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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

17 July 2003

Minister Rejects False Statements on Kakadu

Dr David Kemp, Minister for the Environment and Heritage, today rejected reports made in the media that Parks Australia is "shutting off Kakadu" from tourists as not only incorrect but the exact opposite of what the Commonwealth is achieving at Kakadu.

"Contrary to claims reported in Northern Territory News, our aim is to increase tourism opportunities in Kakadu, to improve visitor satisfaction and to support indigenous and regional economic development - especially for the park's traditional owners," said Dr Kemp.

"The claim that Parks Australia is aiming to reduce visitor numbers to Kakadu is wrong and is the opposite to what we are working towards through the construction of new visitor infrastructure and work to promoting economic development for the area.

"Parks Australia's charter is the conservation and appreciation of Commonwealth parks and reserves. Kakadu is largely Aboriginal land, managed by a Board comprising a majority of traditional owners and their representatives. Many traditional owners live in the park and derive their income from economic activity in the park."

Recent figures show that despite a fall of 22 per cent in holiday visitor numbers to the Top End in 2000/01-2001/02, visitor numbers decreased by only three per cent for Kakadu.

"The fact that visitor numbers have held up well in the face of a significant decline in visitation to the Top End as a whole, is testament to Kakadu's success as a tourist destination. The park's natural and cultural values will always remain a powerful drawcard to the tourist market and it is our obligation to not only protect, but also present this amazing landscape to the people of the world.

"Visitor satisfaction levels remain high, and we have invested heavily in new visitor infrastructure, such as the new Jim Jim Falls campground (nearly $2 million in the last 12 months), access to Maguk via a new board walk and upgrading the pontoons at Yellow Waters.

"It is necessary to balance tourism development with our responsibilities for protecting the park's values and ensuring an appropriate level of public safety. At Kakadu Parks Australia is obliged and committed to working with the parks' traditional owners in making decisions about these matters, supporting their aspirations for managing land in the park and developing their own economic opportunities . Balancing all these things can be a big challenge, particularly with safety risks such as saltwater crocodiles being increasingly sighted in popular swimming locations.

"Last year the Howard Government also funded a regional economic development strategy to identify options for future economic activity based in and around the park. This study, conducted by Access Economics, is currently with the Northern Land Council for consultations with the park's traditional owners. It is vital that economic development in the park brings benefits to traditional owners, helps visitors understand what an extraordinary and rich place this is and helps protect these special values."

"Claims that Parks Australia is forcing traditional owners from the park are offensive to the traditional owners involved in park management decision-making," Dr Kemp said.

The establishment of the park and the subsequent growth in visitation and employment in the park has seen a progressive return of traditional owners into the park, and the establishment and expansion of outstations on clan estates. In the early 1970s before the park was established, Aboriginal residents were estimated at 60. The 1976 census recorded 139 Aboriginal residents in Kakadu, growing to around 200 in 1983, 412 in 1991, and some 533 in 1996. New proposals for outstations continue to come to the Park Board of Management. Indigenous staffing in the Park is currently 45% of total employment, and a number of park services (such as the entry station and visitor centre management) are contracted to local indigenous associations."

Commonwealth of Australia