Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Kimberley national heritage listing

E&OE Transcript
Press Conference
31 August 2011

QUESTION: What are you announcing today?

TONY BURKE: I’ve accepted the recommendations of the Australian Heritage Council to put the west Kimberley on the national heritage list. There are some parts of the west Kimberley where the heritage council has not recommended they be part of the geographic area, so for example in the Dampier Peninsula. Also for the James price point site, I know there’s a lot of interest, was not recommended for inclusion. The intertidal zone outside is covered by the dinosaur trail. Broome itself is not included in what has been recommended to me but having said those exclusions we still have an extraordinary area. We are talking about more than 19 million hectares. Within that area you don’t have a national park situation, we don’t have a lock up of any sort. But what you have is identified values that will be taken into account from this point on.

QUESTION: Was James Price Point exised?

TONY BURKE: No, when they did the assessment, the Heritage Council at no stage to my knowledge actually recommended that it be included.

QUESTION: Given it’s a case for development how can the gas hub and the environment coexist?

TONY BURKE: Well I’m not going to prejudge any applications but separate to the issue, a few hours ago on any application that would come to me within the west Kimberley the only issues that I would take account of would be endangered species and other matters of national environmental significance. Now, these values will need to be taken into account but obviously, as you’d appreciate, legally, I can’t prejudge an application.

QUESTION: Does this assessment then say that there are no footprints south of the precinct? Where are the footprints in your opinion?

TONY BURKE: The area identified with those values goes through the coast, I don’t want to start giving specific boundaries, we have it all available in the packs. But needless to say there will be values to take account of when that applications comes before me.

QUESTION: How far off shore does the intertidal zone does stretch?

TONY BURKE: Well in this part of Australia the intertidal zone is huge. That’s one of the reasons why people sometimes argue about the number of hectares that are included, depending on what tide you are at you’ll get a different answer to that question. So the intertidal zone in different parts of the country is extraordinarily large, but to give a precise area there you’ll get a different answer outside James Price Point to the answer that you get in Derby.

QUESTION: What does this decision mean for development proposals for the region?

TONY BURKE: It means that these issues need to be taken account of, it doesn’t mean more than that. Some people would have liked it to have meant a complete lock out of all further development. It does not mean that. Some people would have liked it to mean a lock out of any future mining proposals, it doesn’t mean that either. What it means is that there are values of national significnace that now have to be taken account of.

QUESTION: Isnt it more usual to do sites in an area, various sites for national heritage, why the broad swathe? Why such a large area instead of taking out the chunks?

TONY BURKE: Well what you do is identify the values within that area. For example, there’s been some silly comments over the last couple of days from the Premier of Western Australia saying petrol stations will be impacted on by a listing because of the boundaries. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a value in the national heritage listing that actually ran against petrol stations so within that area you have to find one of the values in order to have it identified as being problematic in that way. You have a large area for example within a world heritage zone, in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, we do have development that takes place within that area but there are values and particular sites of varying significance that need to be taken account of.

QUESTION: Has a national heritage listing ever stopped a development from going ahead?

TONY BURKE: I can think of world heritage listings that have and the Franklin Dam would be the classic example of that. You’d find similar with some of the proposals with respect to the Daintree Rainforest and you’d also find the recent listing by the world heritage committee of including Koongarra to the Kakady national park. You’ve seen the objections from the French uranium mining company over that one. So there are examples where what you’ve described certainly, in terms of world heritage, come to mind but nothing at my fingertips on national heritage.

QUESTION: Is there a world heritage listing for the west Kimberley?

TONY BURKE: At the moment, we’ve dealt with the national heritage listing and what I want is to provide a bit of space for some people who have been spooked by the misinformation fear campaign just to be able to see that this does what the law says it does which puts values in front of me that need to be taken account of and respected in any application.

QUESTION: And the east kimberley?

TONY BURKE: Well, you’ve already got your bungle bungles so there are areas where heritage listing much further east than where we’re standing today have been included. We’ve just got through something of extraordinary scale and I know there’s always a temptation to say, well which bit next. I reckon this one’s big enough that its worthy of allowing the traditional owners and everyone else involved to enjoy the moment.

QUESTION: Can you say why those other areas were left out? I thought Broome was left out.

TONY BURKE: Broome was never recommended to be within the boundaries, there was a description, of the romance of Broome in the heritage council’s recommendations which I felt was goin to cause a level of conclusion given that Broome, of itself, within the boundaries. So I’ve accepted the principles behind that recommendation in terms of acknowledging the heritage value of the pearling industry and its role in the west Kimberley but I figured that there was just going to be further confusion if you had a specific reference to a place which was not within the boudnary.

QUESTION: Minister, just finally, would it be fair to say that this is the largest geographical listed?

TONY BURKE: On land.

QUESTION: In Australian history?


QUESTION: What does it mean to you to be able to come and make the announcement and do the signing here?

TONY BURKE: It’s hard to spend any time in the different parts of the west kimberley and not see something new. I have spent a lot of time here, the previous three years as Agriculture Minister and now as Environment Minister. In tht time I’ve had a good understanding of the different aspects of the heritage of this part of Australia. But the place is breathtaking. It’s as simple as that. It is a magnificent part of our continent and one of the things that has been interesting is when people want to argue that I shouldn’t go ahead with this listing, no one has been able to run an argument at all that would go against the merits of this deserving to be on the national heritage list. I think that probably says it all.

QUESTION: Just finally, environmental approvals on James Price Point, for that project. You still looking at an October time frame?

TONY BURKE: The next parcel of work is being led by the WA Government in terms of the work that’s being done on the strategic assessment. So that will come to me when its ready to come to me and at that point I’ll have a limited legal framework to look at it but I will have to make sure that they’ve met the conditions of the terms of reference that originally put to them. Within that framework I will then have to make a call, not as to whether it is the best location but as to whether, within the law and the terms of reference, it is an appropriate location.

QUESTION: So time frame, by the end of the year? By the end of october?

TONY BURKE: As I say, the end of october is one that has been put out there at different points but it’s a timeframe that I’m not in control of be cause there’s work to be done by the WA Government.

QUESTION: The Premier says this is just another example of the federal government intergering in state affairs?

TONY BURKE: It’s a pretty desperate claim. Let’s not forget that in 2008 the reason the national heritage council was asked to embark on this at all was an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the WA Government. Two things were agreed on at the same time — that there would be an assessment by the National Heritage Council on the heritage values of the west kimberley and that the strategic assessment should go ahead. It seems like the Premier has forgotten one half of that deal and wants me to renege on the part that he is concerned about but wants me to desperately hurry along on the other part that he wants. My view is really simple — you’ve got to deal with these agreements honestly, you’ve got to keep agreements that have been made and you work within the letter of the legal framework that’s in front of you. I’ve got a legal framework that says when something is prevented I ask a question as to whether or not it has national heritage values and I’ve got to say the answer here is undoubtedly.