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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Minister for Environment and Heritage Senator Robert Hill has accepted a recommendation to postpone the commencement date of a declaration under Section 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 for the Boobera Lagoon in northern NSW.
The declaration, due to commence on July 1, would have prohibited water skiing on the lagoon.
It will now commence on May 1 2002, allowing more time for local water skiers to establish an alternative recreational facility.
Describing the decision as "extremely difficult" Senator Hill said it followed an independent review of the original Section 10 declaration made by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Senator Herron in December 1998.
"On the one hand Boobera Lagoon is a significant Aboriginal area and water skiing is a desecration of the area within the meaning of the Act. This was so found by Senator Herron in his declaration of 24 December 1998. It is also the view of Mr Peter Hastie, who conducted the review. Upon reading the materials before me, I am sure that those conclusions are correct. The site should therefore be protected under the legislation.
"On the other hand the lagoon has been extensively used for water skiing for 50 years. A boat ramp, toilets and picnic area have been established. Water skiing has become a significant family based activity in an area of regional Australia where there are few such opportunities.
"Although the submissions demonstrate the deep disappointment of many local people in a decision to prohibit water skiing - this decision has been made and is not being reconsidered.
"The only issue I reconsidered was the commencement date. Senator Herron had determined that the commencement of the declaration should be 1st July 2000 to allow 'relevant State and Local Government authorities to establish an alternative water skiing site'.
"An alternative water skiing site has not been established, although the Goondiwindi Town Council has this month completed a feasibility study for the development of a Goondiwindi natural heritage and water park to allow a range of water skiing activities. The Commonwealth assisted with funding towards the cost of this study.
"On reflection the postponement of two years was always likely to be insufficient for the establishment of an alternative water skiing site. Mr Hastie commented, 'The original estimated time by which an alternative water skiing site could be established was far too short.'
"In terms of an extension Mr Hastie summarised what he regarded as reasonable as follows:
'In the end, I am inclined to recommend that the commencement date of the declaration be postponed until 1 May 2002; but on the understanding that no further extensions would be granted, and that the declaration commence whether or not any development of an alternative site is approved or concluded.'
"This is the advice I have accepted.
"I am conscious that this decision will distress the communities who have been seeking effective protection of this significant Aboriginal area for a long time. They have been expected to concede a great deal for the recreational interests of others. For this reason they are entitled to an assurance that there will be no further extensions.
"Furthermore, as there have apparently been some misunderstandings that Senator Herron's decision meant closure would not occur unless and until an alternative water skiing facility is established, I want to make it absolutely clear that my decision is not so linked.
"For the period between now and 1 May 2002 the NSW Government should effectively manage the terms and conditions of water skiing so as to minimise adverse consequences. This should also have been done in the past.
"Furthermore, I would hope that during this intervening period the proposed management plan for Boobera Lagoon prepared for the Land Council, also with Commonwealth Government support, might be further developed and communicated in order to win broad-based community support.
"In terms of the Australian Heritage Commission Act, I have considered advice from the Commission and concluded there is no feasible or prudent alternative and to the action I am now taking.
"In reconciling the differing community interests there will always be disappointments.
"We must however work towards a better understanding and respect of each other's interests in what are often mutually appreciated natural and cultural assets," Senator Hill said.
Media Contact: Rod Bruem (02) 6277 7640 or 0419 258 364