Parks Australia has been accused of putting its head in the sand over the management of a controversial 12,000 hectare buffalo farm in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert told ABC Parks Australia that she appeared to sidestep the question of who was in charge of the farm, which has been criticized by some traditional owners in Kakadu.
“They seem to me to be hiding behind ‘this is none of our business’ … that leaves more questions than at the start,” said Senator Siewert.
In December, ABC reported that some traditional owners were concerned about the farm’s environmental impact on the World Heritage area and that it was not meeting its target.
A report commissioned by Kakadu’s board of directors found that no one could be identified as responsible for the farm since 2000.
But National Parks Director Sally Barnes said the farm was under the responsibility of the Northern Land Council (NLC) and told the Senate hearing on the estimates she was looking for answers.
âCertainly, from the documents we have, it is the NLC that holds the lease for the buffalo farm and for this regionâ¦ I wrote to them in January to clarify the arrangements for the buffalo farm,â said Mrs. Barnes.
The NLC said the question of who was responsible for the farm was “complicated” and linked to disputes over land ownership.
No one can answer who is responsible: Senator
After the estimate hearing, Ms Siewert raised even more questions about the status of the farm, saying she understood there was not even a lease in place.
“No one can answer the question of who is responsible for the management of this area and whether it is in line with the park plan and its World Heritage values,” said Senator Siewert.
“It still has the World Heritage List and is part of the park.”
After the eradication of sick buffaloes in the park in 1997, the farm was set up with a herd of buffaloes to provide meat to the traditional owners. Since then the farm has been managed by former ranger Dave Lindner.
Mr Lindner told the ABC in December he was distributing farm meat to 400 locals, but some other traditional owners said they were in short supply.
“It doesn’t do that, I haven’t seen or received any meat from the farm in 15 years, it doesn’t do what it was originally created to do,” traditional owner Frieda Peterson said at the time.
Mr. Lindner has denied these allegations.
The NLC said it was aware that some traditional owners had concerns about the farm.
âWe are very aware that having buffalo for the purpose of providing meat in a place like Kakadu is important to traditional owners, but obviously there has to be some reasoning about the impact of … a farm that is potentially having negative effects not only on the traditional owners, but also on the environment of the park, âsaid Mr. Morrison.
He said the NLC was trying to resolve traditional ownership disputes in Kakadu over who should have final say on the farm.