NT chief minister backs Uluru climbers

Tourists should be allowed to climb Uluru, says the Northern Territory’s chief minister, likening the practice to the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, and saying increased regulation could have major economic benefits.

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Chief Minister Adam Giles says he supports tourists climbing the national landmark, and has rejected any decision by the federal government to permanently ban the activity, which it has said it will consider doing if climber numbers dropped below 20 per cent of total visitors to Uluru.

Local Anangu people do not like tourists climbing the rock, which is a sacred site, but have not banned it.

Mr Giles said any decision on a ban should be made by the NT and not by bureaucrats in Canberra, likening it to Labor’s ban on live cattle exports: “It could do almost as much damage,” he told parliament on Tuesday evening.

“The Anangu, of course, feel a great spiritual connection to Uluru. They are also concerned, quite rightly, about safety because they feel a sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors to their land and to that cultural site,” Mr Giles said.

More than 35 people have died climbing Uluru since the 1950s, mostly due to heart failure, he said.

But he argued that with proper safety regulations climbing Uluru could become a major tourism experience such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

“I am fully aware that the Sydney Harbor Bridge does not have the spiritual significance of Uluru to the traditional owners,” he said, but the climb would allow people a better understanding of the local Aboriginal people and their beliefs.

He said Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal in India and Macchu Picchu in Peru have all successfully combined tourism with culturally sensitive sites.

Increasing safety regulations for the climb could help the local Aboriginal people “to participate in a lucrative business and create much-needed local jobs on that culturally significant site”, Mr Giles said.

“There would be significant economic benefits for the local indigenous population and there would be economic benefits for the Northern Territory as a whole.”