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

Thursday, 3 July 2003

Subject: World Heritage Listing of Purnululu

DR KEMP: Well, thank you very much for coming along to this press conference. The reason that I've called this conference is to say a few words about world heritage because this is really quite a significant day for Australia. The World Heritage Committee in Paris last night inscribed Australia's 15th world heritage area onto the World Heritage Listing.

Last night the World Heritage Committee identified Purnululu in Western Australia as a World Heritage class area. It's a World Heritage area for Australia. It's going to have very big implications for that part of north west Western Australia, and of course it shows what a remarkable country we live in.

Probably here in Townsville, we tend to take World Heritage for granted. We've seen the tremendous World Heritage area of the Great Barrier Reef. We've seen the impact that that had on communities around Queensland. We've seen the enormous economic and social benefits that World Heritage listing brings, as well as identifying to the world that Australia has got really outstanding natural world heritage.

The decision of the World Heritage Committee in Paris last night to inscribe Purnululu on the International Listing for World Heritage shows that we have world class properties here in Australia, world class natural heritage, that stands up with any in the world.

To be identified as World Heritage it has to be an area of outstanding natural significant. Outstanding universal importance to mankind. So it's not just a matter of something that is outstanding in Australia. What this inscription says to the world is that Australia has natural heritage that is significant for the whole of mankind.

That is, of course, something that Australians are well aware of. We already have 14 World Heritage properties. We now have inscribed on the International World Heritage List a 15th property, Purnululu. Anyone who's been to Purnululu knows that this is quite a remarkable area.

It has remarkable beehive sandstone structures. These are banded structures. The world's best example of these banded sandstone pinnacles. It's been developed over a very long time by the forces of nature, so it's a property which has got tremendous visual impact.

And one of the criteria that the World Heritage uses is that the properties inscribed on World Heritage should have the capacity to inspire through their visual and aesthetic values, and what we've got in Purnululu is a world heritage area that as soon as you see it, it has a tremendous emotional impact because it's unique in its natural features.

These beehive sandstone pinnacles and the sandstone towers surrounding them are quite exceptional in world terms. You can fly over them. You can walk amongst them. You can enjoy what is going to be, I believe, one of Australia's major tourist attractions.

Australia, in taking forward the nomination, also made the nomination on cultural grounds as well. Because this is an area which is not only significant in natural heritage terms, but for 20,000 years, Aboriginal people have lived in this area. They've conducted their hunter gatherer lifestyle. They've registered their story - their culture - within the Purnululu Range.

And we believe that this has got outstanding universal values in terms of cultural heritage as well. The inscription in Paris last night was on natural terms, but we intend to carry forward the cultural aspect of the nomination as well. The World Heritage Committee has asked us for further information about the cultural heritage aspects of Purnululu and we'll be providing additional information and pursuing the cultural listing as well. Because we do believe that it has universal heritage values.

I should also mention that Australia is remarkable not only for its natural heritage, that we're all very much aware of, but we also have outstanding world class built heritage. And we currently have a World Heritage nomination also before the World Heritage Committee, which will be considered next year.

That World Heritage nomination is for the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. We believe that this building represents a very important moment in the development of the global economy and global industrialism. It was the site of Australia's major international exhibition in 1888.

So we've got a lot of heritage to be very proud of. I'd also like to make the point today that the Government is planning a major consultation with the Australian people around Australia's distinctively historic heritage. And we're going to be going out to the Australian people later this year and asking them to nominate those parts of Australian heritage that are highly significant for the history and culture of this country.

They will be inscribed not on the World Heritage Register, but on the first national list that this country will have had. That legislation is currently before the Parliament and I'm hoping it will be passed very early on when we return in the Spring session of the Parliament.

So it's a very exciting day for Australia. It's a very exciting day. Because we've now had the recognition once again by the international community that Australia's natural heritage is of significance to the whole of mankind.

JOURNALIST: Dr Kemp, the - turning to another World Heritage area, the State of the Reef report is due tomorrow. Can you foreshadow any findings from that - that report?

DR KEMP: Well, I'll be giving another press conference tomorrow after the launch of that report. So probably I won't say too much about it now, but overall what the report will show is that the Reef is under continuing pressure and that it's very important for us to continue to protect the Reef.

The Reef is a great natural icon for Australia. It is under pressures from increasing population, from increasing fishing, from land-based pollution, from the warming of the seas. There are many, many pressures on the Reef, and we want to make sure that we preserve that great natural icon for future generations.

JOURNALIST: Some of the Queensland groups against further green zones have been critical that they say there hasn't been enough scientific evidence in support of those green zones. Will the State of the Reef report tomorrow bed down those criticisms?

DR KEMP: Well, the State of the Reef report will show what we do know from science about the Reef. It will show that the scientific basis for the Representative Areas program is a very sound and solid scientific basis. The representative areas will be protecting over 30% of the Reef, in the draft plan, and of course we're currently engaged in consultations about that. I'll say more about that tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: [indistinct] pressure on the Reef is greater than previously thought?

DR KEMP: Well, it will show that there are very serious pressures not only on the coral aspect of the Reef itself but of course the fish populations and the dugong, the turtles - we've seen dramatic declines in the populations of dugongs. Particularly in the southern part of the Reef.

We've seen a very serious decline in the number of turtles on the Reef. So clearly there are problems for the biodiversity of the Reef and that's what the Representative Areas program is designed to address. It's designed to protect the Reef's biodiversity and put the Reef on a sustainable basis for the future.

JOURNALIST: Does it have implications for areas outside the marine park [indistinct]? You know, application for oil exploration [indistinct] such as that?

DR KEMP: Well, the Reef is fully protected by the Howard Government's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. That legislation allows the Environment Minister to take action whenever the World Heritage values of the Reef are under threat. And so nothing is going to be allowed to occur which will in any way threaten the world heritage values of the Reef.

Thanks very much.

Commonwealth of Australia