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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Talinguru Nyakunytjaku viewing platform; Uluru climb; Traveston Crossing Dam

Transcript
Opening of the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku viewing area at Uluru, NT
8 October 2009

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PETER GARRETT: This new platform will provide significant opportunities for a fantastic visitor experience to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, particularly to see Uluru itself. This is a place of huge cultural significance to Aboriginal people, and to the community. Traditional Owners of the community have been very involved in the siting, the design, and the location of this viewing platform. This is one of the most significant infrastructure investments that we have put in place for the park with over 300,000 visitors coming every year – a critical driver of regional tourism. But I think today especially is a recognition that it's not only about coming an looking at this extraordinary geographical feature, in the beauty of the red desert centre of Australia but also greater engagement and connection with the living culture of Aboriginal people who co-manage this very important park for Australia.

JOURNALIST: What about the climbing ban issue, where do you stand on that and why do you think it is necessary?

PETER GARRETT: I'm waiting for a final report to come through from the Board on the management plan for UK over the next ten years. I know there's been a lot of interest in a number of issues around the management plan including the climb. I will wait until the Board presents their final report to me. Until such time I do know that there's been plenty of submissions that have come in. I think that's a good thing there's a lot of interest in it.

JOURNALIST: Have you [inaudible] ever climbed?

PETER GARRETT: I've never climbed Uluru …… I don't have a desire to climb the rock. I can see the signage at the base of the climb. It makes pretty clear the views of Aboriginal people here.

But what I would say is that there are a range of views about the climb. There are a number of matters that need to be taken into account – there are cultural issues, there are safety issues, there are environmental issues – but until such time as I receive a final report and recommendations from the Board I don't propose to say a great deal more other than that it's good for us to have an ample and a thorough discussion about these issues.

JOURNALIST: People say they're coming because they fear the climb is going to closed, what does that say about the attitudes of the rest of Australia to this?

PETER GARRETT: People will have different reasons for coming to this area and different reasons for wanting to enjoy the area in whatever way they wish. What I would say simply is that is a matter for the Board of Management to bring forward to Government. They've opened up for a significant number of submissions – we've had more submissions on this issue than I think anyone expected. I reckon that it's a good opportunity for us to look carefully at what people have said, and for me to consider carefully what the Board brings forward and then we'll make a decision.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] Were you upset to hear that people had been going to the toilet on the rock?

PETER GARRETT: I think that given it's a pretty arduous and long climb the fact that we do have people relieving themselves on the rock it may be understandable, but I don't think it's particularly desirable. What's critical here is that the visitor experience is one which we want to see take place in a way which enables people to get a rich experience when they visit, to have a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of the area was well as appreciating its beauty. I think that the Board of Management will provide me with some recommendations but they want to be able to take careful account of all the views that have been brought forward and the debate that's around.

JOURNALIST: You said that there are a range of opinions, has the Prime Minister given you his opinion on it?

PETER GARRETT: Everybody's expressed a view. The PM has had his views expressed too. I think what's really interesting here is that for many people who come and visit this site they are coming to a place that is of absolute unique World Heritage value, which is a place of very significant importance aboriginal people and Traditional Owners.

The visitor experience here isn't only about the sites and the sounds it's also about the meanings. I think that adds hugely to the enjoyment that people can bring to it. We'll look at the draft management plan when it's formalised, and then we'll make decisions [inaudible] about the management plan over the next ten years.

JOURNALIST: Has the Prime Minister said he wouldn't climb? Has he expressed to you that he wants the climb closed?

PETER GARRETT: There aren't any additional comments to refer to at this point. I think everything that's been said about the climb has been said. Now it's a case of simply waiting for the Board to finish looking at all those submissions that have come through – until there is a concluded draft – that'll come through to us in final form. It'll still take some time for us to work these issues and I think we'll do it in a fairly thorough fashion. Once we've made a decision then we'll advise people accordingly.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a rough idea just of how that might take?

PETER GARRETT: I am not sure that we can put a strict timeline on it. I'd hope that there's a final report through to me in the coming months but I don't think that it's something that has to be hurried. This is a timeless land, and this is an extraordinary physical and cultural place. One that means a great deal to the people whose land it is, and it means a great deal to people who visit – whether they're local Australian's or from overseas. We'll take our time over that and I'll wait till I get a final report.

JOURNALIST: Is this new platform a way of discouraging people from wanting to climb the rock?

PETER GARRETT: I don't think so. I think this new platform is fantastic, I mean you get such an extraordinary panorama and a sense of the space and the landscape of the centre of this county. And I just want to commend all those who've been involved in it: the traditional owners who are involved in working through where this platform would go; the park rangers who have worked very closely with the contractors. This is going to be an absolutely top class visitor experience it'll add significantly to the tourism potential of Uluru - Kata Tjuta.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell me please you personal opinion about climbing?

PETER GARRETT: Well, again what I've said is that Ill make a decision on the management plan when I get I get a final plan from the Board. It's up to the Board to bring through those recommendations. They've sought submissions – there's been over 170 submissions from stakeholders and from the public – and once they bring forward their recommendations to me then we'll make a decision.

JOURNALIST: But they're surely going to say don't climb it?

PETER GARRETT: Well let's just wait and see.

JOURNALIST: Minister what did you mean when you spoke about concerts?

PETER GARRETT: I think there's the opportunity for people to perform here – for Traditional Owners to bring dance and music as they see fit – into a controlled environment. That would add to the visitor experience over time.

JOURNALIST: Are we talking rock concerts?

PETER GARRETT: No not necessarily, I'm just thinking about performances of any kind. I was really struck by the Inma and what a rich and powerful and deep experience it is to hear songs and to see dance in front of Uluru . It really is I think one of the most extraordinary experiences any of us can have.

JOURNALIST: So you could see [inaudible] say not a Midnight Oil performing here, but say a classical concert being performed [inaudible]?

PETER GARRETT: The plan of management will look at all of those sorts of issues. What I think is really something to be looked at in the future is for the community itself and for Aboriginal people here with their cultural presentations and creativities to have the opportunity to develop and to promote that over time.

I'm not thinking about large-scale importation of concerts at all. I'm thinking about the kind of performances that local people may want to put on over time just to add to and enrich the tourism experience.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PETER GARRETT: I made a film clip here a long long time ago. And I was very pleased to be able to do that film clip here on the hand-back of Ayers Rock -and now as Uluru - we have an extraordinary natural treasure – comanaged – a place of significant importance for aboriginal people and a wonderful tourist destination for Australian's and visitors from around the world.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you a question about Traveston Crossing Dam, will you use your power to stop the clock on that process?

PETER GARRETT: We'll look very closely at the final report of the Coordinator General. I don't anticipate that there'll be a need to stop the clock. There's a lot of material that has to be looked at. It hasn't come to me yet. But I will make sure that we provide a really thorough and robust assessment of all that material including the co-ordinator general's report before we make a final decision.

JOURNALIST: So you'll take submissions on that?

PETER GARRETT: There has already been a period of submissions. I'll give some thought as to whether we need to have additional opportunities for submissions but I think that the issues have been very thoroughly canvassed. We'll look at all of that material that's comes forward to us: the Coordinator General's report, the submissions that have been made by the public, the advice from my department, the scientific assessments that have been undertaken. If there's a need for future material, or if there's a need to have an additional opportunity for submissions then we'll provide that. But I want to assess all of the material in front of us at this time. Only when we have an absolute and comprehensive understanding of all the relevant issues to do with Traveston will we make a decision.

JOURNALIST: Can Mr Rudd override any decision you make to ban climbing?

PETER GARRETT: There is no decision yet in relation to whether or not the climbs to the rock should continue. And until such time as the Board of Management presents me with recommendations there's nothing further to add than remarks I've already made.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PETER GARRETT: I've already dealt with that in these remarks that I've made today. I will wait now for the Board of Management to bring its recommendations, and then we'll make a decision.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia