Interview with Wendy Harmer, ABC Radio Sydney, Breakfast

4 May 2021

WENDY HARMER: There is some news this morning about the proposal for the go kart track on the top of Mount Panorama. Of course, Mount Panorama in Bathurst, it’s the home of motor racing in Australia in so many ways. There has been a long running campaign to put a go kart track on the top of Mount Panorama, but a lot of resistance, particularly from the local indigenous community, saying that it is desecrating a really special space on Mount Panorama. The project was originally, unanimously backed by the local council, as long as- long ago, it was about 2015. But a recent rise in community opposition, as well as question marks over, yeah, its indigenous heritage being damaged, has prompted the Federal Government to take action.

WENDY HARMER: Well initially, Sussan Ley, the Federal Environment Minister – you’ll remember she put an emergency stop on the, on the site back in March, just a few days before construction was about to begin. We covered that story then. Well now, she has made the protection of this site, well, permanent by the looks. Sussan Ley, who is the Federal Environment Minister, joins us now. Good morning, Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning, Wendy. Good morning, Robbie.

WENDY HARMER: So what have you done here?

SUSSAN LEY: Declared that the area which was proposed for a go kart track at the top of Mount Panorama be protected under what is called a Section 10 Declaration under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act. And effectively that means for the local people that the go kart track cannot go ahead in that iconic location; for indigenous traditional owners, particularly the Wiradjuri women who I met. But, my earnest hope is that it can be constructed somewhere else in the region. Having met the club, I understood that they’re passionate, that they’re community driven, and that they really want to see this track go ahead. So, it can, but somewhere else.

WENDY HARMER: So are you - This is - Alright, goodo'. This protection lasts for 10 years?

SUSSAN LEY: It does, that’s because the Act requires a statutory time period. But effectively, it makes clear that this area should not be used for the purposes that were suggested. And I believe that in 10 years’ time, I’m sure we’ll have a go kart track, but we’ll have it somewhere else. So, I’m required to put a statutory time frame by the Act, but I think it sends a very clear message and I think that message is understood.

ROBBIE BUCK: Yeah. So, when you say somewhere else, so does that mean somewhere in the proximity of Mount Panorama? Is it going to be, you know, somewhere close to the home of motor racing?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, it’s not for me to say where. I mean, obviously, my responsibilities were to say it can’t be here because the area is under, as the Act says, threat of injury or desecration from bulk earthworks, which would actually sort of dig right into the top of the mountain to create the track, and the grandstand, and the fencing, et cetera, in an area that has that special connection with the Wiradjuri people. But I understand that there could be other locations. I mean, it’s regional Australia. It’s – there is space. There are obviously requirements on how you get through the planning process. But again, the divisiveness that this has created in the Bathurst community has been disappointing, it’s upsetting. I think it’s time to move on, and I very much hope that a new location can be found – that, of course, is actually a matter of the council.

ROBBIE BUCK: Sure.

WENDY HARMER: What, what swung your opinion in the end, Minister?

SUSSAN LEY: Visiting the site was important, but it was listening to everyone. It was taking that time – and you mentioned, Wendy, the emergency declaration – and then I shared a draft declaration with the community a little while ago so they could have a final say, that’s to all the people that made – that had made submissions. We took further submissions after my visit, and it was, it was simply considering everything that everyone had said; recognising there are earnestly held views on all side, all sides, and I totally respect that. But, you know, the requirements for me under the Act were clearly met, in my view.

WENDY HARMER: You, though – and, I have your press release here, media release – in this release you do give quite a lot of emphasis to the heritage, the cultural heritage of the Wiradjuri people. Tell us what in particular you heard that made you, you know, made you consider that? I mean, one of them, I believe, was the iconic shape of the mountaintop? Is that something that came into, into consideration?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, there’s no doubt that on Mount Panorama, Wahluu – the definition of the iconic shape of the mountaintop – is significant to the traditional owners…

WENDY HARMER: Right.

SUSSAN LEY: … as are all mountaintops culturally, not just in this country but elsewhere. I spent some time with the Wiradjuri woman in the bushland area where they talked to me about that personal connection. It’s probably not my story to tell on your programme.

WENDY HARMER: No. Okay. Fair enough. No, I was interested- Yep.

SUSSAN LEY: But I, I can, I can assure you that, that I listened carefully and understood what that connection was. And that, just, that particular location – and if you think about the top of Mount Panorama and then you think of the bulk earthworks that would be required to actually sort of dig the very top of the mountain, perhaps you have some sense of their, their feeling about it. But look, they, they were very keen to reassure me that at no stage did they want to prevent existing motor racing, existing sporting and recreational activities, or any other public activities on the mountain. And the details of the declaration that will be published on my website the next day or so make that very clear. So, there was a bit of alarm at one stage that this would be – this would then lead to all sorts of activities on the mountain being prevented – it doesn’t.

WENDY HARMER: I imagine you’d be very alive to the destruction of heritage sites at the moment? We’ve seen a few really egregious examples recently.

SUSSAN LEY: Yes, indeed and we all know the, the awful circumstances of Juukan Gorge. Now, there wasn’t an application made under this Act, and Juukan Gorge was actually a failure on the part of Rio Tinto, I have to say. But, what that did generate was Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, and I to bring together heritage ministers from around the country and say “let’s make sure there are no gaps in Indigenous heritage protection.” The first port of call usually is the state government; we saw that failure in Juukan Gorge, but we need to align better that heritage protection. So, we’ve started that work and I look forward to continuing it, and ongoing consultation with the very passionate traditional owners and heritage protection groups that I’ve met already.

WENDY HARMER: Goodo'. Well, all very interesting, thanks so much for joining us today, Minister.

SUSSAN LEY: It’s a pleasure.