Interview with Jac Underwood, 2BS, Bathurst

31 March 2021


JAC UNDERWOOD: The go kart development on Mount Panorama-Wahluu has been a divisive issue within our community since 2015. In recent months, the story has gained nationwide media attention for the potential destruction of a sacred Wiradjuri women's place, for the encroachment on a public park, and for the financial cost to be borne to the ratepayers of Bathurst to build the track for a small club of approximately 200 members. In February 2019, Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, received an application under federal Indigenous heritage protection legislation from the Wiradjuri Traditional Owners Central West Aboriginal Corporation for the protection of a specified area of Mount Panorama-Wahluu. She has been deliberating on her decision and we welcome to the program now, Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley. Good afternoon.

SUSSAN LEY: Good afternoon, Jac, and good afternoon to your listeners.

JAC UNDERWOOD: Now, we've just had a press release come through from your office saying that an emergency declaration to protect the site will be extended for a further 30 days while you consult more. Can you tell us about why you've made this decision?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, in keeping with communicating to the community of Bathurst where we're up to with this process and what our steps are, I'm delighted to be able to just give you this update this afternoon, Jac…

JAC UNDERWOOD: [Talks over] Thank you.

SUSSAN LEY: …Hence I sent out the release to let people know that we're now entering a consultation phase. My department has a draft declaration, which is the legal instrument, if you like, that protects an area, the area where the go kart track would have been built. And they're now talking to all of the people that made submissions in the earlier process about what a declaration would look like and what the details of it might be. So I'm not completely officially at the end of the process but we are making progress.
And importantly, what I want to say is that it's vital we protect the current activities on the mountain. So when I came to Bathurst, I met with the council. And look, it’s fair to say there were different views around the table, which is exactly what I heard from the community, but what the council really wanted to make clear was that the existing activities – and it's not just the car races, there’s other clubs and there’s other pursuits that happen on the mountain – that they be protected and they be allowed to continue and that the open access to McPhillamy Park be allowed to continue. So, that is front and centre of my considerations and that will happen. So I want to reassure people about that.

JAC UNDERWOOD: So just- Sorry to interrupt. Does that mean that you are looking to proceed to a Section 10 but drafting it in a way that will protect racing?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes, that's right. So the concerns were, okay, there's a huge area on a map that’s come into this, what we call a Section 9, which is the emergency, and Section 10, which is a long-term declaration. You know, what does that mean, people said to me: for all of the other activities that are happening, if they get, you know, this sort of blanket covers all of them, are we going to find that they're at risk? The answer is no, they're not. And that's the terms that I'm consulting on. Those activities will not be at risk. However, I am proposing a declaration in more detailed terms about the activities at the proposed go kart site.
So I'm not in the position to say I've reached that final decision point. I want to do it, by the way, before the end of April. People have waited long enough. But we're making good progress. After my visit, I just- it was so good to hear from people firsthand. It was so good to hear the heartfelt passions on both sides, and to realise that, you know, this is not a right or wrong issue. This is people with community passion, with passion as Indigenous traditional owners, and the community, you know, wanted to have their say.

JAC UNDERWOOD: If we talk more broadly around policy in Australia, I understand the Government has been working hard on the protection of Indigenous heritage. As recently as September 2020, there was a roundtable co-led by you in government. Can you talk about those communications and Dhawura Ngilan? It's a vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in Australia?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes. I want to get together with the state ministers again – we did that towards the end of last year – and talk about how we align what they’re doing in their legislation. Most of the states are currently reviewing aboriginal heritage and how it works at state level. We need to align what we do at federal level with that, and we need to modernise a system that’s been rather cluttered and not, not well thought out when you are actually one of the people who has the concerns, because you’ve got state legislation, you’ve got local government requirements, you’ve got planning laws, you’ve got the Act that I administer – Indigenous Health Protections – and- sorry, Indigenous Heritage Protection. And you know, this needs to be, this needs to better serve the real need to protect cultural heritage, but also the need for everyone to understand where that fits in a normal development process, because of course, developments do happen.
But we need to do this better than we’re doing it now. That’s why Ken Wyatt and I sat down with state ministers, that’s why we’ll be doing that again shortly.

JAC UNDERWOOD: So, just to, to recap then. So, across Australia the legislative responsibility for indigenous heritage and culture protection, currently it's divided along jurisdictional lines, so that means protection outcomes can be inconsistent.

SUSSAN LEY: That's right. Inconsistent between states.

SUSSAN LEY: And states really are the first port of call for most of this. When you saw the tragedy at Juukan Gorge, that was what's called a section 18 exemption under West Australian law. On the eastern states they are in different, they have different ways of approaching it, and there is this emergency declaration facility, as well as longer term Aboriginal heritage protection available at federal level. But principally the states are the first line of working out what you can and can't do, which is appropriate because it often hit local planning laws exactly as it has in this case.

JAC UNDERWOOD: Okay. And just coming back to the go-kart track in the sacred Wiradjuri women's site here in Bathurst. So, you're going to take another 30 days to draft a- you're flagging at the moment a section 10, but it needs to work for all parties. You, you mentioned their consultation. What will that look like? Well, groups and council will have a chance to submit to you.

SUSSAN LEY: They will. They've all had communication this afternoon, or it's on its way out to them, which makes it clear, here is a draught declaration under what you've correctly identified as section 10 - and that's the longer term; what's your feedback on the detail of that? And I think that when we get that in, we'll be able to better respond to the community's needs around what activities remain protected - because that was a real concern I heard. And obviously, there's a range of different views across the spectrum, but I certainly did hear from council. As I said, we just have to be able to be confident that there aren't going to be threats to the existing users on, on the mountain - particularly, obviously, the car race, but also the other clubs that do so much in the area as well. So that's what this consultation is about. How do we keep those activities secure? And there's a draft declaration about what the longer term section 10 would look like in terms of preventing earthworks and changes at the top of the mountain.

JAC UNDERWOOD: So, just to be clear. If that was to go ahead, the go kart track will need to be relocated.

SUSSAN LEY: I'm not in a position to say what my final decision would be, but it is certainly heading in that direction based on the draft declaration that I'm sending out today.

JAC UNDERWOOD: Minister, thank you. I really want to thank you. This has been a divisive issue within Bathurst and you've taken considered thought and action, and visited our community. So thank you so much for that. And we'll speak again.

SUSSAN LEY: We will. Always a pleasure. Thank you.


SUSSAN LEY: Thanks, Jac.

JAC UNDERWOOD: Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley. The Minister has flagged a section 10 declaration to protect indigenous heritage, that means that they will be drafting up what that section 10 looks like to protect the current activity at Mount Panorama.