| House of Representatives Economics
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page
Chapter 2 Cape York – Context and Consultation
Cape York, subject to current declared wild river areas, receives
a tropical monsoonal climate that is characterised by a long, warm to hot dry
season, and a shorter hot, humid, and intensive wet season, every year. This
annual monsoon season is a major constraining factor on Cape York as it impacts
on travel and many economic and social activities. It isolates most properties
and communities for approximately four to five months due to flooded and boggy
roads and air travel and freight can also be curtailed due to boggy airstrips
and/or intensive thunderstorm activity. Delivery of food and mail supplies is
regularly disrupted to virtually all areas.
Topography, soil and water
Extensive annual flooding during the ‘wet’ is normal for all
watercourses on Cape York. In the lower parts of many catchments, floodwaters
may extend for many kilometres across expansive flood plains. Other low lying
or poorly drained areas also typically become seasonally inundated for many
Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation Pty Ltd advised that broad
scale irrigation is limited as there are few areas of arable soil on Cape York
suitable for large scale irrigation, and added that the Commonwealth Scientific
and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has identified that there are some
areas on the west of Cape York with soils
suitable for irrigation, but that water supply is not likely to be sufficient
to support irrigated crops in much of the area.
Most of the topography west of the divide on Cape York is very flat and
unsuitable for dams. The east side flows into the Great Barrier Reef world
heritage area and therefore any proposal to impact on the flow of a river would
be subject to Commonwealth legislation.
Transport and infrastructure
Cape York’s lack of development can make access to available services
difficult. Roads are overwhelmingly classified as minor and unsealed, and only one Weipa airport has a scheduled
The condition of Cape York’s main road, the Peninsula Developmental Road,
remains a barrier to development as repairs can only be made in the dry and,
like other roads, it is inaccessible during the wet season. The region’s
tourism website advises that:
When accessible OPEN to local large 4WD vehicles only - dirt
road - 4WD vehicles recommended. Conditions change with heavy rain - road
subject to closure. Drive according to prevailing conditions. Dirt road can be slippery
and boggy when wet.
Mobile phone and internet coverage are available in most settled areas
of the Cape, but beyond that, satellite phones are necessary due to the
remoteness created by vast uninhabited distances.
The majority of Cape York’s communities rely on major diesel power
generation systems with only the townships in the far south-east of the region
connected to grid power.
Under the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Nation Building
Program the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments have committed $30 million
to seal the Peninsula Developmental Road, the Wills Developmental Road, and
upgrade remote community roads.
$15 million of this is allocated to the Peninsula Developmental Road
which is due for completion in late 2011, weather permitting.
Although expensive to construct, reliable, adequate, efficient and
consistent transport systems are essential for significant business and
industry development. The impact road upgrades
can have is to be seen in the increased agricultural activity at Lakeland Downs
and increased visitation and economic development activity in Cooktown since
sealing of the Mulligan Highway was completed. Building approvals have jumped
by some 150% in the period since, while some statistics indicate a jump in
visitor numbers in the order of 40%.
The committee notes the economic benefit of major
infrastructure and investment programs and recommends that the Queensland and
local governments in Cape York work with Infrastructure Australia and
Regional Development authorities to progress these programs.
The committee further notes the Indigenous training and
employment benefits of major infrastructure and investment programs and
recommends that Queensland and Australian Governments ensure these
opportunities are maximised.
The inalienable status of the variety of Indigenous land tenures
recognises the communal nature of Indigenous land and of Indigenous peoples’
historical and ongoing connection to and responsibility for that land. It also
recognises the spiritual, cultural, social and health benefits of maintaining
that connection through continuing presence and through structures of authority
and responsibility. However the notion of inalienability is inherently at odds
with the nature of “freehold land”, which, as well as being of significant
value as an economic asset, can also be alienated from its owner – i.e., allows
the owner to sell the assets and access the embedded economic value.
Indigenous land holding arrangements in Queensland primarily consist of
Indigenous Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) land. This is land granted as fee
simple in trust under the Land Act 1994 or the Land Act 1962
(repealed) for the benefit of Indigenous inhabitants or for Indigenous
purposes. Indigenous Shire Councils are the trustees of Indigenous DOGIT under
the Land Act 1994, and may grant leases for public and private housing,
and economic purposes under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 and the Torres
Strait Islander Land Act 1991 (Qld). There are 31 Indigenous communities on
DOGITs in Queensland.
A significant number of individual perpetual leases have also been
granted throughout remote Indigenous townships under the Aborigines and
Torres Strait Islanders (Land Holding) Act 1985 (LHA), primarily located in
Commercial investors and banks require secure tenure for loans and
business investments, and the COAG Closing the Gap National Partnership
Agreements (NPAs) for Remote Indigenous Housing and Remote Service Delivery
require secure land title to underpin government investment. Under these NPAs
the Queensland Government committed to reform land tenure and administration to
facilitate commercial investment and home ownership on Indigenous land.
Consistent with these commitments, the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 and
Torres Strait Islander Land Act 1991 were amended to allow long term
leasing (up to 99 years) of Indigenous land for private residential and
The Queensland Government is also taking steps to improve land
administration in Indigenous communities. It has established an interdepartmental
agency, the Remote Indigenous Land and Infrastructure Program Office, to
develop land administration systems in remote Indigenous communities. This
includes, for each community, surveying the land, establishing statutory town
planning schemes to guide land use and development, negotiating Indigenous Land
Use Agreements to facilitate social housing and private leasing, and
negotiating leases to secure government investments. This work is ongoing.
Given that Aboriginal Shire Councils have a significant role in leasing and town planning functions, the Queensland
Government through its Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM)
has established the Indigenous Land Trustee Service Support Unit to help build
the capacity of Aboriginal Shire Councils to undertake their functions relating
to private residential and commercial leasing. As well, Queensland’s Department
of Communities is developing programs and policies to support home ownership on
Indigenous lands, including determining methods for the valuation of leased
lands. It released a discussion paper on this topic in November 2010.
Both the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments are addressing the
economic barrier that inalienability creates by working to establish long term
leasing provisions which protect and acknowledge underlying title and
facilitate opportunities for home ownership and commercial development under
relevant legislation. They are also supporting local government councils to capacity
build their expertise in land administration and planning.
Minerals and Mining
Cape York consists of four main geological regions with differing
mineral prospectivity. They are the Carpentaria, Cohen, Quinkan, and Cairns
Weipa and Cape Flattery are the two major mining operations in Cape York
. In 2006, Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) contributed $364 million to the Weipa
economy, representing 77 per cent of Weipa’s total economic output.
Mining growth will depend on global demand, financial markets and a
range of local factors. These include water availability, energy supply,
available skills, transport and infrastructure development, relationships with
Indigenous communities, access to land, and government policy and incentives. 
The mining industry has played a significant role in supporting
Indigenous people across Australia through employment and cultural recognition
programs and the payment of royalties, however some witnesses are not in favour
of mining on their land. The Pormpuraaw community stated:
Consultations held over recent years by both the Council and
PL&SM with the Traditional Owners and the general Pormpuraaw Community,
have fully, unambiguously confirmed that all forms of mineral exploration and
mining development - from initial exploration through to actual mining of found
deposits, proposed for the Pormpuraaw DOGIT area, now and into the future - are
and will continue to be unanimously opposed by
Thaayorre and Mungkan Traditional Owners, and the Pormpuraaw Community
as a whole.
Mr David Claudie from Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation made a similar
One thing about our homelands is that we cannot have mines,
because it is not a sustainable industry. Our principle is that we have to look
after our country in order to benefit economically.
While mines will continue to operate in Cape York it is unlikely that the
industry will provide a pathway to prosperity for every community.
Indigenous workforce participation in the mining industry
The major mining operations at Weipa and Cape Flattery are the biggest
single contributor to Indigenous employment with more than 270 Indigenous staff
Under the Australian Government and Minerals Council Memorandum of
Understanding on Indigenous Employment and Enterprise (MOU), the Western Cape
Regional Partnership Agreement was established. It is an agreement between four
Cape York Indigenous Councils, the Minerals Council of Australia, and the
Australian and Queensland government. The Queensland Agreement is centred on
Weipa and extends south to Aurukun and north to Mapoon.
It covers work readiness, transport to access employment, linking training to
labour market participation, and supporting Indigenous business development.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
continues to partner with the mining industry to facilitate training and
employment so that workforce participation in the industry becomes a
mainstream employment option for Indigenous people.
In Cape York, opportunities for medium to large scale agriculture are
limited due to the moderate quality of soils and constraints imposed by annual
flooding of alluvial areas adjacent to watercourses. Potential does exist for
smaller market gardens, fruit orchards and other mosaic style activities. These
are seen as particularly important for both providing economic benefits, and a
regular supply of produce for local communities (as currently exists at
Napranum near Weipa).
With its small internal market and distance to major external markets Cape
York may have difficulty in sustaining not only competitive advantage, but also
comparative advantage. That is, other regions closer to markets, with better
supply chain links may be better placed to supply those markets. This has not
been tested in the contemporary global environment and is a place to start in
assessing industry feasibility.
The cattle industry in northern Australia and Cape York is significant.
It dominates the agricultural industry in the northern Australia region and has
the potential for growth.
In it submission, Australia Zoo said that cattle grazing typically
involves free range breeding on uncleared country, but that clearing for
grazing has been minimal, and has often been unsuccessful due to vigorous
sucker regrowth over subsequent wet seasons.
The only abattoir currently in operation on the Cape is at Seisia in the
far north. This provides an important local meat supply and employment for
Northern Peninsula communities. An additional abattoir is currently being
developed at York Downs via Weipa, and a fledgling live cattle export industry
has commenced, with cattle being exported from Weipa in 2009 from York Downs
and other cattle properties.
Continued growth of the beef industry is likely due to a promising
export outlook. Further growth can be achieved by investment in finishing cattle
(fattening the cattle to market size) and processing meat in the north, and
broadening farming business to include mixed crop‐livestock
systems based on irrigated pasture, fodder and other crops. Growth of the
industry will also depend upon an increased water allocation and improved
The Indigenous Land Corporation (the ILC) acquires and grants land to
Indigenous corporations to build a secure and sustainable land base for Indigenous
people. Properties are acquired for a range of reasons, including to: create or
expand Indigenous businesses; generate employment; deliver social services; and
protect significant environmental land cultural heritage values.
Further to land acquisitions and grants in the Cape York region, the ILC
is involved with key land management projects in the region, including the Cape
York Indigenous Pastoral Project. The ILC is currently assessing the proposed
development of Billy’s Lagoon as an ILC-operated pastoral business.
The culture rich landscape and vast expanse of Cape York challenges and
inspires travellers to this region. However tourism is seasonal and subject to
factors such as global economic conditions, fuel prices and extreme weather
events, and the fact that the average traveller chooses to be self sufficient. Between
60,000 and 70,000 people visit Cape York each year. Compared to Uluru (350,000)
and Kakadu (160,000) these are small numbers. Whilst tourism is an
important contributor to the Cape York economy, it is a limited one. Mass
tourism is not a feasible option for the Cape York Peninsula.
The Queensland Government’s own Cape York Peninsula and Torres Strait
Tourism Development Plan 2008-2011 recognises that whilst there are very
real economic benefits that tourism is capable of generating, communities
across Cape York are at different stages of understanding the tourism industry.
During the inquiry, the Queensland Government announced its Sustainable
Cape Communities initiative which includes the establishment of mentor networks
to foster strong partnerships between corporate Australia, Indigenous
communities and existing aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs.
The committee recommends that the Queensland Governments mentors
support network initiative be linked to Commonwealth Government initiatives
for Indigenous small business development in business, tourism and
Population and the labour market
Cape York is large and underdeveloped. It comprises 15 per cent of the
area of Queensland, yet supports only 0.3 per cent of the State’s population.
Its residents are amongst the most disadvantaged in Queensland. Eighty three per
cent of Cape York’s population is in the most disadvantaged quintile (lowest 20
per cent of the State), while none are in the most advantaged quintile. Fifty-four per cent of Cape York’s people aged
15 years and over have a gross weekly income of less than $400 per week,
compared with 40 per cent for the rest of Queensland.
Institutional capacity and ability to engage with governance processes
is low. This disadvantage is compounded by limited access to a range of
services as well as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ infrastructure. This relative economic
disadvantage exists in all income bands.
After New South Wales, Queensland has the second largest estimated resident
Indigenous population. At 146,000 this is 28 per cent of the total Indigenous
population of Australia.
In the Cairns region, 7 per cent of the population is Indigenous, more
than double the state average of 3.3 per cent. Within that 7 per
cent, there is a 19 percent unemployment rate, which is about twice the average
of the Cairns region.
Of Cape York’s 14,406 inhabitants, 55 percent are Indigenous, compared
with the Queensland state average.
Workforce participation in Cape York
Employment across the Cape York region (as of the most recent 2006 census)
was dominated by public administration (approximately 2300 jobs). Other public
services such as health care and social services provided approximately 800
jobs, and manufacturing provided approximately 700 jobs.
Education and training (approximately 500 jobs), construction (approximately
400 jobs), retail trade (approximately 400 jobs), accommodation and food
services (approximately 400 jobs), and agriculture, forestry and fishing
(approximately 300 jobs), rounded out the main sources of employment in Cape
Within these industry sectors, Indigenous people in Cape York were predominantly
employed in public administration. Of the 2300 people employed in this sector,
nearly 1800 were Indigenous. Health care and social assistance is the second
largest employer of Indigenous people, with approximately 500 Indigenous people
employed. This is followed by education and training with approximately 170 Indigenous
people employed, manufacturing, with approximately 120 Indigenous people
employed, and agriculture, forestry and fishing, with approximately 110
Indigenous people with jobs.
Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation said in its submission that
Cape York is suffering from an education crisis. Literacy and
numeracy levels are considerably below those enjoyed in the broader community
and for many people English is a second language. The rate of illiteracy in Cape
York is unknown, but it would be fair to say that an overwhelming majority of
indigenous people in the region would have only a rudimentary English literacy,
if anything. 
The committee took evidence from Mr John Smith of Island and Cape, a
locally owned Cairns-based grocery company with seven retail stores in the
Torres Strait and Cape York region. Island and Cape has a 70 per cent Indigenous
workforce. Mr Smith advised that the lack of skilled workforce was a barrier to
employment. Island and Cape address this through certified training.
Consultation and consent on the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld)
The issue of consultation is a key driver of objections to the Wild
Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) (the Act). Some held the view that
there had been no consultation at all. Mr Larry Woosup stated:
...this wild river thing is just a top-down approach. All of
a sudden this legislation is declared. There is no consultation... It happened
in the middle of the night. That is why there are some unhappy
people around the cape. 
In contrast others said that there had been consultation. The
Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (CLCAC) said that in April 2006
it made submissions on behalf of the Traditional Owners in respect of each of
the proposed declarations following consultation with the Traditional Owners
and, where relevant, native title claimants. The CLCAC itemised those who
The Gangalidda and Garawa Peoples, as Traditional Owners,
and as the largest property holder in the area covered by the proposed
Settlement Creek declaration area, advise of their overwhelming support of the
declaration of both Settlement Creek and Gregory Rivers as Wild Rivers.
The Waanyi People, as Traditional Owners, and as property
holders in the area covered by the proposed Gregory River declaration area,
advise of their overwhelming support of the declaration of the Gregory River as
a Wild River.
The Kurtijar People support of the declaration of the
Staaten River as a Wild River.
The Kukatj People support of the declaration of the Morning
Inlet as a Wild River.
The Queensland Government advised that its wild rivers policy
consultation paper was circulated to key stakeholder representative groups
including native title bodies and other peak Indigenous groups (Carpentaria,
Cape York, and far north Queensland land councils, Balkanu Cape York
Development Corporation and the Queensland Indigenous Working Group),
conservation groups, Queensland Resources Council and AgForce. The Queensland
Government advised that “Submissions from these and other key stakeholder
groups were considered in the drafting of the Wild Rivers Bill 2005
Each of the consultation reports are publicly available on the
Queensland Government’s website. The Wenlock Basin Wild River Declaration
Consultation Report states that the Queensland Government sought advice from
the Human Rights Equal Opportunity Commission and was referred to the Engaging
the Marginalized: Partnerships Between Indigenous Peoples, Governments and
Civil Society paper”. It then says that Departmental staff actively sought
and followed advice from local Indigenous people, Traditional Owners and
Indigenous organisations in regards to who to speak with, and what forms of
engagement were appropriate. It says that Departmental officers conducted
numerous meetings on country with Traditional Owners and Indigenous
communities. Traditional Owners, people within Indigenous communities, clan
groups, interest groups and peak bodies were all engaged, and consulted about
the wild river declaration process. Follow-up meetings were also held after the
close of the formal submissions period to ensure that the consultation with
Traditional Owners and other stakeholders was comprehensive and effective. 
Despite this, many thought that although consultation occurred, it took
the form of delivering information rather than sitting down with people to work
through issues, problems and solutions. It was this lack of engagement that has
led to perceptions that decision making powers about land have been taken away.
Miss Tracey Ludwick states:
They may have come here. They may have talked to the people,
but they did not ask the people what they wanted. They just came in
here....They are the people making decisions across my land, my aunties’ land
and my brothers’ land, and we do not have a say in it.
Although land holders have a role under the Act, their consent is not
required for a declaration to be made. This arrangement is akin to the range of
planning and conservation legislation throughout Australia. However many groups
believed that land holder consent was required under the Act through its native
title provisions, through provisions under the Native Title Act 1993
(Cth), and through Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights
of Indigenous peoples (DRIP).
While the DRIP sets important principles for the fundamental human
rights of Indigenous people, it is not legally binding and does not have a
technical effect on Australian law.
The committee acknowledges the concerns raised during the inquiry about
consultation under the Act.
The committee was presented with evidence that in some cases the QLD
Government consulted and engaged effectively with stakeholders. The several
amendments of the Act after consultations has demonstrated that the Queensland
government has effected negotiated outcomes. In addition, declarations have
been varied as a result of consultation. For example, the High Preservation
Area at Breakfast Creek (Stewart Basin Declaration) was originally proposed at
1km but was reduced to 500m after consultation with Traditional Owners. Consultation
can and does work but it requires both the Queensland Government and
stakeholders ensuring that consultation and engagement is effective.
While stakeholder views about the extent and nature of consultation were
varied, effective and meaningful engagement with Indigenous people is essential
to the ongoing operation of the Act.
This chapter makes a number of recommendations on how all parties
including the Queensland Government could work together to develop policy
solutions to ensure consultation and engagement is effective.
The committee recommends that the QLD Government strengthen
its consultation and engagement framework for the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld). The committee notes that the establishment of Indigenous reference
committees group under the Cape York Sustainable Communities initiative is
intended to address this and to work directly with Indigenous stakeholders on
improving the wild rivers consultation process.
Speaking for country and “own representative institutions”
Several times the committee heard contested authority to speak for
country, most notably during the March 2011 hearings in Cairns, when the committee
received a letter and maps from the Lama Lama Land Trust in which it advised
that the Kulla Land Trust is made up of four clan groups Kaanju, Umpila, Lama
Lama and Ayapathu. Concerning the Kulla
Land Trust submission to the inquiry (sub 28), it said:
...We are concerned that the decision to provide a
submission, and its drafting was made ...without consultation or consent from
the wider Lama Lama clan group and this may not be in our best interests as
The following day, the committee Chair advised Kulla Land Trust of this
complaint. Its response was:
it is not correct for you to describe Lama Land Trust as
being consistent with Kulla Land Trust. There is an overlapping membership...
The committee makes no judgement about these statements. However they do
indicate how vexed the issue of right to speak for country is.
Despite an elected Shires’ authority to speak for its constituents, some
felt that their shire had no right to speak for them. Miss Tracey Ludwick and
Mrs Marilyn Wallace stated:
“When it comes to land, I do not think it is appropriate for
people to make a decision as a community, because we have traditional owner
groups who are not people of the same clan. If you go to somewhere like Hope
Vale, there are 13 different clans down there. In a community council you
cannot make decisions on other people’s land. That would be disrespectful to
those people. That is the customary Aboriginal way of doing things. We have a
different perspective on land. To us, land does not just mean money and the
economy; it means a whole lot of other things.” 
With the Cook shire, we recognise them as our shire but they
do not speak on behalf of us. 
The authority of registered Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) established
under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to speak on behalf of others who
identified as traditional owners was also questioned. Mr David Claudie, Mr
Jimmy Richards and Ms Gina Castelain stated:
But, to consent, I have to get the consent from the native
title representative body’s groups that they set up, which do not belong to
these homelands. That is not right. 
So it is actually giving us, the Indigenous people down the
bottom, the rights to speak for that country, whereas native title will not,
because they ask you to draw that line
The way things have been established under the Native Title
Act is not in line with our traditional way of decision making processes 
expert on land law, Dr Chris McGrath, acknowledged that Native Title issues are
very complicated. He said:
I am aware of the minefield that ultimately results when you
try to define who is the traditional owner for particular land. I cannot really
go further than saying that I think there is a minefield there, but probably no
more of a minefield than the native title legislation already has, because that
is often so difficult and there are often competing claims, as you know. It is
a very problematic issue.
The complexity and variety of local government, legislative and tenure
frameworks laid over the top of traditional boundaries and governance
frameworks makes the issues of authority to speak for country complex and
vexed. Traditional laws and customs define native title rights and interests,
which means that they often do not correspond with common law property rights.
In respect of the wild river areas, the committee notes and approves of
the Queensland Government’s Sustainable Cape Communities Initiative, announced
during the inquiry; and in particular the establishment of Indigenous Reference
Committees. Minister Jones stated they ‘will be established to ensure members
can directly advise the Minister about declaration proposals as well as their
community’s aspirations for future economic development’.
The committee considers that Indigenous Reference Committees have
considerable potential as a consultation mechanism and would like to see the
reports made available to all Indigenous communities in Queensland.
The committee recommends that the Indigenous Reference Committee
framework be developed and extended to service Indigenous peoples throughout
Queensland on issues relating to economic development.
It is important that all stakeholders be engaged in this
process and endorse the framework.
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and Indigenous economic
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) (the Act) is
designed to protect and conserve environmental values by regulating and limiting
the impacts of human activity to ensure ongoing generational benefit.
The Act is a framework which regulates development under a suite of laws
in Queensland including the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld), the Vegetation
Management Act 1999 (Qld) and the Water Act 2000 (Qld).
The committee heard from people who were unsure as to what developments
were permitted under the legislation, and from others who felt that they
understood it but were under-resourced to develop projects in wild river areas.
Some were concerned that not enough scientific rigour had been used in
consideration of the extent of High Preservation Areas and Preservation Areas.
Principle 15 of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary
approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities.
Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full
scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing
cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Some groups believed that the high preservation area (HPA) was one
kilometre uniformly across all declared areas. This is not the case. Furthermore,
the HPAs’ extent have been varied after consultation. For example at Breakfast
Creek (Stewart Basin Declaration) the HPA was proposed as 1km but was reduced
to 500m after consultations with Traditional owners, and the extent of the Embley
Range special feature (Wenlock declaration) was reduced after
consultation with TO’s and other landholders.
Capital for developments
Witnesses noted that, even with an understanding of the complex
development processes, lack of resources and capital were significant barriers
to the extent that some might give up altogether. Miss Tracey Ludwick stated:
They will not personally have the money. They can go for
funding. We have quite a few trusts around that people can get funding out of.
With a lot of those trusts that are setup by the mining companies, we cannot
get money out of them for businesses anyway because they are charitable trusts,
so we still have to go to the bank or to the government and put in applications
there to get money for small projects. And then we have to get these
consultants into the cape to administer the money. We have to get corporations
involved to house the money.
Wild rivers has just added to the difficulties of the
Indigenous people of Cape York in trying to find some sort of opportunity to
get out of poverty.
The reality of Cape York is that at least 90 per cent of
people are on CDEP—that is $240 a week....
They cannot walk into a bank and say, ‘Here, I’ll mortgage my
house.’ What house? We do not own homes up here—maybe a few people do, but we
do not own homes. I cannot mortgage my car; it is still on a lease...For their
funding submissions, you have to have two degrees to be able to fill out one of
those. That is what stops people: you go and you see this five-, 10- or 15-page
The committee acknowledges the Queensland Governments Sustainable Cape
Communities initiative announced during the inquiry, in particular its
commitment to review the existing planning and development framework to ensure
it does not act to limit economic growth in the region and where appropriate,
to simplify processes.
The committee also notes that this commitment includes working directly
with local government councils and Indigenous Reference Groups to ensure more
representative consultation mechanisms, to enable local, on the ground input to
regional development planning, and to capacity build Indigenous stakeholders.
The committee also notes the initiative’s commitment to foster economic
development opportunities for Indigenous stakeholders and private enterprise
though a mentor support network.
The committee recommends that the Queensland Government
provides information to Indigenous communities and individuals which assists
them to step through the operation of the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld)
and other conservation and land management legislation.
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and mining
Cape Alumina said that Act had a significant impact on its operations in
western Cape York and had rendered its Pisolite Hills bauxite mining project unviable
under forecast economic conditions.
Cape Alumina also said that the projects’
Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) was at an advanced stage of
negotiation with the Traditional Owners as well as other aboriginal
stakeholders in the region and provided for employment, business development
and training opportunities for the Traditional Owners and for their participation
in decision making that might have an environmental or cultural impact on the
In relation to the Pisolite Hills Project, the Queensland Government’s
submission advised that:
The exploration permits that were held by the company
extended over areas that included high preservation areas, and though they
could continue to apply to mine over areas outside of the high preservation
area, the scope of their project was changed by the declaration. As the mine
proposal was at the exploration stage, it had not yet received an approval to
mine, and there was no guarantee that such an approval would be granted. Due to
the presence of rare and threatened species on and adjacent to an area known as
the Coolibah Springs on the lease area, the project would need to satisfy
requirements under other legislation including the Environmental Protection
Act 1994 and the Environment and Biodiversity Protection Act 1999
The Queensland Resources Council said that it was concerned about the
future of resource industry projects in the Lake Eyre Basin subject to the
Queensland government’s declaration proposals for the Cooper Creek, Georgina
and Diamantina Rivers. It noted that BHP Billiton’s Cannington mine proposal to
extend the life of the mine to 2022 will generate an additional 140 employees
during the construction phase, as well as 60 full-time jobs during operation.
The Queensland Government advised in its submission that 37 mining
exploration permits have been issued since the wild rivers declarations and
that this is indicative of an industry confident that, in the more than 80 per
cent of the wild river area where mining can occur, it is worth continuing to
explore for resources. It said two mines have been approved in wild river
areas—the Legend phosphate mine, and the Lady Annie Mine, both in the Gregory
wild river area. It said wild rivers pose no threat to development that does
not have detrimental impact on the rivers.
The Act and other legislation regulate mining projects because they are
designed to do so. Mining companies need to work with governments to find ways
to develop sustainable mining practices.
In the context of this inquiry, it has been noted that participation in
the mining industry ought not to be regarded as the only pathway to Indigenous
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and tourism
Ms Gina Castelain of Wik Projects, a tourism venture in the Arukun
region, said that the wild rivers legislation is not an impediment.
For my business it is positive because it actually supports
us and our values. It is in line with our objectives and our values about
looking after these rivers. Right now it is positive. We have got plans to
build a second boat. We have got plans at the moment to build lodges as well
for the fishing clients. To run a business is not easy. You have to go through
approvals, council permits. The numbers of hoops you have to jump through to
set up any business is not easy; not everyone can do it. Luckily for us we have
got good advisers. We have people who support our vision. So, yes, right now it
is actually in line with our values. 
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and cattle
In relation to pastoral operations, the wild river declarations affect a
number of ILC land interests on Cape York Peninsula. All or part of the
following ILC-acquired properties fall within current wild rivers areas:
- Geikie Station;
- Merepah Station;
- Silver Plains; and
Geikie, Silver Plains and Bulimba have been divested to local Indigenous
groups, but the ILC continues to operate a pastoral business on Bulimba. The
ILC holds title to Merepah and operates a pastoral business on the property.
On 6 May 2009, the ILC applied to the Queensland Department of
Environment and Resource Management (DERM) for approval to clear vegetation and
construct fence lines traversing a number of watercourses in the Archer Basin
wild river area. This application was assessed against Part P of the Wild
Rivers Code and
was approved in full on 16 July 2009.
In Brisbane on Thursday 9 March the committee asked the ILC what effect
that the Act would have on its Billy Lagoon Project near Napranum. The ILC
Our initial investigations have revealed that the Wild Rivers
declaration is not expected to significantly disadvantage the proposed
establishment of a cattle business and training facility at Billy’s Lagoon 
The Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and Natural Resource
The Queensland Government’s Wild River Rangers program was universally
well regarded. Although not directly connected to the Act, this initiative is
linked to it and some have leveraged off this program and other natural
resource management programs into capacity building their communities. Mr David
We set up ranger programs and we do get employment. We got a
capacity from the federal government’s working on country program to employ
three and then we got the wild rivers one, with another three there, so that is
six. We have an IPA here, which is 200,000 hectares of our whole 840,000
hectares, and we used that as a base for what we achieve in terms of land
management and towards setting up businesses and working relationships between
us and businesses on a big scale in Queensland or, for that matter, all over
There are many barriers to Indigenous economic development in Cape York
(and Queensland). Apart from the underdeveloped nature of the region, barriers
to development are capacity constraints in Indigenous communities and community
organisations. Addressing poor education and literacy levels, workplace
readiness and participation and organisational governance and expertise will
greatly assist people to make choices about their own livelihoods and
A diverse, integrated economy is inherently more robust and sustainable
than an economy that comprises a restricted number of sectors. A diverse
economy is less prone to seasonality, provides greater economies of scale
offers more opportunities to small business, provides more choice of employment
and enables transfer of skills and technology.
With so many factors affecting Indigenous economic development in
Queensland, it is imperative and urgent that Indigenous people be supported to
engage in analysing opportunities in community, hybrid and mainstream economies
determining and participating in capacity building their own future. Tracey
Ludwick summed this up in evidence: ‘The approach should be from the grassroots
up, not from the top down.’
Current economic conditions
The economy in Cape York is very different to the rest of the Queensland
and Australian economies. It does not have the breadth of inter-related
industries that would typically trade with each other and sustain a basic level
of economic activity. Rather, it largely depends on trade with the remainder of
Australia for goods and services that would usually be internally generated.
This is reflected in the employment profile of the Cape. The most jobs,
both generally and in the Indigenous population, are in public administration
and public services such as health. The most private sector jobs are in mining.
One effect of this is that establishing and running a business is much
more difficult than in cities and towns. Mr David Donald, a tourist operator in
the Cape, described it as follows:
The cape is so far away from everyone. People drop in for a
couple of hours or a couple of days and then go back to the wilds of Brisbane
and Canberra. They have absolutely no comprehension of what it is like to live
here and to run a business here. We do not just go down to the corner store and
buy things. We have to source stuff from Cairns, which is 850 kilometres
away—things like that. We have transport difficulties. The roads close for four
months of the year and we cannot get things even. We are looking at a totally
different situation and almost a totally different country to what normal
society operates under.
This economic isolation has two effects. Firstly, unemployment rates are
higher in the Cape. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace
Relations stated in evidence that official unemployment rates in some
communities are as high as 27 per cent. In addition, it is
accepted by Cape York locals that the real unemployment rate is much higher
than the official figure.
Secondly, there are few local jobs for Indigenous school leavers and
they must often leave the area if they want paid employment. This then means
that local communities lose potential future leaders. Councillor Joseph Elu,
Mayor of the Northern Peninsular Area Regional Council (NPARC), stated in
The thing is there are not many jobs here. To educate kids to
a level of parity with kids elsewhere in Queensland or around Australia, most
of them will have to leave here to find jobs ... Kids look out the window and
see most of their uncles and aunties wandering the streets without jobs and on
the dole. They say, ‘Why should I get educated if I am going to end up out
there?’ Some kids go through it and find work with the council here for a bit
and then they have to go to Cairns or Townsville, or wherever, to find work.
The system here is only feeding the system outside. It is about those kids who
see their uncles and aunties wandering around out there. If you are born in a
house where your parents are unemployed and their parents were unemployed for
umpteen years, you get the message that employment is not worth anything to
This then makes it difficult to address skill shortages. The Director of
NPARC, Mr Alex Barker, stated that there was a $2 million project to renovate a
local school, but all the workers were sourced externally.
By definition, regional areas will generally have a narrower skill base
than centres of economic activity. The question is whether they have a
sufficient nucleus of skills to be self-sustaining and Cape York falls short of
The committee is of the view that Indigenous people are well placed to
determine for themselves how to balance their customary activities and their
participation in the market. Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation exemplified this
Supporting the Cape York economic development plan
During evidence, Ms Katrina Houghton from the Cairns Regional Council
stated that the challenges in Indigenous development vary greatly from area to
area. She also stated that, as a local body, the Council would benefit from
having a strategy, endorsed at a higher level, that would give them some direction
for local action:
... there is no real localised economic development strategy
for the Indigenous community ... There is the Indigenous employment strategy at
the federal level; however, it does not break it down into local government
areas to provide us with recommendations that we may be able to pass on to the
community ... We would make it a priority to provide an opportunity to have a
local employment strategy for this particular region.
... Essentially, the challenges and opportunities that face
the Indigenous community differ in every local government area. The challenges
that Indigenous Australians face in inner city Brisbane are very different to
what they are facing in Cairns. From attending several Indigenous forums and
the like, we have found that there is not a real direction in that community
and we feel that a local Indigenous economic development strategy would help to
provide that support to that community.
The committee received two other viewpoints on local Indigenous
development plans. Mr David Galvin from the Indigenous Land Corporation stated
that the value of such a plan largely depended on its content and whether it
had an active role: ‘There are a lot of good plans sitting on shelves, as they
say’. The committee appreciates
this advice. One way of making a plan relevant would be to properly consult
with Indigenous communities in developing it.
The Queensland Government was very supportive of developing a plan for
Cape York. Mr John Bradley from the Department of Environment and Resource
We would like to, with assistance and input from the Commonwealth
government, focus on preparing a very clear, strategic economic development plan
for Cape York which increases the impetus of economic development, but does so
on a basis of recognising Indigenous communities’ economic aspirations.
On the same day as this hearing, the Queensland Government announced its
Sustainable Cape Communities Initiative, which includes an economic development
plan for Cape York and a focus on nature-based opportunities that capitalise on
the region’s natural values. One of the themes of
this inquiry is that these natural values have been preserved and enhanced by
the Act. The committee supports this initiative and is of the view that the
Commonwealth should work co-operatively with the Queensland Government in
developing the Initiative. A regional plan will be able to target issues
relevant to each locality and maximise program effectiveness.
The Commonwealth support the Queensland Government in
developing its strategic regional economic development plan for Cape York
under its Sustainable Cape Communities initiative.
The role of government in Indigenous economic development is to be a
facilitator. Although Indigenous communities benefit from public sector
employment and participating in the customary sector, they will have more
choices and will have a larger role to play in society if they increase their
private sector employment as well. In evidence, Mr Gerhardt Pearson of Balkanu
Cape York Development Corporation stated that this was one of their aims.
He also stated that governments should focus on co-ordinating partnerships:
Because you have the money, the programs and the truckloads
of bureaucrats, the government’s role must not be one where you disempower the
community in bringing solutions. Your role is to assist in coordinating the
partnership between the corporates, the philanthropics, the community and us.
Governments already conduct some of this work, or at least recognise
that they should do so. For example, the Commonwealth’s draft Indigenous
Economic Development Strategy discusses developing partnerships with the
private sector to find mentors for Indigenous business people and to match
employment supply with demand. The Queensland
Government has helped establish an arts hub and arts fair to build the profile
of Indigenous artists.
The Queensland Conservation Council recommended that governments should
support the creation of more business hubs, particularly in cultural and
conservation economies. This is clearly an area
of comparative advantage for Indigenous people, although business hubs could be
created in other industries if Indigenous people preferred.
The committee would like to see the Commonwealth and Queensland
governments do more to support Indigenous business hubs and other types of
partnerships because this would be a vocational, hands-on way for Indigenous
people to pick up relevant skills and advice. Further, this is sought after by
one of the main Indigenous development bodies in the region and is seen by
Indigenous people themselves as a priority. The Queensland Government’s
Sustainable Cape Communities initiative would be a suitable vehicle for
In consultation with Indigenous communities, the Queensland Government
increase opportunities for Indigenous business partnerships under its
Sustainable Cape Communities initiative.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page
Back to top