Sunday 31 May 2009

Wild Rivers heritage legislation, leads to conflict

ALP's Wild Rivers divisive legislation to turn Cape York's waterways into World Heritage, is leading to conflict.

Last Monday, well-known Greens leader in Cairns Denis Walls, wrote to CairnsBlog with a request.

Denis apparently feels that I have been publishing misinformation about Wild Rivers and Cape York Peninsula [here is the follow-up story.] He asked me to put up an article by Greg Roberts from The Australian, which alleged strong disagreement between Cape York leader Noel Pearson, and his brother Gerhardt Pearson.

Denis described the article as “revealing”.

I don’t know enough about Cape York and the issues involved, so I sent the material to CairnsBlog correspondent Bryan Law for his perspective, as he has a history and background of involvement with Indigenous Australians in Cape York.

Bryan said the story was a beat-up by The Australian. He also said the comments from Gerhardt Pearson in his letter to Anna Bligh (to publicly commit to progressing the nomination of Cape York for World Heritage listing, and that she should "work collaboratively with traditional owners, landholders and green groups"), have been said by many Aboriginal leaders, including Noel Pearson, for a long time.

According to Bryan, “Noel Pearson has long supported the World Heritage listing of Cape York Peninsula after due process. It was an integral part of the Cape York Heads of Agreement signed by Noel and others in 1996, but there it was placed in a context of Aboriginal land ownership that had to be respected through an agreed process of consultation and negotiation.”

Article 13 has a reference to World Heritage listing:
  • 13. The parties agree that areas of high conservation and cultural value shall be identified by a regional assessment process according to objective national and international criteria.

    There shall be an independent review acceptable to all parties in the case of dispute as to whether the values are consistent with the criteria. Where such areas are identified, the landholder shall enter into appropriate agreements to protect the area under State or Commonwealth provision which may include World Heritage listing.

    As part of such agreements, funds shall be provided for management of the area, monitoring of agreements and equitable economic and social adjustment.
“Noel’s problem now is that the consultation process has not been carried out effectively, or in good faith,” Bryan Law says.

Bryan Law suggested that instead of simply reprinting The Australian’s article, CairnsBlog ask Denis Walls of The Greens for his own thinking on the issues involved, starting with the principles of negotiation and informed consent that are embedded in the Heads of Agreement.
CAFNEC’s new coordinator, Sarah Hoyle, was reported in the Cairns Post on 22 May:-
  • “CAFNEC supported a World Heritage nomination process for Cape York Peninsula that was underpinned by the free, prior and informed consent and agreement of traditional owners, and other land holding interests”.

Does Denis Walls agree with Sarah’s statement? “Yes,” says Denis. He is emphatic that World Heritage nomination should not take place without Traditional Owner (TO) consent. However, he denies that consultation to date has been ineffective, and asserts that right now will be “the start of what will probably be a 10-year process with massive TO input to come”.

Denis goes on to complain about Noel Pearson, and the level of support he receives from the Australian.

"Noel is one prominent leader amongst a diverse population. Many TOs are probably happy with the Bligh government, The Wilderness Society, and the Greens. They are a diverse mob," Denis Walls says.

In addition, Denis accuses the Australian of “being gung ho behind Noel Pearson for some time. The Weekend Australian was one constant attack on green groups. Today’s piece redressed the balance a bit for the first time”.

"The Greens had a good relationship with Balkunu and Cape York Land Council," Denis Walls says. "They had a good meeting only 18 months ago, before the last federal election."

I can’t help but feel things may have changed a little since then.

One problem The Greens will have is the unrestrained behavior of The Wilderness Society, which continues to issue provocative comments about Cape York from their protected bunkers in Sydney and Canberra.

There seems to be precisely one publicly identified development proposal (near Lockhart River on Cape York Peninsula), that may fall foul of the Wild Rivers and World Heritage legislation. The proposal involves some 16,000 hectares of Pongamia pinnata, an Asian tree, in plantations for the production of bio-diesel.

The proponent, Evergreen Fuels, claims that 35 of 37 TO trustees support the development. One TO says the proposal keeps changing and is filled with uncertainty. Bryan Law says the proposal is the kind of issue that cries out to be resolved through negotiation and problem-solving engaged in with good faith.

“Employment issues, the local economy, and the provision of sustainable fuels at Lockhart River are all issues that green groups should be interested in supporting," Bryan Law says.

"TOs ought drive the issue, and green groups seek input respectfully. If collectively we can’t problem-solve around a proposal like this, and at the same time we are unable to bring bauxite mining under control, then I think Noel Pearson is right – the legislation will effectively discriminate against Aboriginal people”.

It all appears to be much simpler for Cape York activist Lyndon Schneiders, has long campaigned for protection who said from his bunker in Sydney that rainforest, woodlands, and native grasslands would be bulldozed under the plan.

“It is not worthless cattle country as is implied by the proponents. Importing a weed into an area of high conservation value with marginal economic prospects looks like an ecological disaster,” Lyndon Schneiders says.

So not only is Cape York Peninsula a wilderness area where native people get in the way, “non-native” plants are “weeds”. Lyndon lives in a town where no high conservation values exist anymore, and where non-native weeds like wheat provide his daily bread – and he compensates for this by telling the poorest, weakest and most isolated Australians, what they are allowed to do on their own land.

I wonder whether or not the colonial mentality is alive and well in some parts of the Green movement – and whether or not younger leaders like Sarah Hoyle, are able to restore some integrity to what used to be called the Green/Black alliance.

Time will tell.


Tony Hillier said...

Evergreen Fuels' claims that 35 of 37 Traditional Owners support the development might be misleading. According to one TO in the Lockhart River region, Chris Dean, the community is deeply divided. He is quoted in The Australian as saying: “One problem is the company keeps changing the boundaries so we don't know which country is involved."

Unknown said...

you canot believe anything the Australian says about noel pearson - they have pushed his barrow for him for many long years. this sad excuse for a newspaper long ago lost its objectivity as far as he is concerned. the motive is to disguise their vicious racism with indigenous "friends" of the right political persuasion.

Syd Walker said...

Good points by Tony and Unda.

Co-operation between the conservation movement and Aboriginal movement has developed over a long period. It's not perfect and both sectors are very diverse. Even so, the co-operation that has been nurtured has yielded tangible benefits in different parts of Australia. IMO, this is viewed as as a threat by some powerful vested interests.

Not surprising, therefore, that this bridge-building is under attack. Of course, people within each group (conservationists and Aboriginals) with critical views must be free to argue their case in public. But newspapers such as the Australian are highly selective in whose views they cover.

I agree with Denis that the recent article in the Australian is quite an exception to it's general coverage of Cape York in recent times.

Gerhard Pearson's joint letter with TWS and ACF, as reported by the Oz, lends support to the view that the conservation movement has genuinely tried to liaise, co-operate and work with TOs on the Cape - and that attempts to portray the conservation movement's Cape York campaigns as 'racist' are gross distortions.

References to Lyndon Schneider working in a 'bunker' is rather over the top, IMO. I suspect Lyndon works in an office.

Huge monocultures of any exotic tree are ecologically problematic. If nothing else, they're usually biological deserts - effectively no-go areas for most species that lived there before. While plantations may well have a role to play in a future land-use mix. casually calling them 'sustainable' is a stretch. Evidence please.

BTW, I've avoided the term 'green' so far in this comment, because I think the terms 'greens' and 'Greens' have been confused in this discussion.

I understand that most negotiations and work over Cape York have been carried out by the conservation movement. The Greens (political party) have tried to play a supportive role in the political arena - but other parties can do the same.

By all means let's have competition between political parties over pro-conservation and pro-Aboriginal policies.

Unknown said...

i think it might be illuminating if cairnsblog were to ask the qld govt to detail the consultations that it has undertaken.

Denis Walls said...

The letter sent to the state govt, reported in last Monday’s Australian, supporting World Heritage listing for Cape York and signed by Balkanu, TWS and ACF, is the first step in getting CY on a list for WH consideration. That should be followed by extensive consultation with Cape Yorkers over the coming months and years.

Noj Nedlaw said...

Just thought that I would post this excerpt from Jim Turnour’s speech last night to the House of Representatives.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, he makes it sound as if we are all speaking the same line. And that just is not the case.

“As the member for Leichhardt, I understand how important it is to take action on climate change. Cairns is home to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and wet tropical rainforests. Scientists agree that both are at risk from climate change. These icons are not only natural wonders but underpin our community’s economy and way of life. Tourism generates more than $2 billion in economic activity in my region and supports more than 30,000 direct and indirect jobs. Tourism is dependent on these environmental icons. Communities in tropical North Queensland are demanding action on climate change. Businesses and the local community where I come from want the government to take action on climate change and they want the opposition to support that. I would suggest that the opposition, with their continuing opposition and delay to our proposals, need to get out and listen to the community more.”