Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

World Heritage listing for Koongarra in Northern Territory

Media release
27 June 2011

A decades'-long fight to protect the Koongarra area in the heart of Kakadu is almost over after the World Heritage Committee today decided to include it in the Kakadu World Heritage Area.

Environment Minister Tony Burke welcomed the World Heritage Committee's decision which will help to protect Koongarra for generations to come.

Other iconic World Heritage List sites include the Wet Tropics of Queensland, the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Sydney Opera House.

It is a major step forward for the Gillard Government in delivering its election commitment to protect Koongarra by adding it to Kakadu National Park.

The 1,228 hectare Koongarra area was excluded from Kakadu's original boundaries in 1979 because of its potential uranium resources.

"It has taken more than 30 years but finally Koongarra is part of the Kakadu World Heritage area," Mr Burke said.

"The world is acknowledging what Traditional Owner Jeffrey Lee has always known - that Koongarra is one of the most precious places on earth.

"This historic decision reflects the international importance of Koongarra and is testament to the untiring work of Mr Lee, who has fought for years to preserve his country for future generations.

"The inclusion of Koongarra area recognises its proximity to the culturally important Nourlangie Rock, one of Kakadu's National Park's most outstanding Indigenous areas.

"Nourlangie Rock is Kakadu's major rock art site with many impressive paintings that interpret Aboriginal spiritual beliefs.

"These paintings are evidence of the close relationship Aboriginal have people with their land and spiritual heritage.

"Nourlangie Rock looks out over Koongarra, so this World Heritage listing will ensure the protection and integrity of more than 20,000 years of our Indigenous history and culture."

Mr Burke said the Government was working with the Northern Land Council to finalise the legal steps needed to make Koongarra part of Kakadu National Park.

"By amending the Kakadu lease to incorporate Koongarra into the National Park - it will have the full protection of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 and mining will be prohibited," he said.

"The Government stands by its election promise: we believe we need to protect this fragile environment with its strong cultural importance to Traditional Owners.

"No mineral exploration or mining rights have ever been granted and Traditional Owner Jeffrey Lee and other affected Aboriginal people are adamant that they never want to see Koongarra mined.

"We believe it is absolutely right to honour the wishes of the land's Traditional Owners to ensure the protection of the area's world renowned values for future generations."

For more information about the World Heritage Listing of Koongarra visit www.environment.gov.au. Footage is available from http://tiny.cc/2clwk