THE Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has never climbed Uluru but says he would like to have a chance to one day, dealing a blow to a proposal to ban tourists clambering up the iconic rock.
"I've not done it," Mr Rudd told 3AW yesterday, "but I've run into people from abroad who've climbed it and have had a great experience. I've also run into people from abroad who have fallen over and done themselves great damage."
A draft management plan for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park released on Wednesday proposed a ban on climbing the rock in accordance with the wishes of the traditional owners, who consider the 348-metre high rock sacred.
But Mr Rudd was unmoved, saying "it would be very sad if we got to a stage, though, where Australians, and frankly our guests from abroad, weren't able to enjoy that experience". The Prime Minister's opposition is important because any decision to ban the climb would need the support of the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, who while not declaring his position has shown sympathy to arguments in favour of a ban.
Mr Rudd was joined in his rejection of the ban by Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, but incurred the wrath of parts of the indigenous community and the Greens leader, Bob Brown, who said it showed a lack of respect.
David Ross, the director of the Central Land Council, said: "Kevin Rudd won't be around forever. One day he'll be gone but Aboriginal people won't. They'll still be there, watching people leave tracks up over their sacred site."
Mr Ross said supporters of the climb should take into account that at least 35 people had died while scaling the rock, while many more had been injured or fallen ill. "If the climb was a road and that number of casualties was suffered within a few hundred metres of each other, some drastic action would be taken," he said.
"If people can't find it within themselves to respect the wishes of traditional owners of Uluru and support the closure of its climb, then perhaps they should consider it on safety grounds."
Asked yesterday in Sydney whether he agreed with the Prime Minister's position, Mr Turnbull said he did, noting that his party's opposition to the ban "expressed or reflected the concerns of many Australians".
Each year about 350,000 tourists visit Uluru, about a third of whom choose to climb it. Research conducted by park administrators found 98 per cent of visitors would not change their decision to come to Uluru if they were unable to climb it.
Senator Brown threw his support behind a ban, saying indigenous requests not to climb the rock should be honoured.
"We should respect the culture of the indigenous people and I think the Prime Minister should respect that culture too," he told reporters in Canberra.
"It's a breach of that faith to be continuing to say people should be able to climb the rock even though in doing so they're climbing over the spiritual sensitivity of the local indigenous people, and I don't think that's fair."