Good. About time.
Uluru climbs banned from October 2019 after unanimous board decision to 'close the playground'
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Climbing Uluru is set to be a thing of the past after the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board decided unanimously to ban the activity, starting in 2019.
How would a ban be enforced?
- Under Commonwealth laws, there are steep fines for people who ride or walk in a Commonwealth reserve and go off track
- The management board could have all walking tracks on the rock removed, making any climb illegal
- In practical terms, a chain currently in place could be removed, which would make climbing Uluru physically difficult
- Under NT legislation, sacred sites including Uluru have special protections, and a serious breach of the Sacred Sites Act can lead to penalties of more than $60,000 and two years' jail
The board, made up of eight traditional owners and three representatives from National Parks, made the decision after consulting with the wider Anangu community, who it said was overwhelmingly in support of banning climbs.
Senior traditional owner and chairman of the park board Sammy Wilson was at Uluru for the announcement and in a written speech said the site had deep cultural significance and was not a "theme park".
"Some people in tourism and government for example might have been saying we need to keep it open but it's not their law that lies in this land," he said.
"It is an extremely important place, not a playground or theme park like Disneyland.
"The Government needs to respect what we are saying about our culture in the same way it expects us to abide by its laws.
"After much discussion, we've decided it's time."
The ban will begin on October 26, 2019 to coincide with the 34th anniversary of the return of Uluru to traditional owners.
Traditional owners have been asking visitors not to climb Uluru since the 1985 handback and signs requesting people reconsider climbing have been in place at the base of the climb area since 1992.
The entirety of Uluru is a sacred area and the site where the climb begins is also a sacred men's area.
Whether visitors should be allowed to climb Uluru has long been a topic of debate, with a number of controversial incidents—including a woman "stripping" on top of Uluru—reigniting the discussion in years past.
On Wednesday, the same day the ban was announced, three tourists who were rescued from the rock in 2016 after wandering off the marked path had their cases in Alice Springs adjourned.
The board said the climb had also claimed 36 lives since record-keeping began in the 1950s, with the last recorded death in 2010.
Closing the climb 'the right thing'
The most recent park management plan outlined three criteria that the board said were necessary to consider before closing the climb for good.
They were that new visitor experiences were successfully established; cultural and natural experiences on offer were why tourists visited the park; and that the number of visitors climbing Uluru had fallen below 20 per cent.
Mr Wilson said data collated in 2015 showed that of the days the park was open and data was collected, 16.2 per cent of visitors climbed Uluru.
In 2010 when the board announced its intention to close the climb the number was 38 per cent, and in the 1990s it was 74 per cent.
In his speech, Mr Wilson called for support from the public and all levels of government to close the climb.
"Over the years Anangu have felt a sense of intimidation, as if someone is holding a gun to our heads to keep it open," he said.
"Please don't hold us to ransom.
"This decision is for both Anangu and non-Anangu together to feel proud about; to realise, of course it's the right thing to close the 'playground'.
"Closing the climb is not something to feel upset about, but a cause for celebration."
Will closing the climb affect visitor numbers?
One of the most consistent arguments in the debate was whether banning the climb would result in a drop in tourism numbers.
In 2009, Tourism Central Australia warned that flagging visitor numbers to the park could worsen if a ban was put in place, but on Wednesday said it supported the decision.
Members of the Central Land Council and other proponents of a ban had consistently argued drops in numbers would not occur.
More recently, tourism operators rejected claims a ban would result in a drop in visitors, saying ending the activity and teaching people about why it was inappropriate to scale the rock might increase visitation.
The park's management plan ensured there were enough other experiences on offer to still entice tourists to the site should a ban be put in place, they said.