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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

 

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Transcript
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

ABC Darwin
Morning Show
Monday, 5 April 2004

Management of Kakadu National Park


Compere:

Tour operators, backpacker industries, locals and government and opposition politicians — they're all up in arms over the closure of the base of Twin Falls to swimming. The tourist industry in particular is saying that this is having a devastating effect on business.

Parks Management says it's all about making the Kakadu experience safe, with the possibility of a salt-water croc in the pool.

Environment and Heritage Minister, David Kemp, is Parks Australia North's political master and he's meeting with tourist industry representatives. He's in Darwin today. David Kemp, good morning.

Minister David Kemp:

Good morning.

Compere:

We've had three Coalition members claiming there are serious shortcomings with management at Kakadu and increasing momentum for more Territory government responsibility. How do you see the situation at the moment?

Minister Kemp:

Well I believe that the proper management of Kakadu is really dependent on a very strong partnership between the traditional owners, Parks Australia and the tourism industry.

And so long as each of those elements realise their responsibility and also feel that they're properly involved in decision making, then Kakadu will be properly presented, because I'm well aware that there have been recent controversies and there has been a feeling that perhaps there hasn't been a sufficiently strong relationship between the Board of Kakadu and the tourism industry.

People feel frustrated by that. We can't have that continue. We've got to put the relationship on a proper basis, and indeed we've got to develop a shared vision for tourism in Kakadu and that's what my visit here today is intended to promote.

Compere:

There's just one tourism industry representative at the moment on the board of management. Will you increase that?

Minister Kemp:

Well we've got a new representative on the board, with Marilyn Paspaley joining the board and I'm sure that she'll be a very effective voice on the board. It's more than just the composition of the board, it's ...

Compere:

But Marilyn Paspaley is involved with the pearling industry. Why is she there?

Minister Kemp:

Well she's had a very good relationship with the board as an observer in recent times. She's somebody who understands business. She is dedicated to the future of northern Australia.

Compere:

But what are her tourism credentials?

Minister Kemp:

Well she will have — I've certainly seen a very significant tourism interest in that industry that she's associated with. But also she's very dedicated to the prosperity of industries in northern Australia and the tourism industry is foremost amongst those.

Compere:

But can you see some backlash to that from the tourism industry saying, 'She's not involved specifically in our industry'?

Minister Kemp:

Look I'm not envisaging backlash from the industry at all. On the contrary, I believe the industry is now seeing that there is a serious intent on the part of the Kakadu Board to reach out to it and to make decisions which are jointly owned by the tourism industry ...

Compere:

But that hasn't happened ...

Minister Kemp:

... and by Kakadu. No, it ...

Compere:

Look at the issue of the closure of the base of Twin Falls to swimming - that's caused a huge outcry from the tourism industry with them saying that tourists interstate and overseas are saying that it's not worth going to Kakadu, that Kakadu itself is closed. I mean, how can - that's been badly mismanaged, hasn't it?

Minister Kemp:

Well there are two elements to that decision. One is that arising out of that decision, there will be a new product, if you like, for the tourism industry, which I know has been greatly welcomed by the industry.

Equally there are many in the industry who feel that they've been short-changed by that decision and I think that the positive to come out of that decision is that there's now a very much greater realisation on the part of all concerned, including the Kakadu Board, the traditional owners, Parks North, as well the industry, that there has just got to be a much closer relationship between these partners if Kakadu decisions are going to be well made and owned by everybody.

Compere:

So what structure will be set up to facilitate that?

Minister Kemp:

Well there'll be very wide consultation and I think coming out of that, we will see what needs to be done, but it's not just formal structures. It's really informal relationships as well that are critically important.

There needs to be just much more frequent contact between the tourism industry and the traditional owners, and the Board of Kakadu. These have to be informal contacts as well. People just need to feel that they've got direct access.

Compere:

Croc hunting safaris — yes or no?

Minister Kemp:

Well it would be premature for me to make a decision on that at the moment, because I haven't yet received the final management plan from the Northern Territory Government.

Compere:

Which way are you leaning though?

Minister Kemp:

Well I'm not leaning in any particular direction. What I'm leaning towards is listening to people. I'm listening to those who have animal welfare concerns on the one hand, and I'm listening to those who believe that this would be a very valuable addition to tourism in the Northern Territory.

Compere:

Which are the loudest voices?

Minister Kemp:

Oh I think all voices are being very clearly heard. That's one of the advantages of the process that we're going through at the moment. Everybody's got a chance to state their views.

Compere:

But it is against the federal environment policy though, isn't it? So is there a chance of that being reversed for crocodile hunting safari in the Territory?

Minister Kemp:

Well it's not permitted under the Plan of Management which has just come to an end, but that is now going to be proposed again by the Northern Territory Government in the new Plan of Management, and so when that plan comes to me, I'll be in a position to make a decision.

Compere:

David Kemp, it is a interesting (sic) portfolio that you have. Let's look at Ranger — the recent leak at Ranger Uranium Mine of contaminated water which was actually drunk by workers there. There's been a long record of problems at Ranger.

There was a series of recommendations that came out from last year's Senate committee into Ranger. What's happened to those recommendations? Why haven't they been implemented, because people are saying if they had been, then this latest spill might have been avoided?

Minister Kemp:

Well I don't believe that's the case, but let me say the latest spill is quite unacceptable and I've asked the supervising scientist to provide me with a full report on how that has occurred, and he has investigated this — and is investigating it very thoroughly.

My understanding is that maintenance is being carried out at the Ranger Mine but the mine is not operating until the chief scientist gives the all clear that there is no risk to anybody operating the mine. I mean, we can't have these kind of events. I'm disappointed that it's happened, and I'm looking forward to getting a full report on it from the supervising scientist.

Compere:

Could there be penalties for ERA?

Minister Kemp:

Well this is a very serious matter. I have heard that the Northern Territory Government is considering prosecution. I don't know whether that is the case or not. The management on a day-to-day basis of these issues is with the Northern Territory Government, so we'll just have to see how that develops.

Compere:

What is the timetable though for those recommendations from the Senate inquiry?

Minister Kemp:

Well we always give consideration to recommendations from the Senate. I was sceptical about whether this inquiry needed to be set up. I'm not sure that this inquiry really throws much light on this particular event.

If you look back over the whole of the last 20 years, there hasn't been a single event at Ranger which has impacted on the park outside the mine site. And I understand that this is still the case with this latest event.

Compere:

But there have been many spills haven't there? Hasn't that been more good luck than management?

Minister Kemp:

Well no – on the mine site — there have been spills on the mine site itself. But there have been no environmental impacts outside the mine site on Kakadu. And I believe that that's very significant. It's a tribute to the quality of the advice which is provided by the supervising scientist and overall it indicates that the mine has been managed in a way to prevent those impacts.

Compere:

So you don't think any changes are required?

Minister Kemp:

Well I'm sure changes will be required otherwise this event would not have happened. This event should not have happened. It's very hard to see, standing from outside the mine, how it did happen.

One would've thought that the environmental management systems that have been put in place — and the ERA has been recently accredited internationally with 14,001 environmental management systems — so one would've thought that this event would not have happened, but it did happen and we need to know why it happened and we need to know what's going to be done to prevent anything like this happening again.

Compere:

But if you're sceptical about the recommendations from the Senate inquiry, what changes are you considering ...

Minister Kemp:

Well I ...

Compere:

... need to be made?

Minister Kemp:

... can assure you I don't take my direction from Senate inquiry. I make sure that the mine is operated in a way which is safe and I'm pleased to say that because of the work of the supervising scientist the mine has been safely operated so far as the external environment is concerned over the last few decades, which is a very good record.

But when that is said, there's obviously management issues that need to be addressed within the mine, and coming out of the report of the supervising scientist on this, we will make sure that those steps are taken.

Compere:

David Kemp, thanks for joining us.

Minister Kemp:

Thank you very much.

Compere:

That's the Federal Minister for Environment and Heritage, David Kemp, meeting with tourist industry representatives amongst others today. That'll be an interesting meeting, to see if they get any pleasure out of it.

* * End * *

Commonwealth of Australia