The traditional owners and Aboriginal members of the joint management committee for Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park have asked the NT government not to allow oil and gas exploration in one of Australia’s top tourist attractions.
Eighteen traditional owners signed a letter to the NT government following a meeting of the Watarrka Joint Management Committee on September 9 with representatives of Palatine Energy Pty Ltd and the departments of mines and energy and parks and wildlife.
At the meeting in the world class national park, four hours south west of Alice Springs, traditional owners listened to and unanimously rejected a presentation by Palatine’s managing director David Falvey.
“We strongly told them again that we do not want oil and gas exploration or mining on Watarrka National Park”, their letter reads. “As the traditional owners of this country and joint managers of this park we demand that these licenses not be granted”.
This is the second time in 14 months that they have written to the NT government, asking it not to grant licenses for oil and gas exploration, including fracking, in the park.
The letter follows a meeting with parks minister Bess Price in May this year, where traditional owners again voiced their determined opposition to mining in the park on cultural, environmental, social and economic grounds.
They are still waiting for a response from mines minister Willem Westra Van Holthe to their letter from July 2013, which stated: “Every person from every family said that they do not want oil and gas activity in our park. We want this problem to be stopped before it begins.”
At the September meeting, park resident, traditional owner, former CLC chair and joint management committee member Kunmanara Breaden told the company that the traditional owners did not want any mining in the park.
Aboriginal members of the committee also expressed their anger about the absence from the meeting of both ministers.
“It is time the NT government came clean to the traditional owners and other voters about what it regards as acceptable in NT national parks”, said CLC director David Ross.
“We know that Central Australians from all backgrounds are very concerned about the impacts of mining on the high cultural and conservation values of the park, as well as the tourism industry”, he said.
“I am calling on the NT government to respect the unanimous decision of the traditional owners to put cultural, environmental and tourism interests first. These interests are not compatible with mining machinery, trucks and fracking wells.”
The park’s traditional owners have no power to veto the exploration permit application because Watarrka National Park is not on Aboriginal freehold title.
The park is held under a tenure known as park freehold title.
On park freehold land traditional owners can only give a non binding opinion to the parks minister. The decision rests solely with the NT government.
(Central Land Council media release.)