Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Statements by Senators
I rise in the short few minutes that I have left to address issues raised by the imminent closure of the Uluru climb. The current debate and some of the commentary regarding the climb closure illustrate why First Nations people are striving to have a voice to determine their own affairs—and it is a lesson in why we must not only have a voice but certainly a voice that must be listened to and respected.
In October 2017, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park's board of management, made up of a majority of Aboriginal traditional owners, unanimously decided to close the Uluru climb. It wasn't a decision taken on a whim. It was a decision and discussion about the aspirations of the traditional owners—one that has been there for many, many years—to have visitors appreciate the significance and majesty of this sacred place, Uluru. Uluru traditional owner and board chairman, Sammy Wilson, said when the closure was announced in 2017:
We've talked about it for so long and now we're able to close the climb … It's about protection through combining two systems, the government—
the Western way—
This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about; to realise, of course it's the right thing to close it.
The land has law and culture. We welcome tourists here. Closing the climb is not something to feel upset about but a cause for celebration. Let's come together, let's close it together.
… We welcome tourists here. We are not stopping tourism, just this activity.
Wise words from Sammy Wilson.
The board of management has been working with the tourism industry over many, many years to make sure there is no detrimental effect on the industry. And, in fact, when I was the previous tourism minister in the Northern Territory government, in 2009, 2010 and 2011, we were working on this plan to close the climb in consultation and in coordination with tourism and tourism bodies throughout Central Australia, across Australia, and, indeed, around the world. The board of management has continued to work with tourism industries over many years to make sure there is no detrimental effect on the industry. And, while the climb may close, the Anangu know there will be more opportunities for partnerships with traditional owners based on true cultural experiences for visitors.
So I say to senators and to members in the House: take the opportunity—the real, genuine opportunity—to engage with the Anangu. They want to be able to explain this to you, to tell you about their Jukurrpa, the songlines and the maps that make this enormously beautiful place in the middle of our country so sacred and so special for all people.