List, Kakadu was not assessed or evaluated as a potential World Heritage cultural landscape as, at that time, the World Heritage cultural landscape categories had not yet been approved by the Committee. This point has been noted on a number of occasions, most recently by ICOMOS at the twenty-second session of the Bureau in June 1998.

The mission heard of the support for the concept of World Heritage cultural landscapes from a number of stakeholders who described, in detail, the particular relevance of the concept to the recognition and conservation of the intense connectedness between the traditional owners of Kakadu and their environment.

A number of stakeholders referred to the excision of the Jabiluka Mineral Lease from the area nominated to and inscribed on the World Heritage List as failing to reflect the views, perceptions and meanings of that area as an integral part of the regional cultural landscape and their living cultural traditions.

Recommendation 8 of the report states that the mission is of the opinion that the full extent of the outstanding cultural landscape of Kakadu should be recognised and protected.

Limitations to the boundaries of Kakadu National Park

Whilst the mission acknowledged the extensive area of the National Park and World Heritage property (19,804 km2), the mission was in favour of the suggestions made in a number of submissions to extend the World Heritage property to include more of the catchment of the East Alligator River. Such an extension is vital to ensure the ecological integrity and conservation of the downstream wetlands which form the core of the World Heritage property. Without this protection, the ecological integrity of the Kakadu region, including the existing World Heritage property, is in potential danger as the possibility of additional mining projects commencing in the upper catchment has not been excluded. (see Recommendation 9)

Threat to the continuation of the "joint management" regime at Kakadu National Park

In 1989 a Board of Management was established for Kakadu National Park. The Board is composed of 14 people including 10 Aboriginal people nominated by the traditional owners of the Park.

The "joint management" of Kakadu by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people has been widely praised as a model for cross-cultural stewardship of a protected area.

Recommendation 10 of the mission report in noting the proposed changes to environmental legislation in Australia refers to the need to ensure that a clear two-thirds majority for Aboriginal membership of the Board is maintained.

Overall breakdown in trust and communication

Furthermore, the mission report refers to the importance in maintaining trust and communication between all indigenous and non-indigenous stakeholders with an interest in the Kakadu region and encourages increased cross-cultural dialogue to ensure conservation of the outstanding heritage values of Kakadu for future generations. (Recommendation 11)

I will now move quickly to the final recommendations of the mission report.

Recommendation 12 also refers to the need to develop stronger community trust of, and communication with, the Supervising Scientist's Group.

The Koongarra Mineral Lease

The mission recommended that all efforts be made to seek the agreement with the traditional owners to include the third Mineral Lease, the Koongarra Mineral Lease, in the Park and therefore preclude mining.

The town of Jabiru

The mining and tourism town of Jabiru is located within the World Heritage property.

The mission questioned the compatibility of the incremental development and expansion of the town of Jabiru with World Heritage conservation (see Recommendation 14)

The final section of the report refer to successes in the control of invasive plant and animal species in the Park and the final recommendations (Recommendations 15 and 16) include a recommendation calling for additional necessary funds and resources for their control and eradication.

Bureau recommendations

In conclusion, I would like to refer briefly to the recommendations of the twenty second extraordinary session of the Bureau held at the end of last week that are included in document (WHC-98/CONF.203/8 REV.) . I urge you to examine the Bureau's recommendations in extenso.

The Bureau recognised the report of the mission to Kakadu National Park as being both thorough and credible.

The recommendations of the Bureau are made in two parts and include a preamble that expresses in the first instance, grave concern at the ascertained and potential dangers to the World Heritage cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park which, as noted in the mission report, are posed primarily by the proposal for uranium mining and milling at Jabiluka.

The Bureau also noted with concern that in spite of the dangers to the World Heritage values, construction of the mine at Jabiluka began earlier this year and is currently progressing.

The Bureau calls for extensive reports on the state of conservation of Kakadu to be examined by the twenty-third session of the Bureau, and if the Bureau considers that the threats described in the mission report persist, it is recommended that the Bureau be authorized by the Committee to immediately inscribe Kakadu National Park on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Final statement

Finally, let me again recall the main recommendation of the mission report.

The mission concluded that there are severe ascertained and potential dangers to the cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park posed primarily by the proposal for uranium mining and milling at Jabiluka. The mission therefore recommended that the proposal to mine and mill uranium at Jabiluka should not proceed. (Recommendation 1 of the report).

Thank you.








ICOMOS and IUCN have reviewed the report of the Kakadu Review Mission, together with the submissions provided to the Mission. ICOMOS and IUCN applaud the Australian Government for agreeing to receive the Mission and thank the wide range of stakeholders for their professional submissions.

ICOMOS and IUCN are aware that the preparation of the Report was constrained by the limited time available for all Mission members to work together and notes that this was a consequence of the change in dates of the Mission.

In commenting on the Kakadu situation in June 1998, IUCN noted that on issues of major significance, IUCN's approach is derived inter alia from the periodic World Conservation Congresses. Resolution 1.104 dealing with "Conservation of Kakadu World Heritage Site, Australia" was adopted by the World Conservation Congress at its 1st Session in Montreal, Canada, 14-23 October 1996. A copy of this Resolution was provided to the Bureau in June and is available separately.

ICOMOS endorses the concerns expressed by this Resolution. The Jabiluka mine constitutes a serious threat to the cultural significance of the entire Kakadu World Heritage site, and specifically to the profound associative values of this outstanding cultural landscape. Moreover, the rock art and occupation sites in the mining enclave are of great archaeological importance, and at the same time the sacred sites form an integral part of the living cultural traditions of the Aboriginal traditional owners.

The action section of the WCC Resolution 1.104 includes inter alia the provision:

"To urge the Government of Australia to prevent the development of Jabiluka and Koongarra uranium mines should it be shown that such mining would threaten the Park's World Heritage values."

On the basis of these considerations the position of ICOMOS and IUCN on the issue of Kakadu and mining can be summed up as follows:

  1. The report of the Review Mission adds to the concerns discussed in June by analysing and listing a set of ascertained and potential threats to both the cultural and natural values for which Kakadu was listed as a World Heritage site.

  2. On the basis of this analysis and WCC Resolution 1.104, ICOMOS and IUCN consider that the recommendations of the Review Mission should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

  3. After careful consideration of the issues raised by the Review, ICOMOS and IUCN believe that the conditions exist for inscribing Kakadu on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

  4. ICOMOS and IUCN believe that Kakadu is a threshold issue for the World Heritage Convention, one that can confirm the standards for which the World Heritage Convention enjoys such high international prestige, or one that can diminish these standards. We believe that failure to recognise the dangers identified in the report of the Review mission and to implement its recommendations will diminish these standards and risks prejudicing that prestige.

  5. ICOMOS and IUCN believes this to be of particular concern at a time in the Conventions history when, as discussed in the Bureau on 27-28 November, the pressures on World Heritage sites are growing, and mining in particular is bringing such serious impacts.

30 November 1998





Australia has not stood in the path of the consensus to adopt the Bureau's recommendations. Australia recognises the concerns of many delegations and the work that the Bureau has done to move this matter forward.

The matters are of considerable complexity and sensitivity. They need to be handled from here in a manner which reflects the values, procedures and provisions of the Convention.

As Professor Francioni has emphasised this mine is not in the World Heritage Area protected under the Convention for the purposes of Guideline 56 and cannot be seen from the World Heritage Area. There has been no breach of Guideline 56.

While Australia cannot associate itself with some of the Bureau's conclusions and judgments, it will undertake to provide the reports and reviews requested by the Committee.

Some of you are concerned about the urgency of the issue.

There are some brief remarks I would like to make that will deal with those concerns. I draw your attention to Roman (iii) of the preamble to the Bureau's recommendations. This sets out our undertakings in relation to advancing aspects of the Mission's recommendations in the time immediately ahead.

I also want to put beyond doubt the status of current works in the mining lease area, none of which is included in the World Heritage Area. The construction of the mine portal, or opening, and decline, or tunnel, which were well underway at the time of the Mission's visit will proceed and continue to be subject to intense environmental and cultural heritage supervision. The Australian Government will not permit damage to any cultural, art or archaeological sites from the mine development. The Company has agreed that there will be no constructions or activities at Boyweg. There will be a minimum impact on natural conservation values in the lease area and progressive rehabilitation of the works site. No mine development works are occurring, or will be allowed to occur, in the World Heritage Area. The development works will not impact on the physical attributes of the World Heritage area. The construction phase of the mine will not be completed until 2000.

The next stages of the mine development, ie mining of uranium ore and the construction of any mill to process ore is dependent on the assurance of an issue of export licences by the Australian Government. Issue of export licences, which is an essential commercial precondition to exploitation of uranium, requires the company satisfying more than 100 environmental requirements. This will definitely not take place before June next year; ie not until after the Australian Government has before it the results of the process that the Bureau has recommended to the Committee.

Let me reiterate that Australia stands by the Convention and does not intend to allow any damage to the natural and cultural values of the World Heritage area. We do not consider that the values are in any form of ascertained or potential danger. Accordingly we do not believe that there is a basis now for urgent action. However, we have listened carefully to the views of Parties expressed through the decision of the Committee at the Bureau and in the corridors; and we will provide our informed analysis of the Mission report, as well as the reports and reviews requested by the Committee in the timetable outlined.

As I have already remarked, we are committed to this Convention. We are committed to its values and our obligations under the Convention. In addition, it is important that we all respect the rights of parties under the Convention, and in turn that the Convention's organs proceed in a manner which is both fair and legally well based.

We will return to these general procedural issues at an appropriate time.

We are grateful for the time and effort that delegations have devoted to this issue to find a way forward.






I must dissociate my Government from this resolution.

The Australian Government's position is that there is no basis on which it could or should suspend the construction works currently underway.

The Australian Governments response to the Committee's previous resolution will be prepared as requested and will provide the necessary information.

The Australian Government does not believe that the underground construction work scheduled for the next six months poses actual or potential threat to Kakadu's World Heritage values.

I will, of course, transmit this resolution to my Government and to the company.

I would like to add that we have always recognised the fundamental importance of ensuring thorough and continuing participation, negotiation and communication with Aboriginal traditional owners, custodians and managers in the conservation of the outstanding heritage values of Kakadu for future generations.


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