Friday 3 September 2010

Legislation to overturn Wild Rivers should become law under new government

The day before the Federal election, I released an interview I had in Bamaga with the Mayor of the Northern Peninsula Area, Joseph Elu.

Today, Senator Macdonald had backed plans to ensure legislation moves ahead to overturn Queensland's Wild Rivers legislation, regardless of who forms the next government.

"We're the first people in Queensland that say the Cape rivers need protection, but protection doesn't mean lock up," Joseph Elu told CairnsBlog. "Wild Rivers is very much a lock up situation."
Mayor Elu says they have river protection covered under conservation covenants and national parks, which is enough protection," he says.

Mayor Elu warned that any lock up will only damage the river systems, with many feral pigs and cane toads. He was scathing about the lack of negotiations by the State Labor government over the proposed Wild Rivers legislation.

"Their way of consulting, is telling us what's going to happen," Joseph Elu says. "They did not come to us when the crucial decision on Wild Rivers were declared. They did not come to us and say why they are doing this. They did this behind closed doors."

Today Opposition spokesman on Northern and Remote Australia, Senator Ian Macdonald said that if the Coalition forms the Federal Government, legislation will be introduced to override the draconian Queensland Labor Government's Wild Rivers laws.

"In the event of the Labor/Greens Coalition forming government in Australia, it would appear that the Labor/Greens Coalition agreement would also ensure Tony Abbott’s Private Member’s Bill about overturning the Queensland legislation, becomes law," Hon Ian Macdonald said today.

  • Clause 4.2(e) of the Labor/Greens Coalition agreement provides:

    “The House of Representatives will debate and vote during government business time Private Senators Bills as passed by the Senate within six sitting days of the message being received by the House.”

Tony Abbott’s bill overturns Queensland’s Wild Rivers Legislation, that Premier Anna Bligh called a "stunt", was introduced into the Senate as a Private Senator’s Bill by Senator Nigel Scullion, and passed by the Senate on 22 June 2010. Ian Macdonald says that under the new Labor/Green accord, it be submitted to the House of Representatives for debate and vote.

Abbott's move would prevent the Queensland government from making wild rivers declarations - which restrict development around designated rivers - without the support of local indigenous elders.

"In the House of Representatives, I cannot imagine any of the four Independents would vote against the Bill which seeks to override a Queensland Act which impacts so adversely on indigenous people in Cape York," Hon Ian Macdonald said.

"I am confident the independents in the House of Representatives will support the Private Senators Bill, thus effectively overturning the Queensland Government’s legislation. Either way Tony Abbott’s fight on behalf of indigenous people in Cape York, will succeed," Senator Macdonald says.

Leichhardt MP Elect Warren Entsch says that if Labor lock up more rivers, there will be no investment and no future in the region.

"I will stand up for the Cape and make sure these communities have a future," Entsch says.


activist1952 said...

The Labor / Green Agreement Clause 4.2 (e) no doubt refers to Private Members' Bills that are introduced when Parliament resumes.

The Tony Abbott Private Members' Bill regarding Wild Rivers legislation lapsed at the dissolution of Parliament on 19th July.

Di Horsburgh

Frank said...

While I have not studied the Wild Rivers legislation in detail, my understanding is that its intention is not to “lock up” (a very emotive term), in the sense that these areas cannot be protected from invasive species and pests. The intention is to protect these last, remaining wild rivers of Cape York peninsular from development. By not “developing” (another emotive term) these pristine waterways, the Aboriginal people of the Cape can create employment opportunities for themselves that will be more sustainable in the long-term. Before condemning the Wild Rivers legislation to the scrapheap, readers (and this blog owner) should examine The Wilderness Society’s Cape York Peninsula Indigenous Conservation Estate proposal (available on the Web).

Matt CYP said...

Whatever the outcome of efforts to repeal/circumvent the Wild Rivers legislation, one thing is certain - the debate will continue to be dominated by the larger political players, to the disadvantage of Peninsula people, and in ignorance of the realities of life on the Peninsula, and with disregard for our future.

When I started coming up here in 1960, the Peninsula was almost entirely neglected by all levels of government. In the absence of State and Council enforcement of planning regulations, Peninsula people just went ahead and managed their affairs themselves.

The major change in 50 years is that we are now tightly controlled by bureaucrats relentlessly enforcing legislation, to our great disadvantage.

Wild Rivers is symptomatic of this, and demonstrates the gulf between the State and Aboriginal traditional owners. The State views native title as a virtual title that underlies crown sovereignty, and that does not withstand the State's land use and planning controls - whereas Aboriginal people view native title as a repudiation of crown sovereignty and the re-instatement of their rights as private land owners and the primary determinants of land use.

Ultimately, the State must win that argument - all categories of land holders have to submit to land use and planning controls applied by governments.

The discussion needs to be about the future we want for the Peninsula, environmentally, and the future we want for Peninsula people.

My observation is that the State's approach is not working. Vast areas of the Peninsula are being acquired and then converted to National Park or Indigenous Protected Areas, without any evidence that this regime will result in a high standard of preservation.

Matt CYP said...

The assumption (supported by the Wilderness Society) is that the country must be urgently set aside, and that we can worry about the resources for management later, but the reality is that the State will never be able to afford to manage such large areas adequately.

We need to recognize that Peninsula landscapes are artifacts of Aboriginal people - the country as we generic "white" people found it in the 19th century was shaped by the management traditions of Aboriginal people, and we cannot maintain or preserve it by simply depopulating the land and leaving it to the mercies of wildfire and ferals.

But this is the outcome we see, as large multi-clan collectives of Aboriginal people are granted communal title over vast areas incorporating the traditional estates of several families.

No one is able to regain title to their old family estates, and build a house, or start a business, and say, "I own this."

A few people get short-term, low-paid jobs as trainee rangers, while everyone else remains stuck in disfunctional communal housing, with little prospect of ever owning their own home or getting a real job.

No wonder they still refuse to participate in welfare reform, training programs and the like - they simply have no confidence that the process will produce any good outcomes.

Noel Pearson's approach, despite his trenchant opposition to Wild Rivers, is little better. Aboriginal people deeply resent his authoritarian programs and his domineering manner. He has very little grass roots support among Aboriginal people.

The State needs to accept that Peninsula people, indigenous and otherwise, can be trusted to manage the natural heritage of the region, without the draconian controls that prevent the development of enterprises and the growth of industry.

We need to facilitate innovative land uses and the subdivision of the huge old grazing leases, so that Peninsula people can invest in their homes and businesses, to create a future for their communities.

The State (and the Wilderness Society) needs to recognize that the development and growth of Peninsula communities, and the diversification of land use, is a good thing, that will facilitate the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage into the future, by retaining the participation of a skilled and knowledgeable local community, rather than continuing to see development, subdivision and diversification as threats that need to be avoided by locking up country and suppressing economic activity.

Bryan Law said...

I’m encouraged by the attention that will now be paid to Wild Rivers/Native title rights in northern Australia, and I notice that the sustained impetus for this is coming from the Coalition, and from the independent ex-nationals. The election of Australia’s first indigenous member of the House in WA, the promise by Warren Entsch to address Wild Rivers (renewed since the election), media statements by Ian McDonald, and the recent declaration by Bob Katter that addressing indigenous disadvantage was near the top of his list, and that addressing the Wild Rivers legislation was part of his goal.

So if we get a Coalition government we are going to see legislative movement that curtails the Queensland Wild Rivers Act. Good.

Comments from Matt from CYC are useful and concise. Long-term the natural and cultural heritage of Cape York Peninsula will be protected and extended by generation of local inhabitants capable of, and empowered to, meet local demands for environmental and social integrity.

The ALP is not up to the task. The Greens have deflected Wild Rivers by saying that the real issue is Native Title. There are going to be many Australians now watching the ALP/Green alliance to see if it really can perform over indigenous rights in northern Australia.

I’m not hopeful. The last time I saw local Greens member Di Horsburgh, she was dressed as a Budgerigar and holding up a banner saying the ALP could protect Cape York. Look like a Budgerigar, think like a Budgerigar, I suppose.

Maybe more genuine and informed Greens can work with the Coalition and the Country independents on this crucial issue.

MaryO said...

Dear Bryan,
You state above: "The Greens have deflected Wild Rivers by saying that the real issue is Native Title."

Can you please further explain what you mean by this statement - and provide references if possible? I'm intrigued.


Matt CYP said...

Bryan, we need to get away from the ALP-versus-LNP paradigm. From where I sit, the LNP's approach to the Peninsula and Peninsula people is just opportunistic, and based on simplistic assumptions, just like Labor.

Both major parties represent suburbanite Australia and its romantic, sentimental view of the outback, as the old-time heartland that we need to preserve so that it's there to go camping in.

Neither political party engages in a meaningful way with Peninsula people, but this is not true of all State bureaucracies, to the same extent. State bureaucracies that are directly answerable to local communities are actually doing pretty well - police officers are well chosen, schools are well resourced, health clinics provide a very comprehensive range of visiting services as well as excellent local service, and Main Roads are very mindful of local viewpoints.

Incidentally, while Warren Entsch finally got some serious funding for the Peninsula Developmental Road after a decade of failure, Jim Turnour very effectively built on this by getting funding for new bridges and other essential upgrades that will reduce the time we are isolated in the wet.

But the State agency that worries us is the new mega-department, DERM, the combination of the old Lands Dept and the EPA. This department is authoritarian, and applies its regulations with a robust methodology, and a righteousness that shows scant regard for the welfare of Peninsula people.

Meanwhile, both sides of politics have swallowed Noel Pearson's authoritarian approach hook, line & sinker. Teachers who don't like his fundamentalist approach to education are told to shut up or ship out. Welfare Reform has meant Income Management, with half of people's payments put into a special account that they can't use locally for groceries - they have to travel to Weipa or Cooktown. As a result, local businesses are in decline.

Welfare recipients are constantly pestered to take part in gammon programs that are supposed to prepare them for work, while government policy suppresses economic activity that would generate jobs. And you can't buy a houseblock - there aren't any.

It's little wonder that Peninsula people keep saying that they believe that the government just doesn't want us up here any more - a tangle of red tape makes new enterprises just about impossible, subdivision is discouraged, and diversification of land use is limited to such a degree that it's not worth pursuing.

And rather than deal effectively with problem drinkers, the State imposes draconian liquor restrictions that unfairly disadvantage responsible people - unfortunately, they just don't seem to understand the rage that this measure generates in local people, while at the same time it wrecks our tourism trade, as fisherman wanting to go camping on the coast are not allowed to take a few cartons of beer.

You townspeople would never put up with this.

Bryan Law said...

Hey Mary O,

Rachel Siewert was the Greens Senator who sat on the Wild Rivers inquiry here in Cairns. You can read some comments by the Greens from that committee report here:

A key sentence is “Given that the Bill deals with native title land and purports to address the rights of native title holders, the Greens believe it would be more appropriate to address these issues via amendments to the Native Title Act 1993.”

To me this isn’t a bad principle from which to act – but I now I want to be seeing action about it, not just lip service.

The Greens allege that Tony Abbott’s bill was a bit of political expediency (Duh!).

They don’t seem to realise that the Queensland legislation was also a bit of political expediency, for urban Green preferences.

Nationally the Greens pay heed to state branch advice on issues like these. The Queensland Greens have never conducted a fair political process in supporting the Wild Rivers legislation - during or since their unholy alliance with Ronan Lee. Oh well! We’ll just have to work our way around the Queensland Greens.

Nationally, the Greens are bound to take on board the NT intervention, and the Kimberley resources disputes, as well as Wild Rivers and World Heritage listing in Cape York. There is reason to hope that nationally the Greens can advance all these issues in ways which strengthen, clarify, and affirm native title rights.

I hope they do.

I still think it’s pretty remarkable that Coalition and country MPs are going to be the ones holding the spotlight on how well the Greens perform re indigenous issues.

MaryO said...

Hey Bryan.
Thanks for explanation. Been a while since I last read the Senate material re. Wild Rivers, but I do recall that others, not just Rachael, also recommended that it would be more appropriate to address these issues via amendments to the Native Title Act 1993.

And purely on the basis of commonsense and simplicity - and with the view to avoid the introduction of differing entitlements amongst Aboriginal peoples. That is, where those in Cape York have different rights to those in the rest of Qld. For example, Pr Jon Altman in his related submission.

MaryO said...

That is, in relation to the Wild Rivers Bill, in his Submission, Pr Altman states
“unless such provisions are extended Australia-wide this change will constitute Cape York bioregion-specific legal exceptionalism. This is hardly appropriate given that the Closing the Gap framework applies nation wide; the false logic of regional inconsistency alluded to above will be exacerbated.”