Photo: ‘This is the day’: former Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, with traditional land owner Jeffrey Lee and Tony Burke (AAP: Alan Porritt)
Northern Territory park ranger Jeffrey Lee is celebrating as the Federal Government moves to protect his land from uranium mining …
For decades, Mr Lee, a traditional owner from the Djok clan who is the senior custodian of the land, had refused to allow the Koongarra uranium deposit to be mined.
The deposit, in the heart of Kakadu National Park, is worth just under $2 billion.
The deposit was excluded from the designated park area in 1979 so that the uranium could be mined, and two years after that a mine was given environmental approval.
But traditional owners fought the proposal – a fight that took Mr Lee to Darwin, Sydney and even Paris.
He rejected several offers from French energy company Areva, campaigned, and won Koongarra a World Heritage listing last year.
Mr Lee then asked the Federal Government to incorporate Koongarra into Kakadu, a process that Environment Minister Tony Burke started on Wednesday morning.
“Today – this is the day. This is the moment that I was waiting for, (for a) very long, long time,” Mr Lee told reporters at Parliament House.
“I could be a rich man today. I could be a rich man. Billions of dollars… You know, you can offer me anything, but my land is a cultural land.”
Mr Burke described Koongarra as a “hole in the heart” of the national park.
“There has always been, when you look at the boundary of Kakadu National Park, effectively a hole in the heart of it,” he said.
“If you go to the lookout where you’re looking across to Nourlangie Rock and you look across from that lookout that thousands of tourists visit every year, the land you are looking at is Koongarra.“
“This legislation being introduced into the Parliament allows us to complete the legacy of work that was massively advanced during the years of the Hawke Labor government.“
Former prime minister Bob Hawke came to Canberra to see his work finished.
“Kakadu is very important to me as well. I certainly lost some support over it,” he said.
The Completion of Kakadu National Park Bill will pass Parliament with the support of both major parties and the Greens.
Mr Lee agrees and says Indigenous people will be better off in the long run if mining is banned anywhere near Kakadu.
“Kakadu is World Heritage. A lot of people come from all over the world to see Kakadu. We should be protecting all Kakadu, if you ask me,” he said.
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