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

James Price Point gas dream is dead

The Western Australian Supreme Court declared today the James Price Point  (JPP) gas plant is illegal after it found that the WA Environment Minister and the WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) have acted illegally in the assessment and approval of the massive project.

The court’s announcement puts the final nail in the coffin ending the elusive Dubai dream. In April, Woodside Petroleum’s announced it is dumping its $45 billion LNG investment in JPP after it found the project to be economically unviable.

Wilderness Society WA Campaign Manager Peter Robertson said JPP is now dead and buried and that WA Premier Colin Barnett must face the facts, drop this unhealthy obsession, and quit the compulsory acquisition process.

Victory for Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter (Photo: Damian Kelly)

Victory for Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter (Photo: Damian Kelly)

The Wilderness took the action with Goolarabooloo Traditional Owner Richard Hunter. The people of Broome and the Traditional Custodians supported the action and rallied in opposition to the WA Government and some of the world’s biggest resource companies.

Hunter said the EPA lied to the community, but truth and justice prevail. “Today’s court ruling shows that we will do what it takes to protect the Song Cycle, this country, for future generations. Our people are strong – we are still fighting for our culture and country, we won’t be bullied into a corner by the government,” he said.

Robertson said JPP or Walmadan should remain with its Traditional Custodians to be managed for its extraordinary landscape, wildlife, and culture.

The failure of the gas project shows two things: It highlights the environmental and cultural significance of Walmadan while it underscores the importance of independent environmental assessment.

Traditional Owners Neil McKenzie, Albert Wiggan and Joseph Roe stand up against Woodside’s proposed gas hub at James Price Point. (Photo:Julia Rau)

The case also demonstrates that the States cannot be trusted to protect their own natural heritage and that the Federal Government needs to maintain an environmental oversight, the Wilderness said adding that this ruling sets a bold precedent and is a stark reminder of why final environmental approval powers should not be left in the hands of the States.

Further, the Society is wary that business and investor confidence will be severely eroded around the country as environmental approvals are overturned by the courts or spend years tangled up in legal action as evidenced by the JPP ruling.

National Director Lyndon Schneiders notes that Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott  made his party’s position clear on approval powers being handed to the conflicted and under-resourced States.  He said the States cannot be trusted to look after environmental matters of national significance.

Wilderness Society’s Perth crew at Woodside’s AGM in April to celebrate the dumping of Kimberley gas hub. (Photo: Wilderness Society)

Wilderness Society’s Perth crew at Woodside’s AGM in April to celebrate the dumping of Kimberley gas hub. (Photo: Wilderness Society)

Without Federal powers to override the irresponsible decisions of the States, the Great Barrier Reef, the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island would all have been destroyed.

Recently, the Environment Defenders Office (EDO) also released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without an overriding Federal laws.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Commissioner urges to protect Aboriginal children

Official poster of the 25th anniversary of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day (NAICD)

We must do more to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

It is not acceptable that between 40 to 50 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still live in poverty across Australia, Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said today on the eve of national Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day.

Commissioner Gooda said National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day — like NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week — has become an increasingly important annual statement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural pride, identity and achievement.

“Since the first children’s day and the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we’ve seen some encouraging gains for our children, including in the areas of education and health, especially infant mortality rates,” he said.

“However it is not enough when it remains the case that our children are 10 times more likely to be removed from their homes and families, or 26 times as likely to be in juvenile detention.”

Commissioner Gooda said that while it is evident that the will is there, backed up by considerable funding, governments have to do things better.

“Every child in Australia —including every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child — has the right to grow up with their basic needs of shelter, food, health, family, care, culture, education, participation and protection,” he said.

“Governments have to do things better and differently if we are to see marked improvements in the development, wellbeing and protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“Our people need to own the solutions and genuine partnerships need to be created — partnerships which support and enable a place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in every aspect of our children’s lives,” he said.

“National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day provides us with a moment to stop, to celebrate our children and to reflect on how we are doing in giving them the best start.”

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597

Tent Embassy’s 40th year highlights Aboriginal struggles

The official poster of NAODIC Week 2012

The National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) observes the spirit of Aboriginal struggles this week since the founding of the Tent Embassy 40 years ago.

Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said NAIDOC Week should be a reminder that despite inroads made to  date, there’s still a long journey ahead to ensure equality between Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians,

Speaking ahead of the start of NAIDOC Week with the theme, Spirit of the Tent Embassy: 40 years on, Commissioner  Gooda said it was an opportune time to refocus energies and pursue the dream of  a fair and equal Australia.

“The Tent Embassy has maintained a presence in Canberra over  the past 40 years and remains a powerful symbol for advocacy in Indigenous  affairs,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“It provides a constant reminder to us to keep the  challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the  forefront of our leaders’ minds and adds much needed visibility for our  struggle for equality and justice.

“It is crucial that we acknowledge the legitimacy of the  discrimination, disempowerment and frustration experienced by many Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islander people and focus our efforts and our energies on  securing the equal enjoyment of rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander peoples.”

The Tent Embassy was established on 26 January 1972 when  four men placed a beach umbrella into the lawn of Parliament House in Canberra  in an iconic protest against the refusal to acknowledge Aboriginal land rights.

This act represented for many a symbol of strength and  defiance against injustice. The Tent Embassy’s protest on government policy,  along with the Wave Hill walk off by the Gurindji people and the Gove land  rights case of 1971, have been cornerstones in the history of the land rights  movement in Australia.

“The Tent Embassy has helped to make self-determination an  overriding factor in the thinking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  affairs. However, of most significance is the place of the Embassy in the  collective understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recent  history,” Mr Gooda said.

“It is a symbol of struggle, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islanders’ power as a people to protest for positive change and to reclaim the  pride undermined by centuries of dispossession and discrimination.

A series of events was held to mark the 40th founding year of the tent embassy earlier this year.

“It also reminds us of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  people’s ability to unite to campaign for better outcomes, bringing concerns  and the struggles for equality to the forefront of public attention and  political debate.”

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission