Chapter 1 Background
Referral of the Inquiry
On 3 November 2010 the Minister for Families, Housing, Community
Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, requested the committee
to inquire into and report on Indigenous economic development in Queensland
including issues surrounding the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld).
On 17 November 2010 the House of Representatives referred the Wild
Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 (’the Bill’) to the committee for
inquiry and report by the end of the autumn period of sittings in 2011. This
Bill was introduced as a private Member’s Bill by the Leader of the Opposition,
the Hon Tony Abbott MP on Monday 15 November 2010. The Bill, which was
introduced without an explanatory memorandum, provides that the development or
use of native title land in a wild river area cannot be regulated under the Wild
Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) without the agreement of the land owner in writing. Submissions
addressing the Bill were received as part of the committee’s broader inquiry
into issues affecting Indigenous economic development in Queensland.
Committee objectives and scope
The committee was asked to investigate barriers to and opportunities for
Indigenous economic development in Queensland, with a particular focus on Cape
The geographical and socio-economic context of the Cape York Peninsula
and the disadvantaged status of the Indigenous population underpin the issues central
to participation in the ‘mainstream’ economy.
The committee’s resources and the reporting deadline mean that a
detailed economic analysis is beyond its scope. Nevertheless, the committee
believes that the diverse range of primary stakeholders’ views was well
represented and that the threshold issues around Indigenous economic
development have been brought out.
Indigenous economic development is a large and complex issue and this
report can only cover part of that wider topic – in this case an overview of
the barriers and opportunities, and recommendations to address them. Although
this report cannot address all aspects of Indigenous economic development, the
committee trusts that the material presented to it and made public will
contribute to a greater awareness of the issues surrounding Indigenous economic
development and that this material will contribute to better policy outcomes in
The 2010 Senate Inquiry and its outcomes
A previous iteration of the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill
2010 was considered in the 42nd Parliament. It was introduced by Mr Abbott into
the House of Representatives on 8 February 2010 and an identical bill was
introduced into the Senate as a private Senator's Bill on 23 February 2010 by
Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion. On 24 March 2010, Senator Scullion’s Bill was
referred to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation committee
for inquiry. The committee presented its report on 22 June 2010.
The inquiry heard evidence regarding economic opportunities in wild
river areas; the compatibility of the Bill with existing law; the applicability
of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN
DRIP); the Queensland Government’s wild rivers consultation process; and issues
surrounding the Bill’s drafting.
The committee concluded:
While there might be a need for further information and
assistance with development applications, the committee is not persuaded that
the Queensland Act substantially interferes with the current or future
development aspirations of Indigenous or other landowners in wild river areas.
Even if it did, the committee does not consider that the Bill provides the
comprehensive and considered solution needed to economically and socially
empower Indigenous communities in wild river areas. Accordingly, the committee
is of the view that the Bill should not be passed by the Senate.
There was a dissenting report by the Liberal/National committee members
and a separate set of additional comments by The Greens committee members.
There is a wide variety of legislation that is applicable to Queensland
and Cape York. Chapter 2 provides an overview of that legislation and the
impact they have on the issues under review in this inquiry.
Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld)
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) (‘the Act’) aims to preserve the
natural values of rivers that have all, or most, of their natural values intact
and to preserve the natural values of rivers in the Lake Eyre Basin.
Queensland’s wild rivers policy is implemented through a regulatory framework
that links together the Act, a wild river declaration, the Wild Rivers Code and
other regulating acts.
The Act requires that other laws consider its objectives when making decisions
on development and other activities in a declared wild river area.
Wild river declarations aim to preserve the following natural values:
processes (unimpeded runoff, stream flow, aquifer recharge and spring
- geomorphic processes
(unimpaired movement of sediments along the river system resulting in stable
bed and banks and sediment delivery to estuaries, floodplains and downstream
- water quality (of
sufficient physical, chemical and biological quality to meet human and ecological
function (intact riparian trees, shrubs and sedges to protect stream banks and
to provide food and habitat for native animals); and
- wildlife corridors
(sufficient areas of natural habitat within and along the river system to allow
native fauna to migrate within their natural ranges).
The Act does this by regulating new development within a declared wild
river and its catchment area, and by regulating the removal of natural resources
from the area. The Act establishes a framework that includes the declaration of
wild river areas that may include:
- high preservation
areas – areas within and up to 1km each side of the wild river, its major
tributaries and special features (such as floodplain wetlands);
- preservation areas – the
wild river areas outside high preservation areas;
- floodplain management
areas – floodplain areas with a strong hydrologic connection to river systems
(may overlap with a high preservation and/or preservation area); and
- special floodplain
management areas – aquifer areas with a strong hydrologic connection to river
systems (may overlap with a high preservation and/or preservation area); and
- designated urban areas—a
mapped urban area (e.g. towns, settlements, villages), including space for future
urban expansion (based on either a town plan or other available information).
Once a wild river area is declared, certain types of new development and
other activities within the river, its major tributaries and catchment area are
prohibited, while other types must be assessed against this code. Each wild
river declaration identifies these developments and other activities.
Declared wild river areas
Declarations effective from 28 February 2007 are:
Wild River Declaration 2007
Wild River Declaration 2007
Wild River Declaration 2007
Inlet Wild River Declaration 2007
Wild River Declaration 2007
Wild River Declaration 2007.
Wild river areas declared on 3 April 2009:
Wild River Declaration 2009
Wild River Declaration 2009
Wild River Declaration 2009.
Wild river area declared on 4 June 2010:
Basin Wild River Declaration 2010.
Current wild river declaration proposals:
Creek Basin Wild River Area.
Conduct of the Inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry through a press release on
8 November 2010 and an advertisement in The Australian on 1 December 2010.
Details of the inquiry and the Bill were placed on the committee’s website.
The closing date for submissions was Friday, 28 January 2011 but was
then extended to Friday 18 February 2011 subsequent to the Queensland floods of
A total of 41 submissions and three supplementary submissions were
received by the committee and these are listed in Appendix 1. Submissions were
placed on the committee’s website.
Throughout the inquiry, the committee was mindful of Minister Macklin’s
request that ‘the committee should make all efforts to ensure that a broad
range of views are communicated to the committee, especially those of Indigenous
people’. The committee has sought
to gather views from as many organisations and individuals with an interest in
the subject matter relating to this inquiry as possible. In particular, the
committee endorsed a program for the public hearings that sought a range of
views and opinions about the proposed legislation and visited as many regional
communities as was practicable given the adverse weather conditions and time
restrictions during the December 2010 – March 2011 period.
Apart from initial and final hearings in Canberra, the public hearings
included two series of visits to Brisbane, Cairns, Weipa, Bamaga and Chuulangun
Aboriginal Corporation in far north Queensland. The first series was from Monday
29 November 2010 until Wednesday 1 December 2010 while the second was from
Monday 6 March until Wednesday 9 March 2011. The open public hearings in
Weipa and Bamaga were particularly successful as almost everyone who was
present participated in the discussion.
A list of the witnesses who appeared at these hearings is available at
Appendix 2, and the Hansard transcripts can be found at the committee’s
Structure of the report
Chapter 2 outlines the barriers that exist for Indigenous economic development
and how potentially to address them. These include the remoteness of many Indigenous
communities; lack of infrastructure; weather and other environmental issues;
land tenure issues; the impact of the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld); the
legal framework surrounding development in environmentally sensitive areas; and
the consultation processes between government and Indigenous people.
Finally, Chapter 3 reviews the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management)
Bill 2010 itself and its potential to impact on the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld),
Indigenous communities and the environment should it be passed into law.
Note on references
References in this report are to individual submissions as received by
the committee, not to a bound volume. References to the committee Hansard are
to the proof Hansard: page numbers may vary between the proof and the official
The difficult environmental and climatic conditions, remoteness, and the
soil conditions of Cape York have hindered the type of development that has
occurred across many other parts of Australia. The committee notes that,
despite these disadvantages, there is a range of opportunities for Indigenous
people to increase their participation in economic activities and that governments
at all levels are seeking to maximise them.
In particular, the committee notes the potential for development of
industries focussing on the sustainable management of natural resources. The
wild rivers ranger program has been a highlight of the inquiry because
Indigenous communities can leverage it to build internal capacity. This is
More broadly, the Council of Australian Governments is the forum through
which all the Australian governments, under Commonwealth leadership, are
closing the gap in health, housing, economic participation, early childhood
development, and remote service delivery with the Commonwealth Government
investing over $5.75 billion over three years.
Evidence available to the committee confirms that the Wild Rivers Act
2005 (Qld) does not present a barrier to economic development and does not
limit native title rights. Ultimately, the Act is little different from other
environmental and planning legislation which is used to regulate development. While
the ongoing engagement of Indigenous people is essential, the introduction of
Commonwealth legislation overturning state environmental protections and giving
unique veto powers to some stakeholders is not the solution to the issues
examined during this inquiry.
The issues surrounding Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and Indigenous
economic development has inspired a lot of passion amongst the interested
parties. In particular, the committee was presented with a range of information
and views about the consultation and engagement processes under the Wild
Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) creation and implementation. Both the Queensland Government
and stakeholders have a role to play in ensuring consultation and engagement is
effective. The most effective way to resolve differences and ensure
consultation can be strengthened would be for all parties – including the
Queensland Government, Indigenous people and the various non-government
organisations – to work together to develop policy solutions.
The Queensland Government has already moved to accommodate some of the
concerns raised through this committee’s inquiry process. On 9 March 2011, the Queensland
Government announced a number of initiatives which included: an Economic
Development Mentor Support Network; capacity building for Indigenous local
governments; a Strategic Economic Development Plan; and Indigenous Reference
Committees, and these can be used
as a basis for strengthening engagement with Indigenous communities.
Indigenous communities suffer extreme disadvantage in Cape York with
significantly lower life expectancy and much higher rates of unemployment than
the Australian average. Similar patterns are repeated Australia-wide for
Indigenous people. As long as the barriers to Indigenous development remain,
governments must commit themselves to further action.
The Commonwealth Government continues to address the
economic and geographical barriers to Indigenous economic development through
its closing the gap programs across Australia and in particular, in Cape
York; and the Queensland Government proactively affirms its commitment to
addressing Indigenous disadvantage by pursuing place based initiatives for
economic participation in Cape York.