Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Bob Debus’ statement to the 43rd World Heritage Committee meeting – Azerbaijan

My name is Bob Debus and I represent the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.
In the year 2000 however, I was Minister for Environment in the State of New South Wales with responsibility for National Parks.
I supported the Commonwealth of Australia in its successful nomination of the Blue Mountains for World Heritage. Consistent with World Heritage Committee principle, I passed legislation to forbid any further increase in the area then inundated by the Warragamba Dam. It was repealed last year.
The area now proposed for intermittent inundation is frequently understated. It includes up to 1000 hectares of World Heritage property and up to 3,700 hectares within the adjacent protected area critical to its integrity. Up to 65 kilometres of wilderness rivers would be inundated.
The area proposed for inundation includes at least 300 known Gundungurra Aboriginal cultural sites, which would be damaged. Its cultural and conservation value is exceptional even within the Blue Mountains area.
We wish to acknowledge the support that the Commonwealth of Australia has given to the motion passed today. On the other hand there is as yet no convincing evidence that the State of New South Wales seriously embraces the solemn national undertaking made less than twenty years ago to protect and conserve the outstanding universal values of the Greater Blue Mountains for transmission to future generations.
It is critically important that today’s motion requires the rigorous assessment of the effects of new construction on property upstream and downstream of the dam in order to avoid impacts on Outstanding Universal Value. The Government of New South Wales has in its own publications treated OUV as little more than an irritating afterthought.
The States Government’s publications so far assume that the population of the floodplain below the dam will be substantially increased. They demonstrate little interest in rigorous assessment of alternative strategies for flood mitigation, urban planning or water supply — although such strategies clearly exist.
Australia has vigorously supported the World Heritage Convention since 1972. It is a rich country. Our failure to protect World Heritage in the Blue Mountains would not be an isolated misfortune. It would amount to a fundamental attack on the Convention itself.