Monday 27 April 2009

Why they’re wild about wild rivers

My posting earlier this month about the impact of Labor's sneaky post-election Wild Rivers protection legislation, that will prevent any activity on or near the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart River basins on Cape York, generated substantial comments from readers, on both sides of the debate.

These magnificent rivers are the lifeblood for the Cape's communities and a huge diversity of wildlife, however conservation leadership in The Wilderness Society, reacted angrily to the discussion, and often did not answer the objectors questions.

They said they would respond to the article with factual content about the legislation. They didn’t. They say that Noel Pearson does not represent tradional owners across Cape York Peninsula. Well he may not represent all the various groups and owners, but he does comand a great deal of folloowing for many thoughsands of indegenous on Cape York.

So, in the vacant absence of the Wilderness Society, here's a reposnce from Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation.

Since the drafting of the Wild Rivers Act, The Cape York Land Council, Cape York Institute and Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, have all lobbied the Queensland Government to amend the legislation as well as to provide thorough and informed consultations with traditional owners on Cape York. The indigenous organisations have provided ongoing correspondence to the Government raising the issues traditional owners have with the legislation.

The Indigenous organisations understand that the traditional owners of Cape York Peninsula share many of the same concerns as conservation groups regarding the protection of the land and its waterways. They do not want to see waterways dammed, diverted or excessive irrigation. They don’t share the reckless mentality towards the environment that has allowed river systems in other parts of Australia to be destroyed. But Indigenous people want a river protection scheme which recognises their needs and aspirations, where they are included in the decision making process, rather than excluded.

Cape York leadership has made it clear that Cape York Aboriginal land is not for the Premier to give away as a gift to the conservation movement.

The following provides an outline of some of the issues with the recent declarations of the rivers within the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart River Basins.

Here's the issues:
  1. The Declarations are a breach of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and deny the protection of rights to land and resources, self-determination and cultural recognition.

  2. Wild Rivers does not respect Indigenous Peoples rights and abilities to manage their lands;

  3. Government took little notice of the submissions made by Indigenous People in November 2008 and has not provided any formal response.

  4. A “consultation period” of four months is not sufficient time for indigenous landholders to properly consider the implications of 13 Wild Rivers. Government refused to grant an extension of time in which to provide submissions.

  5. Government ignored the requests of Indigenous people to meet with Government to seek to resolve their issues before the declarations were made.

  6. Government appears more concerned about meeting election commitments to the Greens rather than the welfare of indigenous people. Government was not impartial and gave greater weight to the views of conservationists who don’t live on Cape York.

  7. There was no need to rush the declarations, the rivers are not under threat.

  8. Government has refused to discuss resourcing for the proper management of the rivers (such as rangers)

  9. Government is seeking to declare the vast majority of Cape York as a “preservation area”. This will lead to a future ramping up of restrictions.

  10. Cape York people have given Queensland many major national parks. The Government wants to implement conservation regimes like Wild Rivers, World Heritage, Nature Refuges etc with little consideration of the cumulative economic and social impacts nor the regulatory complexity

  11. Wild Rivers places unreasonable restrictions and bans on economic opportunities including animal husbandry, agriculture and aquaculture in “high preservation zones”. There have been no studies of the possible economic impacts.

  12. Government declared High Preservation Areas on Indigenous Lands without prior advice to the landholders and without consultation with landholders.

  13. The burden of Wild Rivers falls much heavier on Indigenous land holders than non-Indigenous landholders. Most Cape York non indigenous landholders hold limited purpose leases such as for cattle grazing

  14. The declarations of Wild Rivers over significant areas of Aboriginal lands breaches previous agreements made by Government including the Cape York Heads of Agreement signed by Premier Beattie, ATSIC, CYLC, The Wilderness Society the Cattlemen’s Union of Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

  15. It appears that Government has held back the announcement on the Wild Rivers declarations until after the recent State election, thus denying Cape York indigenous people the opportunity to vote on the declarations;

  16. Indigenous people regard the use of the term “wild” as insulting; it infers that the land is uninhabited and “terra nullius”. The Government has treated indigenous people as if the land is “terra nullius”.

  17. Government has not been talking straight. For example, the declarations of the Stewart, Archer and Lockhart basins were thirteen Wild Rivers rather than three.

  18. Government has assessed the Wild Rivers at the basin scale, rather than each proposed “Wild River”.

  19. Government has nominated and declared the Wild Rivers without properly setting out its reasons and is implementing the Wild Rivers Act without an independent scientifically based process of assessment.

  20. Indigenous people have been denied assistance to access reasonable independent expert scientific advice to consider the nominations.

  21. Government has unnecessarily declared High Preservation Areas to the maximum allowable distance of 1km with little scientific basis and without giving regard to the impacts on indigenous peoples aspirations.

  22. The Wild Rivers Act does not recognize or respect the cultural values of Indigenous people including recognition of sacred places in the declared river basins.

  23. The Wild Rivers Act is silent on the real threats to the rivers such as feral animals and noxious weeds.


Glenn Walker, The Wilderness Society said...

A response from The Wilderness Society, including 'further links' to the debate is here:

Rather than cutting and pasting this long article, I think it is best people visit this website and read the various links for a more balanced perspective on the debate.

One additional issue I will comment on that isn't covered in the above article is the Indigenous Wild River Ranger program that The Wilderness Society instigated.

The Government has committed to creating 100 positions, with 20 already working. These are the people, with local skills and knowledge, helping to address the threats of weeds and ferals. To say this isn't covered by Wild Rivers, or that there is no resourcing for rangers, is plain wrong.

Noel Pearson reffered to rangers in an ABC radio interview as "green and red welfare", but I hardly believe this is a good reflection of the hard work the rangers do and importance of their work.

Steven Nowakowski said...

I clicked on the Balkanu link Mike but I couldn't find a response on their the website. Is the Balkanu response the dot points in the body of the blog.?

Alison Alloway said...

Whew! Thanks for this Michael. It has filled in some of the gaps not covered by the other media, as usual.

Michael P Moore said...

Steven, all the links appear to work from my end.

And yes, that is the Balkanu's response in the posting.


Steven Nowakowski said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your reply.

There were no problems with accessing the Balkanu website. I was just trying to say there was no information on the Balkanu website about the Wild Rivers as asserted by you in your blog.

Denis Walls said...

Hello Mike, I am a little concerned about what appears to be an ad for Balkanu right next to your piece in which you refer to the State Govt as 'sneaky' and preventing 'any activity on or near the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart River basins'. Can you let us know if that is a paid for ad in which case your op piece is a bit compromised, wouldn't you say?

I'm no fan of the ALP but if doing what you have previously indicated you would do is 'sneaky' then it's a new definition for me. Also, it is clear that preventing 'any activity' is a furphy easily corrected by a quick squizz at the TWS link mentioned by Glenn Walker.

On the matter of secret deals between the Greens and the ALP, I don't know where this one has come from in relation to Wild Rivers. Both Marcia Langton in her Australian article and Balkanu mention it. It has never been on a Greens pre-election wish list probably because it is so complex and was already being run by small 'g' greens in the form of TWS.

In fact, when Larissa Waters and I met with Balkanu reps, including Michael Ross and Michael Winer, prior to the last Federal election, both groups were at pains to separate the role of the big 'G' Greens as a political party and the role of small 'g' activist organisations like TWS or CAFNEC. Both Michaels recognised the difference most strongly and welcomed us warmly.

Sad to say, but I reckon the reason a secret deal between the ALP and the Greens as being touted as the reason for ALP action is because it's the easiest and laziest way to explain it.

It is a tired cliche of the mainstream media and (normally) right wing politicians to blame any surprising environmental activity by the ALP on a 'secret deal' with the Greens in exchange for some supposed, and usually obtuse, preference allocation. That's why the current barrage of criticism against the Greens from so-called progressive elements is so disappointing. Hey, maybe the ALP have done it because there are elements within the party who actually believe that it will benefit the environment!

Doc in Cairns said...

It wont benefit the environment. It wont benefit anybody but the ALP and some patronised Green members. And we see that they'll walk all over the indigenous people of the country to do so!

Michael P Moore said...

It’s Balkanu’s logo that links to their website, not an advert.

Bryan Law said...

Denis, I’m glad you gave us your take on the Greens preference deal with Anna Bligh and Mike Kaiser in this year’s state election.

I don’t know about Noel Pearson, but I got my information about the preference deals through both the mainstream media and contact with local Greens. The Australian reported several times on preference deals being negotiated in Brisbane, with Drew Hutton being lead negotiator for the Greens. Wild Rivers was cited in these reports as a bargaining chip under consideration.,25197,25157842-5006786,00.html

I can accept that the Greens never put Wild Rivers on the wish list, and that it ended up there as an initiative of the ALP (because they knew it’d please TWS?). Would it be going to far to suggest The Greens were suckered by Mike and Anna?

From local Greens I know there was no consultation or discussion within the Party about Wild Rivers. In fact there was no consultation or discussion about preferences. Local candidates and activists were told that the Brisbane negotiating team would decide the issue for them, and that’s the way it played out.

Now the Wild Rivers issue has blown up quite badly, and there is a real danger of alienation and division between green and black. Given that the Queensland Greens at the very least acquiesced in some very poor preference negotiations, what are you planning to do now to clean up the mess?

I wonder if you can give us your take on the 23 points raised by Balkunu, and some idea of what the Far North Greens might do towards achieving resolution of Wild Rivers issues (as part of your environmental policy) and advancement of Aboriginal sovereignty (as part of your social justice policy)?

I think there’s enough time and knowledge to construct an effective environmental regime in Cape York Peninsula that is led by traditional owners in partnership with indigenous organisations, science, economics and the state. I think The Greens have a real opportunity to contribute.

Bryan Law said...

Thanks for that Glenn Walker. I’ve read the material on your link, and I have some thinking about where the nub of our problem might lie, and I have some questions about where TWS is going to move from here.

In the discussion paper compiled by Anthony Esposito, it’s clear that TWS believes the state has the power to diminish various indigenous land and cultural rights to ensure conservation outcomes – but this power ought be exercised in ways which bring on and listen to indigenous needs and interests. Thus Anthony says “The framework for Wild River protection should establish the environmental and cultural standards to be upheld and provide means to restrict or remove activities that threaten natural and cultural values within a Wild River catchment”.

He then goes on to cite with approval a decision in the Canadian Courts that “it is recognised that Indigenous non-commercial rights are prioritised above all non-Indigenous interests but are subject to legitimate environmental and conservation measures”. So TWS acknowledges that indigenous rights are affected, and goes on to argue that those affects can be well-managed by Queensland government bureaucracies so that in the end it really doesn’t matter.

I do not share your faith in the ability (or purpose) of Queensland government bureaucracy. I have been watching for 15 years as one indigenous ranger program after another has failed to work due to poor planning, poor resourcing, and a rigid insistence by men and women in suits, in Brisbane, in air-conditioned offices, that they know best what ought be done on the ground in Cape York. Your office is in Brisbane, isn’t it Glenn?

It’s true that the legislation will outright prevent very little activity by TOs. But it will require extensive bureaucratic commitment to seeking permits from the air-conditioned class. Any TO with an established office and staff of say, 20, will just cruise through the Wild Rivers process. Are these the TOs you’ve been consulting with?

The letters you sent Balkunu and the Queensland government clearly blow off indigenous concerns, and are not the actions of friends or allies. I think you can do much better.

The attacks on Noel Pearson, and persistent efforts to portray him as a big, greedy developer are unworthy, and every time you or Lyndon Schneiders makes them I ask myself what you’re trying to distract people from.

You still don’t name the TOs who support TWS and the Bligh government on this matter.

Nor do you respond to the 23 points raised by Balkunu (although you do criticise Gerhardt and his meeting style). What do you have to hide?

Dutchie said...

Thanks for providing the information. And thanks to the Wilderness Society for monitoring this blog and proving information from their end. This is more information than we would ever get in regular media, let alone Cairns Post. But perhaps Carter can write a nice fairy tale about the wild rivers next Saturday?

Bruce White said...

Hey all

For what it's worth .. no longer seems relevant whether the Greens did "in fact" make backroom preference deal to see new "Wild Rivers" declared over Aboriginal lands without the effected peoples' prior, free and informed consent.

What seems more relevant IS that the Greens are perceived as having made a preference deal, and green groups such as the Wilderness Society evidently support and approve of the recent declarations .. even without the consent of the majority resident Aboriginal population directly effected

Which ever way the decision was actually made to declare most recent river catchments (13 rivers?) to be "wild" rivers .. any green groups public, almost unashamed approval and continuing support for the declarations threatens to poison any real prospect of forming the kind of enduring and genuine partnerships with the resident population .. necessary to truly secure the future of vulnerable river ecosystems into the long term future.

Point 1 of Balkanu's 11 points above reads:

"The Declarations are a breach of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and deny the protection of rights to land and resources, self-determination and cultural recognition."

It's a pretty solid bet, then, that this is what this is what the Cape York Land Council sponsored representatives were saying to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission when they met with Commissioner Tom Calma just over a week ago (anyone catch that item on ABC radio?)

The most urgent challenge now, is for green groups (and the Wilderness Society in particular?!?) to find some antidote to the current venom that is working against them/you.

While only an interested bystander, I feel I MUST recommend and again suggest green groups:

1. publicly distance themselves from the Bligh Government's decision to declare Wild Rivers

3. respond to Aboriginal concerns about apparent breaches of the recently adopted UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples by publicly expressing strong support for all the principles and guidelines contained in that UN Declaration

4. realign themselves/yourselves with majority Aboriginal resident population .. by publicly disapproving the way current declarations were made, so joining them to ask for the most recent declarations be revisted .. and all future wild river declarations be done in a way that fully complies with the principles and guidelines laid down within the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples.

For what it's worth .... still trying to look 30+ years forward into rapid ecologically changing future :( !!