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Traditional owners in Kakadu National Park call for resignation of Parks Australia executives
An ongoing dispute between traditional owners in Kakadu National Park and the Federal Government’s Parks Australia agency has witnessed calls to remove the executives in charge of Australia's six Commonwealth-run national parks.
Kakadu's board of management has pushed forward a unanimous no-confidence vote against managers at the Canberra-based agency, centring on Director of National Parks, James Findlay.
Advising that their relationship with Dr Findlay is "irretrievable", the Traditional have advanced a resolution that reads “the traditional owner board members have lost all faith, confidence and trust in the ability of the park manager, assistant secretary, and director of national parks to effectively manage Kakadu … in partnership with the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land.”
Dr Findlay and Assistant Secretary of Parks Australia Brant Smith both recused themselves from the vote.
The board's move comes after weeks of frustration from traditional owners and tourism operators about Parks Australia's staged reopening of Kakadu, which they said was poorly communicated and happened with little consultation.
It also follows an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report from the middle of 2019 that reported that the parks were not being effectively managed and had failed to meet benchmarks set by auditors to probe the agency’s management of some of the nation’s most precious land.
The ANAO report found the Director had no “robust” way of knowing that park management and operational plans were being implemented. It added that the agency’s work within the six parks was also “not effectively measured, monitored and reported on”.
Kakadu National Park’s independent board contains 10 Aboriginal traditional owners representing different clan groups, along with five non-Indigenous representatives of the Northern Territory Government, tourism and environment sectors.
The board is chartered to jointly manage the park alongside the agency, but Board Chairman Maria Lee told the ABC last month the collaborative decision-making processes had deteriorated badly.
With Dr Findlay accountable to Federal Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, the Minister advised that she had "asked the Director of National Parks to urgently prepare a report on the issues raised".
Minister Ley stated “I want to ensure that the issues are properly addressed and that we can continue to work collaboratively with the traditional owners in managing the park.”
Northern Land Council Chief Executive, Marion Scrymgour said it was appropriate Dr Findlay "fall on his sword".
Scrymgour told the ABC "I think that Parks management, including the director of Parks, has dismissed the concerns of Aboriginal people.
"I don't think it's just the director of Parks - (but) he is at the top of the tree so obviously he will need to fall on his sword.
"As the board of management said, (the relationship) is irreparable and they won't be able to go back to what was there before, and I think until there's a clean sweep, traditional owners won't come back to the table."
In a joint statement, Kakadu's board said the decision to pass the no-confidence vote came after their "guiding principles" of "working together, communicating effectively and sharing decision-making" were not met.
Lee added "the Kakadu board of management looks forward to an early resolution of these issues, so that the Kakadu National Park can again be managed in a way that welcomes tourists and fosters others, while properly maintaining the cultural and natural values of the park.
In addition to Kakadu National Park, Parks Australia manages the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Booderee National Park, Christmas Island National Park, Pulu Keeling National Park, Norfolk Island National Park, more than 58 marine parks and the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
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
19th November 2019 - Northern Territory releases 10-year Aboriginal Tourism Strategy
5th November 2019 - Parks Australia proposes rise in entry fees to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
26th October 2019 - Uluru climb closes as hundreds scale sacred site on final day
8th October 2018 - New tourism opportunities for Christmas Island
31st October 2017 - Parks Australia looks to appoint Kakadu Park Manager
20th June 2017 - Luxury ecotourism development approved for Christmas Island
20th October 2016 - Winning design announced for new Australian National Botanic Garden conservatory
22nd March 2016 - Parks Australia looks to develop ecotourism concepts on Christmas Island
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