ABC: Kakadu National Park's Jabiru set for $446m revival, rather than planned demolition

Publish Date:
27th July 2018

read on ABC website

by Emily Smith

The town at the heart of Kakadu National Park has been assured a lifespan beyond its scheduled demolition in 2021, following an NT Government promise to keep the lights on and the release of a $446 million blueprint to transform it into a tourism hub.

The NT Government and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, on behalf of some of the traditional owners the Mirarr People, today unveiled the master plan for the future of Jabiru.

The town, which is 253 kilometres east of Darwin, is one of the key service points in the dual World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park and is home to about 1,100 people. 

This vision would see crocodiles removed from the Jabiru lake to offer year-round swimming, the launch of a five-star lodge and glamping and a World Heritage Interpretive Centre built. 

The NT Government has also promised to provide essential services, such as electricity, water, sewerage, education and health services, at current levels for at least five more years — two years longer than the town's previous demolition date.

Jabiru was built by Energy Resources of Australia in 1982 to service the nearby Ranger Uranium Mine on the condition that it would be returned to its "pre-development state" once the lease expired in 2021.

However, there is now widespread community support for the town to remain, albeit as tourism hub rather than a mining service town.

The plan aimed to take advantage of the town's inherent ties to the dual World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park and its strong international brand awareness.

However, consultants Stafford Strategy Consultancy Group also noted visitation was declining, competition from other national parks was increasing and the seasonal park access constrained tourism operators.

It believed new investment was critical across tourism, services, marketing, innovation and technology.

This would include encouraging visitors to go to the park not only in the dry season but in wet and shoulder seasons too.

It also suggested exploring opportunities for renewable electricity production, introduction of electric cars and boats, the use of virtual reality technology to provide cultural tourism experiences, and use of drone technology.

However, as Chief Minister Michael Gunner pointed out, the project would require significant investment from both levels of government and the private sector.

"We want to make sure that nobody in Jabiru is in any doubt about the Territory Government's commitment to the future of Jabiru, that's why we're taking on responsibility for the provision of power and water to create that confidence and that certainty," he said.

"And it's why we're providing a five year service guarantee around health and education.

Federal Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg said negotiations were progressing between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to ensure "the future of Jabiru is settled well in advance of the expiry of the head lease in 2021".

However he did not disclose how much money the Federal Government would be willing to commit to the project.

The forecast Jabiru redevelopment would require $256.3 million worth of public investment, $133.5 million in joint private and public projects and a further $56.2 million in privately funded commercial projects, according to consultants Stafford Strategy Consultancy Group.

These public projects would include a $35.8 million towards the Jabiru airport, a $16.2 million education precinct, a $21.9 million Bininj Resource Centre, an $8.3 million entertainment hub and $174.1 million worth of supporting infrastructure such as roads.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Justin O'Brien also said the plan provided a platform for negotiations between the Commonwealth, traditional owners and the Northern Land Council for a new township lease to be settled. 

He said this lease would give security and confidence for traditional owners, business operators and the broader community.

The plan also stated that delivering greater benefits for traditional owners without putting pressure on Indigenous communities was one of the key issues for Jabiru going forward.

Chief executive of Energy Resources of Australia, which built Jabiru, Paul Arnold said it was committed to meeting its rehabilitation obligations for the town and would continue to work with stakeholders to understand what the Jabiru masterplan will mean for existing premises and infrastructure.