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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3302


Mr COHEN (Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment) —For the information of honourable members, I present the Government's response to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation entitled: The Protection of Bungle Bungle. I seek leave to have the response incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION REPORT ``PROTECTION OF BUNGLE BUNGLE''

Bungle Bungle is an extraordinary rock formation in the southeastern corner of the Kimberley region in northwestern Australia. It consists of massed towers and gorges, sheer cliffs and waterfalls. A striking feature is a horizontal orange and black banding in the soft sandstone from which the landscape has been carved.

In March 1985 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation reported on the need for measures to protect this fragile environment, and possible avenues of Commonwealth assistance.

The Hawke Government has an excellent record in national parks matters. Among other things we have:

increased the area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from 14.5% to 98.5% of the Great Barrier Reef Region and provided the resources necessary for an accelerated program to produce zoning plans for the Park;

maintained a high calibre of management in the Kakadu and Uluru National Parks in the Northern Territory, and protected them from the threat of mining; and

entered into joint management arrangements with the Tasmanian Government to ensure that the Western Tasmanian Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area is managed in accordance with its World Heritage status. The Government has already contributed $5 million, and will be contributing a further $2.2 million per year over the next 5 years, for management of this area.

The Bungle Bungle, however, is not on land in which the Commonwealth has a direct interest as owner or lessee, nor has it been proposed for World Heritage listing. It is the Government's view that in these circumstances it is for the State to make decisions on declaration and management of areas as national parks, seeking Commonwealth assistance as appropriate.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation made a number of specific recommendations regarding possible avenues of Commonwealth assistance to Western Australia in relation to conservation of the Bungle Bungle.

The first recommendation was that the Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs discuss with his State counterpart assistance required from the Commonwealth to enable the local Aboriginal community to be provided with-

advisory staff to gather information and coordinate meetings with traditional owners;

funds to enable access to experts in areas of park management, law and anthropology; and

funds to enable traditional owners to meet and make informed decisions.

The Premier of Western Australia, the Hon. Brian Burke, advised the Prime Minister in June 1986 that the Western Australian Government is committed to declaration of the Bungle Bungle and the surrounding area as an `A' Class national park under Western Australian legislation. As part of interim management arrangements the Western Australian Government will conduct planning studies with a high level of input from Aboriginal interests and will allocate necessary resources to the community.

The Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs in line with the recommendations of the Standing Committee, has assisted Aboriginals with an interest in the Bungle Bungle to establish the Purnululu Aboriginal Corporation. Assistance has been provided to the Corporation to obtain funds from the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management to employ a consultant and trainee resource officer who will assist with the development of the Bungle Bungle Management Plan.

The Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service (ANPWS) has assisted members of the Warmun Aboriginal Community to study the systems of joint park management which have been developed between Aboriginal owners and national park authorities in Kakadu and in the Cobourg Peninsula area of the Northern Territory.

The Standing Committee recommended that ANPWS in consultation with relevant Western Australian authorities and the Warmun Aboriginal Community offer assistance in developing Aboriginal ranger training programs for the traditional owners.

ANPWS has already provided assistance for Aboriginal ranger training programs for the Millstream National Park, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The Premier indicated in his letter to the Prime Minister that an Aboriginal ranger training program will be established as part of interim management arrangements for Bungle Bungle.

The Committee's third recommendation was that the Australian Government provide assistance to the Western Australian Government under the States Assistance Program. This program was initiated in 1983-84 and is designed to develop, in co-operation with State and Territory nature conservation agencies, projects of national or international significance in relation to national parks and wildlife conservation. The total value of the program to 1985-86 was in excess of $1.65 million. A further $578,000 has been committed for the program in 1986-87. Over 60 projects have been supported, ranging from an inventory of the biological resources of the Nullarbor Plain to finalising a plan of management for the internationally important wetlands at Towra Point on the southern shores of Botany Bay. Several projects have been supported in Western Australia. Whether assistance is provided specifically for a project at Bungle Bungle is a matter of priorities to be determined between the Commonwealth and Western Australia.

The Standing Committee proposed that the Commonwealth Government discuss with the Western Australian Government the provision of funds to enable the stationing of rangers in Bungle Bungle during the visitor season, and the commencement of essential minimum capital works such as erection of signposts and barriers. While the Western Australian Government has indicated that it is examining these matters, no request for funding has been received to date. If needed, assistance might be provided under the States Assistance Program.

Finally, the Standing Committee recommended that the Australian Heritage Commission in consultation with ANPWS and relevant Western Australian authorities undertake investigations to establish the national and international significance of the Bungle Bungle. The Australian Heritage Commission has already partly funded a botanical survey in the Bungle Bungle and plans to follow this with studies of the cultural environment of the area when funds permit. Funding for research in the region may also be available under the National Estate Grants Program. Many projects relating to Australia's natural and cultural heritage are funded under this Program each year.

It is clear that Bungle Bungle is a region of considerable conservation value. Since the early 1980s the increasing numbers of tourists visiting the area have resulted in a need for active management. This need has been recognised by the Western Australian Government, which is putting into place management arrangements which take into account the sensitivity of the area, the tourist potential, the interests of the local community and the special interests of traditional Aboriginal inhabitants.

I congratulate the Western Australian Government on its commitment to declare this magnificent area a National Park, and thank the Standing Committee for its report.

Motion (by Mr Young) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Mr Shack) adjourned.