Interview with Katie Woolf, MIX 104.9, Darwin

16 February 2021


KATIE WOOLF: But as we've heard, an exciting new chapter for Kakadu National Park, one which has been backed by traditional owners and supported by key tourism organisations. Well, it has opened, you'd have to say, with the release of the Kakadu Tourism Master Plan. Now, joining me on the line is the Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley. Good morning to you Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning Katie, lovely to be on your program talking about Kakadu.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, wonderful to have you on the show. Tell us, who's been involved in putting this plan together?

SUSSAN LEY: Everyone who has their heart and soul in the future of this duel in the north - and I know I always say that but having been there several times, I see Kakadu that way. But we've had the traditional owners at the centre of this consultation and that's why I'm convinced that the master plan that we've now released is the right one, the best one and will facilitate investment, much of it being provided by the Commonwealth in upgrades that will make the visitor experience better, attract more international visitors when they can finally come back to Australia, and when you're there, make your experience in the park the best possible one.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, how important is it to get some of that work done really before we do open back up to our international tourists?

SUSSAN LEY: It's really important, and I've always said I want to see territory jobs front and centre, I want to see contracts going to local people. I want to of course see traditional owners involved both with the building of the new infrastructure, but also their ongoing engagement and their cultural history being front and centre of what we showcase in Kakadu. We're spending 22 million over the next 12 months and our total commitment in the last budget to Kakadu in our parks package was about $60 million, add that to $216 million before the last election as we transition Jabiru from a mining town to a tourism town. So, I'm hoping that your listeners get the sense of our commitment as a Commonwealth government and our collaboration and consultation right there on the ground. I spent a week in Kakadu towards the end of last year listening to what people wanted, and that included local tourism operators and indeed many people in the top end.

KATIE WOOLF: Yeah, and I mean, there has been some real criticism in recent time about the management not working with traditional owners as well as stakeholders in Kakadu. How are those relationships now going?

SUSSAN LEY: I listened to those criticisms and I believe we responded and we've got more local management, so less from Canberra and more from Darwin and indeed Jabiru itself, and more consultation. And that comes through in the master plan and it comes through in the consultation we're going to have about the road and infrastructure up building programme. And I believe, well, I know that we've turned the corner, but I believe that we will soon be able to demonstrate with the sorts of projects that this master plan is backing in that, as I said, they are the right ones and they will make a difference. And look, Kakadu is an extraordinary place to visit but one of the frustrations I heard was we need to see the sights, we need to get access to them as much as possible. We need to know that we've booked we can actually get there. So, if you think about the work that we're doing, we're upgrading Cahill's Crossing, Jim Jim Falls, the Warradjan visitor centre, and also planning new eco-lodes, new tourist attractions, visitor centres across the park. So, it's not all just in Jabiru and so on. And backed again by that ever important road access so you can actually get where you need to.

KATIE WOOLF: And that 20 million- $22 million which is set to be invested over the next 12 months, what sort of urgent work is going to get underway immediately with that investment?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we're already seeing the Cahill's Crossing viewing platform start to go up, or plans to make it go up. I actually don't know where exactly it's up to, but I know it's happening. The Jim Jim Creek Crossing upgrade that's lifting the road, that's vital, that's underway. The Warradjan Cultural Centre upgrades are underway, and importantly telecommunications upgrades because it is so vital that tourists, particularly if they're not particularly familiar with the area, have good access to phone coverage while they're in the park. So look, I mean, we're balancing the spend with, as I say, my determination to see the Northern Territory community benefit from the contracts and the jobs. I don't want to see contractors flying in from all over Australia…


SUSSAN LEY: …and something built in a hurry that isn't exactly what people want but isn't actually using our local wisdom and our local expertise. So…

KATIE WOOLF: …Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I think it's so incredibly important to make sure that locals are engaged in any work that takes place. I'm really keen to find out a bit more about the new accommodation including these eco-lodges and wellness retreats, family holiday park and safari camps. Minister, how soon could we see some of those wonderful facilities get up and running?

SUSSAN LEY: They're in the plan, and that means that they're supported and the concepts are supported. And I think that's been a good strong discussion to get to this point. The next step is inviting private investment, having a conversation with funders and seeing where that takes us. But I saw some sights and in fact some facilities that probably had past their prime, but could still be rebirthed, if you like, to be great tourist accommodation. So the background is there, the facilities will need to be built, but I know that there's a great deal of interest. But importantly by having this plan, we know that we all agree with what we want to see and that's vital. And as I said, to having that traditional owner consultation front and centre. But in terms of accommodation, can I say that the range of stations are also going to be upgraded. So for the really important people who work in the park every day, and the interpreters if you like, of its cultural history and its significance to visitors, we want to see them in the best possible accommodation, too.

KATIE WOOLF: Minister, I know that very often, we sort of hear around the Territory and certainly on the phone lines here on this show, that our natural wonders are amazing and they're absolutely stunning for any tourists that come to the Territory to see them. But as we've pointed out, you know, some of the infrastructure which supports those natural wonders really isn't up to scratch. And then you know, in some circumstances when you're talking about accommodation, particularly with international tourists, if they travel all the way to Australia to see something like Kakadu we've really got to make sure that when they've got somewhere to stay, that it's up to the standard that they'd expect it to be.

SUSSAN LEY: Absolutely. And one of the things we did in the last budget, and I mentioned the $60 million of our $238 million package is going directly to Kakadu. It's about sprucing up, if I can describe it that way, our many natural assets for tourists from overseas and increasingly domestic tourists as well. So it's building better opportunities for visitation. But I did hear that when I was in the territory, Katie, that tourist operators were saying: if we've had people that have booked the trip of a lifetime, we want to make sure that when they arrive they get to have that experience. So that is absolutely front and centre when it comes to the planning that we're doing in Kakadu going forward, we recognise that. And of course, there's just so much agreement around that. And if you speak to traditional owners and rangers, they really love the opportunity to showcase their history and their culture to overseas visitors. And they appreciate that the visitors take away a completely different picture of this country when they do that. So we are getting that right and I'm confident that we, as the Commonwealth, are providing the dollars to make it happen.

KATIE WOOLF: Minister, I've got a message here from one of our listeners. I'm not sure if it should be directed at you or whether it needs to be at our Territory Minister, but it says: can you please ask the Minister if it's true that you have to pre-book camping sites online before going? And if so, who's going to sort out the flights when tourists arrive and find others in their booked sites. Again, I will say I'm not sure whether that's one that you can answer for us or whether it's something that we need to put to the Territory Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: I think it might be a question for your Territory Tourism Minister and I that might be Minister Uibo, but I'm not sure.

KATIE WOOLF: It's Minister Fyles now, I think, but it could be Minister Uibo actually.A

SUSSAN LEY: I'm very happy to pass that on, but I'm sure your networks and your listening audience will do that. It may well be a COVID reason. I know in our New South Wales national parks, you do have to book online. Yeah, and it actually has worked quite well, because it's made every camping trip much more fun, when you're battling over a space. But I also understand that there are pressures at the local level, too. So yeah, that's a good question for your local minister.

KATIE WOOLF: We'll certainly follow that one up. Well, Minister for Environment- Federal Minister for Environment Sussan Ley, we really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for coming on the show and telling us a bit more about this Kakadu master plan.

SUSSAN LEY: Always a pleasure, Katie. Thanks for the opportunity.