Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Koongarra: Fulfilling a promise to traditional owners

Media release
6 February 2013

After 34 years, Kakadu traditional owner Jeffrey Lee sat in the House of Representatives to watch his ancestral lands be protected forever.

Mr Burke this morning introduced a bill to repeal the Koongarra Project Area Act an Act created to make uranium mining economically feasible after Koongarra was excluded from Kakadu's original boundaries in 1979.

"In 2010, the Government promised Mr Lee that we would incorporate Koongarra into Kakadu National Park, to ensure that the threat of mining was banished forever," Mr Burke said.

"This Labor Government continues the legacy of previous Labor Governments of preserving and protecting the environment for future generations.

"It was Bob Hawke's Government in the 1980s that protected Coronation Hill and recognised that this spectacular natural and spiritual environment is no place for mining.

"The Koongarra lands are not only of enormous significance to Jeffrey Lee and to other traditional owners but international and Australian visitors would be horrified if mining were to occur within sight of Kakadu's magnificent rock art galleries and stunning bush walks at Nourlangie Rock.

"The exclusion of Koongarra has meant there has always been a hole in the heart of the boundaries of Kakadu.

"The decision of Jeffrey Lee means that finally the progress made by the Hawke Government is concluded and Kakadu national park will be complete."

Koongarra lies in the shadow of Nourlangie Rock, one of Kakadu's most popular visitor destinations, with rock art galleries that bear witness to the close relationship Aboriginal people have with their land and spiritual heritage.

On its other side, Koongarra faces Lightning Dreaming, home of Namarrgon or Lightning Man, the creation ancestor responsible for the dramatic electrical storms on the Arnhem plateau.

"The Government worked with Mr Lee to secure World Heritage recognition for Koongarra in 2011, and since then with the Northern Land Council to finalise the legal steps to make Koongarra part of Kakadu National Park," Mr Burke said.

"I'm pleased to announce that the Koongarra area has now been added to the park lease and will soon be formally proclaimed part of Kakadu National Park.

"Koongarra will then have the full protection of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 and as part of Kakadu, mining will be prohibited forever.

"This historic moment is testament to the untiring work of traditional owner Jeffrey Lee, who has fought for years to preserve his country for future generations. We are proud to honour the wishes of the land's traditional owners and to protect one of Australia's most magnificent national parks for our children and grandchildren."