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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
19 May 1999
Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has labelled two "new" submissions on Kakadu as "an embarrassment to their authors."
The reports were compiled by the IUCN and ICOMOS as a so-called "independent review" of Australia's response to claims that Kakadu should be placed on the world heritage "in danger" list.
The Australian response included a report by the Supervising Scientist, drawing on eminent scientists from the CSIRO, University of NSW, University of Melbourne and the Bureau of Meteorology, which found that
In stark contrast, a third report by the International Council for Science (ICSU) comments favourably on the quality of the scientific assessments and the environmental management standards applied to Ranger and Jabiluka.
Unlike the IUCN and ICOMOS reports, the ICSU report deals with the science of the issue, not the emotion or politics. The ICSU review concludes that the report by the Supervising Scientist provides a much greater degree of scientific certainty in relation to the mine. The ICSU report makes a series of recommendations, including requests for further information, which the Government will address in good faith.
Senator Hill says the IUCN and ICOMOS have failed miserably in their efforts to undermine the Australian government's response.
IUCN has relied on the views of an American anthropologist, Thayer Scudder, whose "research specialty since 1956 has been involuntary community relocation, with special emphasis on resettlement in connection with large-scale dam construction."
Jabiluka does not involve community relocation - voluntary or involuntary. The population in Kakadu has in fact increased from 139 to 533 while uranium mining has taken place.
There is also no evidence in the report of Professor Scudder ever visiting Kakadu and he confirms he has never visited the Jabiluka mine site The opinion provided by Professor Scudder could best be described as a crude cut and paste job from submissions made by the Northern Land Council and the Mirrar.
He provides no evidence that Kakadu is being placed at risk other than his own vague assertion that
Professor Scudder's report contains embarrassing contradictions as a result of his blanket acceptance of submissions from the Mirrar and the NLC. It appears that Professor Scudder has made no attempt to contact the Australian government for further information or to obtain a balancing opinion.
For example, in commenting on the original 1982 agreement under which the Mirrar gave consent to the Jabiluka mine, Professor Scudder concludes "the replies of the NLC and the Mirrar people emphasise that Aboriginal involvement in reaching that decision was inadequate."
But he then quotes the NLC submission which states "the NLC is satisfied that at the time of the 1982 agreement the traditional Aboriginal owners and sites custodians had given their informed approval for the project to proceed."
He then turns a full circle by stating "in this instance there is a clear cut difference in interpretation between the Northern Land Council and the Mirrar People."
Professor Scudder also dabbles in Australian domestic politics on the native title issue - an issue which is irrelevant to the question of whether Jabiluka will threaten Kakadu.
His views raise serious questions as to his level of knowledge of the native title debate. He again has not sought a balancing view from the Australian government
The ICOMOS report is even more shallow in its appraisal of the Australian Government's position
Less than six pages in length, it relies on the views of unnamed "independent experts" to confirm its pre-stated opposition to Jabiluka.
ICOMOS, however, surprisingly concludes that uranium mining can be compatible with world heritage listing. It states that Kakadu could be successfully nominated today for world heritage listing even with the existing uranium mining operations at Ranger being allowed to continue.
This is a complete contradiction of the basis of the arguments put forward by the World Heritage mission, ICOMOS, and the IUCN on Jabiluka - that being that mining is not compatible with world heritage values.
Senator Hill says that on any objective reading, the IUCN and ICOMOS reports must be dismissed as lightweight and shallow. They have done little more than re-state a pre-determined position, which itself is not supported by science, fact or logic.
Media contact - Matt Brown on 02 6277 7640 or 0419 693 515.