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Parks Australia Director James Findlay resigns after Kakadu traditional owners call for sacking
Following calls from Kakadu Aboriginal traditional owners for him to be sacked, Dr James Findlay has resigned from his role Director of Parks Australia.
Dr Findlay’s resignation comes after the board of management at Kakadu delivered a no-confidence vote against him last month and a Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report from June last year advised that the Federal Government agency was not effectively managing some of the nation’s most precious land.
In an email to staff on Tuesday, Dr Findlay advised that he was stepping down from the statutory role after 22 months.
As reported by the ABC, he told colleagues that the job, managing Australia's six national parks, had been a "great privilege" and standing down was a "very difficult decision".
With his role including responsibility for managing Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks in a joint relationship with Indigenous representatives, early last month, Kakadu's board of management delivered a unanimous no-confidence vote against the Park's managers, in particular Dr Findlay, saying the relationship was "irretrievable".
At the time, a statement from board members said they had "lost all faith, confidence and trust" in the ability of Dr Findlay, Assistant Secretary Brant Smith and Park Manager Russel Gueho to manage the partnership between Parks Australia and traditional Aboriginal owners.
The Federal Environment Department confirmed Dr Smith and Gueho are also leaving their current roles and will be redeployed within the Department.
The news comes just days after Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley returned from her own trip to Kakadu for face-to-face discussions with traditional owners to hear their concerns.
One of the flashpoints for discontent relates to the spectacular Gunlom Falls cliff top pool, one of Kakadu's most popular destinations, in the heart of the world heritage area.
The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) has been investigating whether or not a sacred site near the pool was impacted during the construction of a walkway late last year.
The Authority has been investigating potential offences under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 (NT).
During her Kakadu visit, Minister Ley went with traditional owners to Gunlom Falls to inspect the area of concern herself.
Earlier this year, Dr Findlay confirmed to a Senate estimates committee that work had led to a complaint and "concerns" that it may have "impacted on a sacred site".
On Tuesday, the Minister Ley released a statement paying tribute to Dr Findlay's work.
It advised "I thank (Dr Findlay) for his dedication to Parks Australia and for his contribution to the long-term infrastructure planning that will benefit Commonwealth parks and traditional owners for decades to come.”
Looking forward, Minister Ley added "I am sure that we can work together constructively to ensure the best outcomes for the traditional owners, the park and for all Australians.”
Deputy Secretary James Larsen has been elevated to act in the statutory role of Parks Director and will oversee the appointment of interim staff to replace Dr Smith and Gueho.
With a career spanning more than 20 years in fisheries and resource management, aquaculture and marine science, Dr Findlay took on his role as Director at Parks Australia in 2018.
Image: Dr James Findlay, courtesy of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.
5th November 2019 - Parks Australia proposes rise in entry fees to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
31st October 2017 - Parks Australia looks to appoint Kakadu Park Manager
22nd March 2016 - Parks Australia looks to develop ecotourism concepts on Christmas Island
6th January 2020 - Researchers put a value on national parks’ impact on mental health
18th June 2020 - Uluru and Kakadu National Park set to reopen
4th April 2020 - Kakadu Tourism closes facilities in response to COVID-19
13th February 2020 - Attraction upgrades set to deliver a new era for Kakadu tourism
28th January 2019 - Kakadu National Park has busiest year in a decade
5th October 2017 - Parks and Leisure Australia to manage Green Flag Award parks program
14th July 2009 - Uluru Management Plan Needs Partnership Approach
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