Disappointment over Burrup rock art probe result

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Industry and rock art in close proximity on the Burrup Peninsula.
Camera IconIndustry and rock art in close proximity on the Burrup Peninsula. Credit: Supplied

Environmentalists, industry representatives and traditional owners say they are disappointed a Senate committee inquiring into the effects of emissions on the Burrup Peninsula’s ancient Aboriginal rock art has failed to reach a consensus, with comm-ittee members splitting along party lines in their final report.

The environment and communications references committee report into the status of protections for the Burrup’s millions of rock carvings was tabled in the Federal Senate on Wednesday, and while all members agreed on the international significance of the art, they failed to agree on a set of recommendations, with senators from each party compiling separate lists.

Friends of Australian Rock Art scientific adviser John Black said the split result was “devastating” for the Burrup’s rock art.

“This is disastrous for the rock art really because it makes it much more difficult for legislation to reduce the emissions to pass through Parliament, and much easier for industry and shipping to provide excuses that they don’t have to reduce their level of emissions,” he said.

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“If we keep going the way we are at the moment, that rock art will be lost.”

Reducing industry emission loads and reviewing safe levels were part of recommendation by both the Greens and Labor, with a particular focus on Yara Pilbara’s technical ammonium nitrate plant .

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy deputy chief executive Nicole Roocke said the inquiry had not been fair to industry, describing its terms as “prejudicial”, and the scientific evidence did not support the view that emissions were having a negative impact on Burrup rock art.

“Industry has stringent environmental conditions on its emissions and looks for and implements practical continuous improvement opportunities,” she said.

“(We support) the need for further studies and on-going monitoring of the rock art on the Burrup and views such monitoring as critical for ensuring there is up-to-date scientific information available.”

Yara Pilbara general manager Chris Rijksen said while the company supported a Greens and Labor recommendation to cut emissions, it disagreed with the Greens’ call to move the plant to the Maitland Strategic Industrial Area, about 20km away.

“(The report) is basically confirming that we don’t see credible evidence of damage to the rock art and that has always been our position as well,” he said.

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation represents the five traditional owner groups of the Burrup and acting chief executive Peter Jeffries admitted they had some concerns about the lack of consensus in the report.

However, he said MAC was glad the inquiry had brought the Burrup to national attention and they supported a number of the recommendations made by Labor and the Greens.

“There’s an opportunity now to move forward with the rock art monitoring, on both sides of the political spectrum,” he said.

“The message from both sides of politics was that we need to get this right and before we can do that they’d like to see a reduction in emissions on the Burrup, and we would support that.”

“There’s also a recommendation relating to future development going to the Maitland Estate... and the other recommendation that is a win for MAC is the support to actually give the rangers the enforcement powers we’ve been asking for.”

The report was clearer on the topic of World Heritage Listing, with Greens and Labor senators both recommending that the Burrup be placed on the Australian Tentative World Heritage List and nominated for World Heritage Listing, subject to consultation with MAC.

The senate inquiry arose from a claim, raised by former CSIRO assistant divisional chief Dr Black, that the science used to support the CSIRO’s current acid deposition limit in the area was flawed because it relied on research that looked at the sensitivity of ecosystems, rather than rock, to acidic deposits.

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