Simon Mudjandi says the land the mine sits on is sacred to traditional owners. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
The Federal Government has been given an ultimatum to fast track $216 million promised for Kakadu National Park or risk putting the region’s future into economic jeopardy.
- Jabiru’s focus will shift to tourism as mining wraps up
- The NT Government Aboriginal Affairs Minister says “time is of the essence” for development in Jabiru
- The federal Environment Minister has promised $216 will be rolled out over the next five years
A grand plan for the tired Territory mining town of Jabiru aims to see a new focus placed on tourism, including the construction of a new world heritage visitor centre and a luxury hotel.
However, with the township lease of Jabiru winding up in 2021, and no construction work yet started, NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Selena Uibo said “time is of the essence” for the town’s transition to begin.
Along with traditional owners and mining company representatives, federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley on Wednesday attended a ceremony on the edge of the Jabiru township, where she signed a commitment to safeguard the region’s post-mining future.
She said 70 per cent of the Commonwealth’s promised $216 million would be rolled out over the next five years.
However the Northern Territory Government said that was not fast enough.
“[We want] to make sure that the investment is timed and delivered and fast tracked,” Ms Uibo said.
Ms Ley knocked back the suggestion, saying funding “could be spent too quickly, without proper consultation”.
“Some of that money is already being spent, as we design a tourism masterplan with the traditional owners, so I think that’s pretty good timing,” Ms Ley said.
“I don’t think anyone’s been neglected.”
Environment Minister Sussan Ley says the Coalition’s funding commitment will help secure a post-mining future for Jabiru. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
Federal election promises yet to come to fruition
Spending on Kakadu National Park and Jabiru became a political football, when dual funding announcements for the region kicked off the federal election campaign earlier this year.
Labor and the Coalition both promised similar amounts, but Labor claimed it would roll the money out sooner.
Ms Ley said the Coalition’s funding was coming.
“The money is there, it’s not an issue of it not being there, and I just want to really reassure people about that,” she said.
“It’s actually almost impossible to roll such large sums out of the door and have them spent effectively.
“Contracts have to be negotiated, consultations have to take place.”
Ms Uibo blamed the former Country Liberal Party (CLP) government for neglecting the township of Jabiru during its last term in office, between 2012 and 2016.
Prior to this, NT Labor had been in power for seven years, but a masterplan to turn Jabiru into a tourist town has only been formally agreed on since 2018.
The plan is for the town to be restructured around the picturesque but crocodile-prone Lake Jabiru, as a hub for water activities and sightseeing.
Ranger Allio Djandjul in Jabiru. Minister Sussan Ley says more ranger jobs will be created during the Jabiru town’s transition. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
Mining lease running out
Uranium mining has existed in the Kakadu region for about 40 years, with the head lease of current miner Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) wrapping up in 2021.
After this date, the lease for the Mirarr-owned land will be handed back to the Northern Territory township lease office.
After the mining comes to a halt, ERA estimates it will spend about five years carrying out rehabilitation work at the large-scale operation on the edge of the UNESCO-world-heritage-listed national park.
ERA managing director Paul Arnold defended the company’s ability to properly restore the site, rejecting reports it would struggle to find the funds for such an expansive — and expensive — rehabilitation job.
“We identified earlier this year that we had a funding shortfall, a deficit in meeting our closure obligations, however we have gained assurance from our major shareholder Rio Tinto that ERA will be in the position to fully fund the closure of Ranger,” Mr Arnold said.
Traditional owner Simon Mudjandi said it was of utmost importance to the region’s Mirarr custodians that ERA properly cleaned up the site.
“Where the mine is situated, the land is sacred sites, all through that area,” Mr Mudjandi said.
“We need [ERA] to do a proper clean that will leave no uranium in that country, because otherwise it will infect the land and the water.”
Ms Ley said her department would provide some oversight during the mining company’s rehabilitation operation.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley meets with Djurrubu rangers while visiting Kakadu National Park. ( ABC News: Matt Garrick)
‘This is a wonderful opportunity’
The move to transform Jabiru comes as the region struggles to regain steam as an in-demand tourist location.
Earlier this year, data showed Kakadu National Park visitor numbers had reached their highest point in a decade, despite grim outlooks for the Northern Territory’s tourism sector elsewhere.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive officer Margy Osmond said she believed new infrastructure and upgraded roads included in the government’s promise for Kakadu would further bolster these figures.
“It is all about access and all about infrastructure,” Ms Osmond said.
“Modern tourists need to be able to get here quickly, and high-yield tourists who are prepared to spend a lot of money have an expectation.
“But this is a wonderful opportunity to be looking at a more sustainable tourism industry.
“I truly believe that Kakadu will be a template for much of the national park development around the country.”
She said she hoped the funding would see tourists from all over the world — including an influx of domestic Australian travellers — put the Top End location on their bucket lists.