Senate committee split on Burrup rock art report

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula.
Camera IconPetroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula. Credit: Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation

The Senate committee set up to inquire into the effects of industrial emissions on the Burrup Peninsula’s ancient Aboriginal rock art has split along party lines in their opinions on the way forward, in a report released today.

The environment and communications references committee report, into the status of protections for the millions of rock carvings on the Burrup in Dampier, was tabled in the Federal Senate this afternoon

Their inquiry arose from a claim 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.

While all committee members were in agreement on the international significance of the Burrup rock art, they failed to agree on any one set of recommendations, with senators from each party instead compiling separate lists.

The Australian Greens expressed serious concern with current emissions levels and monitoring and recommended some significant steps be taken in their list of 15 recommendations.

Those included a recommendation the Yara Pilbara technical ammonium nitrate plant should be moved to the Maitland Strategic Industrial Area and that no further industrial development should be approved for the Burrup Peninsula.

Greens senators also recommended emission levels from all industry and shipping in the area should be reduced to zero within one year, and measurements of existing emissions be established “as a matter of priority”.

“It is apparent that there has been evidence of damage to the Burrup Peninsula rock art for many years. This evidence has been ignored and industrial development has continued to be approved,” Greens senators stated in the report.

“Further, evidence suggested that the total emission load for existing industries has not been adequately quantified and measured to determine environmental and public health impacts of current emissions.”

“The Greens considers this an oversight by both the Western Australian government, and the Commonwealth government.”

Recommendations from Labor included calling on the WA government to work with Yara Pilbara to improve compliance, investigate how industrial emissions on the Burrup could be reduced and only approve further industrial development in the area “under strict environmental conditions”.

They also praised Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation’s recent work to protect the area and develop its tourism potential.

The Coalition made no recommendations, instead citing disputes with several aspects of the inquiry — including a lack of credible evidence to show emissions were adversely affecting rock art, the reliability of several scientific reports submitted to the committee and the adequacy of current regulations.

Greens and Labor senators both recommended the Commonwealth government should seek to list the Burrup on the Australian Tentative World Heritage List, after consulting with Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, and work with the WA government to nominate the area for World Heritage Listing.

It has been a long wait for the report’s release, which was originally due to be tabled on March 21 last year but has since been delayed eight times.

See next Wednesday’s edition of The Pilbara News for more.

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