Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National

9 November 2012

FRAN KELLY: The Federal Government is expanding the scope of national heritage listings. From today indigenous heritage and culture will be officially recognised in the national heritage listing of Queensland's wet tropics. The Environment Minister Tony Burke will make this announcement in Cairns today.

Minister, good morning welcome to Breakfast.

TONY BURKE: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Tony Burke what does this recognition of aboriginal heritage and culture mean? What will it do? What added protection will it give to the wet tropics?

TONY BURKE: It makes two differences. The first is when we're dealing with environmental approvals. Instead of only having to take into account natural values we take into account cultural values and the second thing is to the management plans and the way is managed. Cultural values then become a significant part of how you actually manage the area.

FRAN KELLY: So can you give us an example of that means as you're looking at heritage protection? If you're taking about cultural values - what would that mean? What particular specific kind of thing?

TONY BURKE: Okay. The simplest example is for example if you - for some indigenous sites there will be particular alignments of rocks that have a very deep cultural significance. If you were to move them in terms of environmental approvals it may make no different environmentally at all. It may have a very big difference in terms of cultural significance.

So at the moment something like that environmentally there would be no way of effectively preventing it. When you add your indigenous values to your heritage listing you then have extra protections about that. That's probably the simplest example.

FRAN KELLY: And are those businesses and companies that are working in this area - have they responded to this notion of what they - what some people might see as an extra hurdle for approval?

TONY BURKE: Look it's been some time since there's been large-scale development in the wet tropics area in that sense. Most people would recognise the wet tropics not by that name but by memory of the Daintree Rainforest campaign. That's the part of Queensland we're talking about. So I think realistically the most meaningful difference will be in management itself and in making sure that for principles like indigenous fire management you start to make sure that cultural traditions that become part of the way the environmental management is done.

FRAN KELLY: Are there plans to recognise indigenous culture and heritage in other areas that have a national listing?

TONY BURKE: Yes I spent the last - well I'm sorry in terms of - if I give a different example - in terms of Cape York. I've spent the last week in a tent with traditional owners in Cape York in different parts of the Cape and there there is a lot of passion that if a world heritage listing were to go through - and I don't know if traditional owners well end up wanting one - but if it were to cultural values are front and centre.

In fact cultural values first before you get to environmental values in the meetings that I've been having over the last week.

FRAN KELLY: So if the Cape gets a world heritage listing, part of that listing will be protection of cultural…

TONY BURKE: Absolutely.

FRAN KELLY: … areas and values.

TONY BURKE: Yeah. Absolutely and I should add that I don't think there's any prospect at all of some sort of blanket listing across the whole Cape. I think what traditional owners are likely to come back with are particular sites that they want levels of protection over. But I have no doubt what traditional owners - if they do come back wanting a world heritage listing - it will be cultural as the absolute must. Environmental issues as well but the cultural values were what around every campfire were the first things people wanted to talk about.

FRAN KELLY: And in terms of that - the chances of a world heritage listing for Cape York - you virtually invited the traditional owners to come forward with the - with the areas they want exempted and the areas they'd like protected. That's what you think should happen is it?

TONY BURKE: Yes. It's the first time - from what I can work out it's the first time it's been done this way anywhere in the world. Where a minister - I haven't gone out with a map and said here's a map of want and tried to sell it. I've - I've said to traditional owner groups I want you to hold the pen and you to work out which sites are important for you.

We've already identified across the whole Cape the different values but said to traditional owners you are in charge of the boundaries on this and what you decide - if you decide you don't want world heritage at all we're not going send anything in. If there's particular sites that you want then we're happy to back you judgement call. And it's never been done that way before.

FRAN KELLY: And others aren't so happy about it as I understand it - as I can determine anyway. Some of the environmental groups who are interested in the world heritage listing for Cape York think that what you should be protecting is the scope, the vastness of this area, this intact area. If you start to draw lines around it and take pieces out of it then that damages the area itself. What's your response to that?

TONY BURKE: I reckon it's a bit hard to argue that traditional owners aren't going to be environmentally responsible. I think they've probably done a much better job of managing lands sustainably than the rest of us have. And you know realistically it's so long since we went through the Mabo and Wik decision. The Wik people of course are on the Cape and I just think it's high time we said for traditional owners you have the underlying title it's one the land and we're going to let this judgement call be yours.

FRAN KELLY: For some though it's always a toss up isn't it? These things - the notion of indigenous owners and indigenous leaders claiming for their people the right to develop economic opportunities for their people versus preservation for the whole of the national including those indigenous owners and the original indigenous inhabitants of protecting the pristine nature of that area.

TONY BURKE: Yes and if I go to - if you look at the most extraordinary environmental sites across the Cape they tend to the be the sites of the greatest cultural significance as well. So I wouldn't underestimate the extent to which you get an overlay with what comes back.

But once again as I say I'm handing the pen over to traditional owners on this. And the other thing I should add it's not just the leadership of particular organisations. This consultation process gets right down to family groups and people who have the authority to speak for particular parts of country and that's a process we're following through.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. We've just got to go but there's a February deadline on this. Do you think by February there or things will be in place to get the Cape York a world heritage listing?

TONY BURKE: There's a chance but I'm not sure. It's a deadline that's set each year by the United Nations not by me. If they come back and they're not ready to go then nothing will go to the World Heritage Committee if the come - if traditional owners come back and there is something that we can put forward as a listing then I don't intend to change their recommendations by a millimetre.

FRAN KELLY: Tony Burke, thank you very much for joining us.

TONY BURKE: Good to talk to you.

FRAN KELLY: Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke. It's seventeen minutes to nine.