Traditional owners reject river protection law in Cape York

Time has changed in Cape York, Queensland. Traditional land owners have taken a step to support industrialisation over conservation of river systems.

This week, the Federal Court announced it will rule some of the Wild Rivers laws invalid.

Wenlock River in Cape York is one of the river systems protected under Wild Rivers laws.

Cape York traditional owners have pursued their case against Wild Rivers environmental laws to the Federal Court. The laws to protect river systems were enforced during the Labor government in 2009. There were oppositions in the past, but with the new Liberal government, they are more resolved than ever before.

Martha Koowarta, the widow of land rights campaigner John Koowarta, is leading the case to overturn the declaration of three rivers: the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart Rivers – which traditional owners argue were improperly made.

Repealing the Wild Rivers declarations was one of the promises made by the National Liberal Party (LNP) which intended to replace the conservation laws with Cape York Regional Plan (CYRP).

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC), a member of the CYRP Committee met in Cairns on September 18 after Prime Minister Tony Abbott was sworn into office to discuss the draft of the CYRP.

AMEC Regional Manager, Bernie Hogan announced in a statement, “This is another step towards achieving coexistence for industry, local communities and Government.”

He said the decision of the Campbell Newman Government to scrap the four Wild Rivers declarations as part of the CYRP recognises the opportunities of the area for appropriate mining and mineral exploration activities, as well as agriculture and tourism.

He added the revocation gives investors confidence in the region to do business and up for economic development that will secure the future of all Queenslanders.

“We look forward to seeing this sensible approach to development rolled out in other parts of the state as well, particularly where Wild Rivers declarations have stifled exploration in the Northwest of the state” Hogan conluded.

A propaganda against conservation in Queenland. (Photo: Supplied)

Deputy Premier and the Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney also met the CYDP Committee which brought together the Cape York Mayors, key industry and community stakeholders and other State Ministers the day after Abbott was sworn.

Seeney said the Newman Government is “setting a course to open the region to economic diversity and opportunities, while balancing the protection of the Cape’s unique environment.”

However, he made it a point that Newman wants to identify infrastructure opportunities that will support economic growth in the region and not introduce additional unnecessary regulation.

The Wilderness Society, meanwhile, is re-affirming its support for the conservation of Wild Rivers systems in Cape York.

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders said the Wild Rivers laws protect the rivers from large-scale development threats, such as in-stream mining, damming, and intensive irrigation It also guarantees indigenous people traditional hunting, fishing, land management and conservation, through protection of native title rights and support for rangers.

While the Society acknowledged and expressed its enormous respect for Koowarta and her family and respect their long struggle for sovereignty over many years, the Society also strongly supports the protection of Cape York’s wild rivers and call for the maintenance of Wild Rivers protection.

Schneiders said the matters being considered by the Federal Court include the consultation process that preceded the making of three Wild River declarations by the Queensland Government in 2009.

“In respect to the consultation process, we note that the Cape York Balkanu Development Corporation was contracted by the Queensland Government….We have always urged compliance with the Native Title Act and supported effective engagement and negotiation processes between government and Traditional Owners, ” he said.

Map of the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart in Cape York. (Image:National Water Commission)

Schneiders reiterates that Wild Rivers declarations represent an effective and flexible approach to conservation which protects the health of the rivers for future generations and allow sustainable development, as well as cultural and recreational use.

The Wild Rivers laws keep mining and other destructive activities away from the most important parts of river catchments – precisely the kind of destructive developments that are now proposed, Schneiders said.

Schneiders  concludes that Wild Rivers declarations represent an effective and flexible approach to conservation which protects the health of the rivers for future generations and allow sustainable development, as well as cultural and recreational use.

Blog Link: The Green Journal/Asian Correspondent

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Mining giants snub Cape York’s world heritage value

As the Federal Government released the report qualifying Cape York for UN World Heritage listing, the Queensland state government launched its political rhetoric to encourage local indigenous communities to support mining and to oppose the planned world heritage nomination. Cape York is a peninsula located at the northern tip of Queensland.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney promised indigenous people a stake in the estimated $25 billion worth of bauxite deposits near Watson River in Aurukun, north of Cairns. He also announced that five mining companies have been shortlisted to undertake the project. Queensland is optimistic mining would transform “welfare-dependent communities” into a “booming town.” Indigenous owners will have equity and the venture will create jobs, Seeney said.

The five mining giants are Rio Tinto, Cape Alumina, Glencore International (GLEN), and Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd (CHALCO). Seeney also announced the Australian Indigenous Resources (AIR), a new venture company to take part of the project.

The Australian media speculate that AIR, represented by indigenous leader Gerhardt Pearson and aluminium smelter entrepreneur John Benson, started negotiating on the stake to develop the mine. AIR demands that traditional owners would hold equity, not just royalties. It is also reported that AIR offered the Wik people 40 percent equity and another 10 percent proposed for Cape York organsations.

The processes of bauxite illustrated. (Photo: Queensland Bauxite)

Seeney said Queensland welcomes the prospect of providing an opportunity for local indigenous people to own stake “in the operation of whatever mine is able to be developed there.” Aurukun Mayor Derek Walpo also supports the project hoping Aurukun would be the first community on Cape York to be “liberated from welfare.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke supports Cape York’s enlistment, but Seeney dismissed the federal government’s plan.

In time of the Queensland announcement, however, the Wilderness Society urge the Julia Gillard Government to nominate Cape York for world heritage listing by July with traditional owners’ consent.

The commonwealth government commissioned top scientists to assess the natural values of Cape York against World Heritage criteria. They released the report recently and found that the peninsula contains universal values of international significance and that these values are widespread all over the place.

The values are divided into seven key attributes, including tropical savanna, rainforest, bauxite ecosystems, freshwater biodiversity and dune systems– some of these are the best examples of ecosystems on the planet.

The bad news: mining and land clearing are identified as threats to its enduring values.

Wilderness Society Northern Australia Campaigner Gavan McFadzean said, “This report sends a clear message to the Queensland government not to approve and fast track destructive mining developments over areas now known to be of international conservation significance.”

Earlier, Jacaranda Resources owned by Gina Rinehart applied for a licence to mine the rock art area near the Laura Basin. Rinehart, however, backed down following pressure from conservation groups.

The Quinkan rock art galleries include works of more than 30,000 years old and are some of the most significant on earth. Embedded in the spectacular Laura escarpments, the Wilderness Society said they should be one of the highlights of a future Cape York World Heritage Area.

The Quinkan rock art is listed by UNESCO as one of the top-10 rock art sites in the world. It predates the well-known sites of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain by up to 15,000 years. The sites are listed on the Queensland Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Database and were listed on the National Estate Register (the forerunner to the National Heritage list), which described the Quinkan rock art as constituting “some of the largest bodies of prehistoric art in the world. The paintings are generally large and well preserved, and engravings of great antiquity occur. The Quinkan art is outstanding both in variety, quantity and quality.” They have never been transferred to the National Heritage list, even though they have long been recognised as having World Heritage values.

The Laura Basin is one of Queensland’s big coal deposits and there is interest in mining for other minerals in the region.

If the enlistment pushes through, Cape York will join the ranks of Australia’s UN World Heritage Sites which include: Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, Willandra Lakes Region, Lord Howe Island Group, Tasmanian Wilderness, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia1, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park2, Wet Tropics of Queensland, Shark Bay, Western Australia, Fraser Island, Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte), Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, Greater Blue Mountains Area, Purnululu National Park, Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Sydney Opera House, Australian Convict Sites, Ningaloo Coast

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent