This section provides an overview of the treaties, legislation and regulations at various levels of government relevant to the Kakadu National Park Ramsar site.
1.3.1Australian Government Legislation or Policy Instruments
Australia’s obligations to protect and maintain the ecological character of its Ramsar site is recognised in Commonwealth legislation through the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act sets out standards for managing Ramsar wetlands through the Australian Ramsar Management Principles (established within regulations under the Act) and through the referral and assessment of activities that may have an impact on Ramsar site and other matters of National Environmental Significance (NES).
Several of the matters of NES under the Act are directly relevant to the Kakadu National Park Ramsar site and are discussed in the sections below. These include:
Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar wetlands)
Nationally threatened species and ecological communities
World Heritage and National Heritage sites, and
EPBC Act and Ramsar wetlands
As outlined in EPBC Act Policy Statement 1.1 (refer DEWHA 2009a), in the context of assessing significant impacts on the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands, actions that are considered to have an effect or potential effect on wetland ecological character involve the following:
areas of the wetland being destroyed or substantially modified
a substantial and measurable change in the hydrological regime of the wetland for example, a substantial change to the volume, timing, duration and frequency of ground and surface water flows to and within the wetland
the habitat or lifecycle of native species dependent upon the wetland being seriously affected
a substantial and measurable change in the physico-chemical status of the wetland for example, a substantial change in the level of salinity, pollutants, or nutrients in the wetland, or water temperature which may adversely impact on biodiversity, ecological integrity, social amenity or human health, and
an invasive species that is harmful to the ecological character of the wetland being established in the wetland.
The Australian Government Minister for the Environment decides whether the action will, or is likely to, have a significant impact on the ecological character of the Ramsar wetland and whether the action will require approval under the EPBC Act. If approval under the EPBC Act is required, then an environmental assessment of the action must be carried out. The Minister decides whether to approve the action, and what conditions (if any) to impose, after considering the environmental assessment.
EPBC Act and protection of species listed under international conventions
Any action or potential action that may affect protected species or communities that are listed as threatened is also a matter of NES and must be referred to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment for assessment. The key international conventions on migratory species are briefly discussed below.
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as CMS or Bonn Convention) was adopted in 1979 and aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty under the United Nations Environment Program, concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale.
The Japan-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (JAMBA) and China-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (CAMBA) are bilateral agreements between the governments of Japan and Australia and China and Australia, which seek to protect migratory birds in the East Asian - Australasian Flyway. The two agreements list terrestrial, water and shorebird species that migrate between Australia and the respective countries. In both cases the majority of listed species are shorebirds. Both agreements require the parties to protect migratory birds from take or trade except under limited circumstances, protect and conserve habitats, exchange information, and build cooperative relationships. The JAMBA agreement also includes specific provisions for cooperation on conservation of threatened birds.
In April 2002, Australia and the Republic of Korea also agreed to develop a bilateral migratory bird agreement similar to the JAMBA and CAMBA. The Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (ROKAMBA) agreement obliges its Parties to protect bird species which regularly migrate between Australia and the Republic of Korea, and their environment. The Annex to the ROKAMBA contains the list of species or subspecies of birds for which there is reliable evidence of migration between the two countries.
EPBC Act and Heritage
The Kakadu National Park was inscribed onto the World Heritage List in 1981 under both the cultural and natural criteria of the Convention. The specific Nomination Criteria under the World Heritage Convention that are also relevant to the site’s Ramsar listings include:
Criterion (ii) - Outstanding example representing significant ongoing geological processes, biological evolution and man's interaction with his natural environment.
Criterion (iv) - Contain the most important and significant habitats where threatened species of plants and animals of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science and conservation still survive.
Kakadu National Park was also included on the National Heritage List in 2007 for its natural and cultural values.
EPBC Act and Management of Commonwealth Reserves
The Kakadu National Park is a Commonwealth Reserve under the EPBC Act declared for the purposes of:
the preservation of the area in its natural condition, and
the encouragement and regulation of appropriate use.
The EPBC Act sets out the following matters relevant to management of the reserve:
establishment of the roles and responsibilities of the Director of National Parks (s514A)
establishment of the roles and responsibilities of the Kakadu National Park Board of Management (s376)
management planning (s367 – plans must be prepared under the Act and provide for the protection and conservation of the reserve), and
control of actions in Commonwealth Reserves (s354 – through the prohibition and control of natural and cultural resources of the reserve).
Under the Act, the Director of National Parks generally has power to do all things necessary or convenient for performing the Director’s functions which relate to administration, management and control of the Park. The Board of Management’s functions under the Act are to make decisions relating to the management of the Park that are consistent with the Management Plan in operation for the park and, in conjunction with the Director, to prepare management plans for the Park, monitor the management of the Park and advise the Minister on all aspects of the future development of the Park (Director of National Parks 2007).
The EPBC Regulations provide for the controlling of activities within a Commonwealth Reserve, providing that it should take into account whether a proposed activity may interfere with the protection or conservation of biodiversity or heritage or with the continuing cultural use of the reserve by the traditional owners of the land (r12.03 EPBC Act). Certain prohibited actions must not be undertaken within Kakadu National Park except in accordance with the Management Plan (s354 EPBC Act). This includes killing, injuring or trading a member of a native species, damaging heritage, erecting a building or other structure, carrying out works, or taking an action for commercial purposes.
Kakadu National Park Management Plan 2007 – 2014
The Kakadu National Park Management Plan (Director of National Parks 2007) is the key document for on-ground management and planning in the Park and the conservation of its values. The Management Plan is set out under six key result areas (KRAs) that reflect the Parks Australia Strategic Planning and Performance Assessment Framework:
KRA 1: Natural heritage management
KRA 2: Cultural heritage management
KRA 3: Joint management
KRA 4: Visitor management and park use
KRA 5: Stakeholders and partnerships, and
KRA 6: Business management.
Aims, policies and actions (including annual programs of works at a district level within the Park) set the direction for management carried out to meet these KRAs. Annual reporting to the Australian Parliament is required on the outcomes of the KRAs in the Director of National Parks’ Annual Report.
The Management Plan also outlines a specific process for assessment of proposals within Kakadu National Park. The process of assessment is based on three pre-determined categories of actions according to the degree of potential impact of the activity. Tables from the Management Plan outline the categories, impact assessment requirements, and matters for assessment, summarised as follows:
Category 1 (least impact) proposals do not require assessment.
Category 2 proposals require assessment by Park staff, the proponent or independent experts, following a procedure which outlines the values that are to be considered in the impact assessment.
Category 3 (likely to have a significant impact) proposals are considered to possibly require referral and assessment pursuant to the EPBC Act.
National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act
The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 provided for the original declaration of the Kakadu National Park progressively between 1979 and 1991. The Act also established the Board of Management for the Park.
This Act was repealed and replaced by the EPBC Act in 2000 noting the roles and responsibilities of the Director of National Parks, the Kakadu National Park Board of Management, management planning and control of actions in the Park have been retained and are now administered under the provisions of the EPBC Act as outlined above.
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act
As outlined in the Management Plan, approximately 50 percent of Kakadu National Park is Aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Most of the remaining area of land is under claim by Aboriginal people.
Title to Aboriginal land in the Park is held by Aboriginal Land Trusts that have leased their land to the Director of National Parks for the purpose of being managed as a Commonwealth Reserve. Land in the Park that is not Aboriginal land is vested in the Director.
1.3.2Northern Territory Legislation or Policy Instruments
In general, Northern Territory laws apply within the Kakadu National Park to the extent that those laws can operate concurrently with the EPBC Act and Regulations (Director National Parks 2007).
While the Northern Territory Planning Scheme (under the Northern Territory Planning Act 1999) applies generally to Kakadu National Park, the area is within an unzoned area under the Scheme, and as such the general performance criteria relating to development (such as building setback requirements in flood prone areas, vegetation clearance provisions, etc.) do not apply to development within Kakadu National Park.
Other Northern Territory legislation (for example, Waste Management and Pollution Control Act, Water Act, Weed Management Act) also applies generally to land and water management activities undertaken in Kakadu National Park and provides for protection of wetland and coastal environments from threatening activities and processes (ALGA 2006). However, integration between these pieces of legislation is regarded as weak in places (NTG, LCNT and NHT 2005).
Where practicable, the Management Plan provides guidance to ensure consistency with particular Northern Territory laws and policies, such as, for instance, setting bag limits for barramundi and other fish species consistent with Northern Territory bag limits.
In terms of infrastructure provision and management, the Northern Territory Government funds the management and maintenance of major roads into and out of the Park and Gunlom Road and also plays a role in implementing road safety measures (in consultation with the Director of National Parks). Jabiru is the largest settlement within the boundaries of the Ramsar site and the Jabiru Town Development Act (Northern Territory) establishes the Jabiru Town Development Authority which develops, maintains and manages the township.
Protection of wetland values through controls on development activities are also implemented within the West Arnhem Shire, which is approximately 49 236 square kilometres and covers the Kakadu National Park area. Although relatively few local government services are delivered by the local government within the Park, values within the area are recognised through a framework set up under the Local Government Regional Management Plan – Northern Region (Department of Local Government and Housing 2008), a statutory instrument under part 3.1 of the Local Government Act 2008.
The provision of services are noted within the Regional Management Plan to be subject to the rights and interests of Indigenous traditional owners (under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 and the Native Title Act 1993), and a range of Northern Territory legislation (for example, Control of Roads Act, Disasters Act and Weeds Management Act) but it remains that Commonwealth legislation (EPBC Act) ultimately provides protection to both the cultural and natural values of the Park in delivery of the services.
Specific Northern Territory legislation that is potentially relevant includes the following: