communities, especially those in Cape York, face significant challenges due to
their profound isolation, a history of underdevelopment and a sore lack of
meaningful employment and training opportunities.
These communities represent the
most disadvantaged in Queensland, so are deserving of considered and
comprehensive government policies which encourage their development and seek to
ensure their long-term sustainability.
While any such policies must
include measures to address the widely-acknowledged gap between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous communities in areas such as health and education, there is also
a pressing need to examine the extent to which certain barriers may prevent
Indigenous communities pursuing economic development in the short and medium
Certainly, given the extremely
limited prospects for Indigenous youth in these communities, failure to
urgently acknowledge and remove impediments to economic development will at
best perpetuate the cycle of disadvantage and at worst perhaps lead to the
eventual disbandment of these communities through attrition to populated
Following a better understanding
of the obstacles faced by these communities, it is essential to then facilitate
the creation of private sector opportunities enough to meet the aspirations of
Indigenous people rather than limit the prospect of employment to the State’s
ability to fund public administration positions.
The Coalition members of the
House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics (the Committee) appreciates
the opportunity to inquire and report on the barriers to Indigenous economic
development and to make recommendations which would see Indigenous people
afforded the same opportunities as other Queensland landowners to benefit from
their natural assets and to invest in their futures.
Much of Queensland’s wider
economic development is due to the mining industry which has created countless
jobs, invested in the education and training of thousands of employees, driven
the growth of communities adjacent to operations and realised an economic
benefit for both investors and the State.
Notwithstanding the economic
benefits of mining, a range of legislative instruments and regulations exist to
temper activity by ensuring applications to carry out such activity consider
the environmental impacts of doing so. In Queensland, for example, the Environmental
Protection Act (Qld) 1994 requires a comprehensive analysis of economic,
social and environmental implications before any application is considered for
This balanced approach to
development has – up until 2005 - provided developers with a reasonably
transparent and consistent approach to exploratory activity across Queensland.
It has also gone some way to mitigate investment risk by prescribing
environmental standards whose cost can be incorporated into feasibility studies
and business cases.
The uniform way in which
approvals were treated across Queensland was abandoned with the introduction of
the Wild Rivers Act (Qld) 2005 (the Act) purportedly intended to ensure
wild river areas are protected from destructive development.
While the Coalition members of
the Committee acknowledge and share a desire to protect the natural value of these
areas, it is our view the Act was bought into effect, not out of any
demonstrated need, but as a political response by the Queensland Labor
Government to the ideological campaign of the Greens and the Wilderness
Society. Coalition Members of the Committee view the consequence of this
political decision to be a catalyst for the exchange of preferences between the
Greens and the Labor Parties in Queensland.
Given the distinct lack of
demonstrable need for this legislation, it is clear to Coalition Members based
on testimony and evidence provided to the Committee that consent from
indigenous communities was not obtained prior to enactment.
This legislation has created
insurmountable barriers to any form of worthwhile Indigenous economic
development whether it could be demonstrated to have a negligible environmental
impact or not.
Being that many wild river areas
are subject to native title it then follows, in the view of the Coalition,
Indigenous communities in these areas are in effect excluded from pursuing
investment through mining, which is guaranteed to generate employment
opportunities and has demonstrated an ability to generate wealth.
Perversely, by specifically
preventing Indigenous landowners from benefiting from their assets, the
Queensland Government would seem to have legislated discrimination, entrenched
disadvantage and undermined many principals of native title.
Accepting evidence from witnesses
about the ability for the mining industry to create employment and training
opportunities for Indigenous people in short order, the Coalition members of
the Committee have come to view the Act as possibly the most
immediately-addressable and significant barrier to economic development for
If the Wild Rivers Act (Qld)
2005 presents the greatest barrier to the economic development of
Indigenous communities in wild rivers areas, then the passing of the Wild
Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 (the Bill) provides communities
with the best opportunity to fulfil their aspirations.
Significantly, the Bill is not intended to prevent those
communities who wish the Queensland Government to continue to regulate the
development and use of their land from doing so. Instead, it simply provides
communities with the right and ability to benefit from their natural assets –
including resources, for example – in a manner which is consistent with the
environmental planning regulation to which any other project would otherwise be
Barriers to economic development
Prima facie rejection of any social or economic development
The Wild Rivers Act (Qld)
2005, in effect, places a blanket prohibition on willing Indigenous communities
from realising economic benefits inherent in their land so defined under native
title legislation. As such, members of these communities are unnecessarily
encumbered when seeking to create meaningful employment and training
opportunities for locals, who otherwise must relocate to distant populated
centres or, alternatively, completely withdraw from the labour force.
Of significant concern to the
Coalition members of the Committee is the Act’s consideration of environmental
impacts exclusively, and so, by definition, precluding any assessment of the
likely economic or social benefits the development or use of wild rivers area
land may provide to local Indigenous communities.
By overriding existing planning
instruments which consider all of these factors, the Act represents a barrier
which cannot be overcome through any amount of Indigenous consultation
notwithstanding the Queensland Government’s assurances to the contrary.
The extent to which the Act
functions as a deterrent for any level of activity was revealed during the
testimony of Mr Scott Buchanan, a member of the Queensland Department of
Environment and Resource Management’s Wild Rivers Team.
Mr CIOBO—In the Queensland
government’s perspective, the knowledge base that would enable the traditional
owner to prove that they could undertake those activities without impacting in
a negative way—can I also ask whether impacting in a negative way is a net
negative impact or is that just a requirement to demonstrate no negative
Mr Buchanan—No negative
Mr CIOBO—So any negative
impact at all would effectively void the application.
Mr Buchanan—That is right.
Arbitrary sterilisation of usable land
The Committee considered evidence
from Ms Frances Hayter, Director of Environment and Social Policy at the
Queensland Resources Council, relating to the manner in which the Act prevents
development of usable land if any part of the useable land contains within it
any “special features”.
Given the Queensland Government
provides no guidance as to what areas may be so excluded prior to an
exploratory company having incurred significant expenses, there are significant
disincentives for operators to consider making investments in wild river areas.
This, of course, is an issue as
it may prematurely lead investors to deem a project as unfeasible where it
would otherwise have been able to consider strategies to mitigate environmental
concerns while still able to deliver an economic benefit to the community.
Mr CIOBO—Is it possible to
know prior to submitting an application in broad terms which special features
are likely to be declared or have been declared so that an assessment can be
made about whether to even lodge an application, or is that something that will
only come as part of the application process?
Ms Hayter—You would not
know which ones were going to be declared until you had a declaration proposal
and then when that is in there you cannot lodge an application over those
areas. The special features effectively are high-preservation areas—I am not
trying to go too deep into the legislation—so effectively you cannot apply for
those areas anyway. The short answer is: no, you would not know, but on the
other hand if you do your environmental impact assessment process I am sure
those values would be identified whether or not they had a particular name.
Mr CIOBO—In other words,
once the declaration happens, a prospective miner would know immediately that
there is no point in lodging an application because of the special features and
the high-preservation areas—
Ms Hayter—Depending on how
Mr CIOBO—Yes, depending on
how much it impacts on the actual site.
CHAIR—I am not trying to be
controversial at all. I am just going through your arguments with you—that is
all at this stage. Let us talk about a more practical example—Cape Alumina and
the Wenlock River. What is your view about what the environmental effects would
have been if that proposal had gone ahead and can you give us some details of
the benefits that Indigenous Australians would have received from that mine
Ms Hayter—The absolute
potential impact of the mine was never determined. The company had started its
EIS process but did not complete it because a decision was made about setback
areas from significant features. Those decisions effectively sterilised the
significant portion of their ore body, so the determination of the impacts and
the consideration of potential mitigation measures were never fully completed.
So I cannot answer that part of the question. I know that they were working
through an agreement with the local Indigenous people. I cannot recall whether
anything was formally signed, but there was certainly an agreement and it was
based on a number of elements. One of those elements related to jobs and, I
think, other supporting opportunities in education and training.
Ms Hayter noted the operation of
the Act has ruled out further Indigenous employment opportunities in Cape York
– an area of particular concern and the subject of this inquiry – and so would
seem at odds with both the Commonwealth Closing the Gap strategy and objectives
of this inquiry.
Ms Hayter—…Our view is that
anything that has the potential to impact on economic opportunities for
Indigenous people is not desirable and in fact would suggest that the wild
rivers is contradictory to the Commonwealth’s Closing the Gap strategy. We
already have the example of Cape Alumina, which was not able to proceed on Cape
York because of the Wenlock declaration. Also, as mentioned in our submission,
the Queensland Resources Council has a memorandum of understanding with the
state government. We are renewing that and it will be a tripartite arrangement
for the first time, with the Commonwealth government, which we strongly
support. It is very positive. Again, the focus of that is increasing Indigenous
employment and business development opportunities within the resources sector.
The first round of work in that
particular project has been an initiative based in north-west Queensland. The
next tranche of wild rivers declarations is anticipated to be in the Lake Eyre
Basin, which interestingly covers about a third of Queensland, so we are not talking
about insignificant coverage. We have already had indications from at least one
of our companies that one of the declarations has significant potential to
impact on an expansion of that mine, and it is a large mine. Part of that
program is to get our members to work on increasing Indigenous opportunities.
If the expansion cannot proceed, it obviously precludes that happening.
Bureaucratic barriers to economic development
The Coalition took particular
note of testimony from Mr Terry Piper, Chief Operating Officer of the Balkanu
Cape York Development Corporation, regarding the tendency for added bureaucracy
to actively discourage Indigenous people from investigating opportunities for
any form of economic development.
Mr Piper highlighted the Wild
Rivers Act (Qld) 2005 as not only a barrier to the carrying out of economic
development per se, but also as seriously limiting to the aspirations of
Ms O’DWYER—… I was
wondering if you could perhaps elaborate a bit further on the extra layers of
regulation that wild rivers imposes in trying to get up an economic project in
Mr Piper—I will give an
example. The Lamalama people negotiated to get their land back at Running
Creek. A condition of that was that the state said, ‘We want a nature refuge
over that.’ So that imposes a layer of regulation over the Lamalama people.
They agreed. It was done by consent. Conservation arrangements have
historically been done by consent on Cape York. So there was a nature refuge.
But then over the top of that is now a wild rivers declaration. So you have yet
another layer of regulation. Over the top of that is potentially a coastal
protection plan. You have yet another layer of regulation. Then there is the
aspiration of the conservation movement to have world heritage on Cape York—a
layer of federal legislation over the top of that. It is killing people on Cape
York; it is death by a thousand cuts. People need to know the regulations,
particularly when the government’s commitment is to return land to traditional
owners for economic development. In that deal they have already agreed to areas
to become national park and they are getting their land back for economic
development and only finding that that has been taken away by various layers of
Ms O’DWYER—Is it your view
then that people simply will not pursue a number of projects that they would
have considered as a result of the fact that it would be too difficult to go
through all those layers of regulation? Rather than being rejected under the
wild rivers legislation they simply will not progress economic development
projects because they think it is too hard?
Mr Piper—It is much too
hard when you are living in areas like Cape York and you need to get legal
advice to be able to work through what a wild rivers declaration means. You
probably need to get a surveyor to have a look at where you fall within the
declaration, you most likely need professionals to come and give environmental
advice so that you can comply with the declaration, you need meetings amongst
your people and you need to work with commercial people to get your development
up. You can spend many, many thousands of dollars on that, only to find that it
gets knocked back in the end.
Opportunities for sustainable and environmentally sound economic
Genuine economic development
The Wild Rivers (Environmental
Management) Bill 2010 introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon
Tony Abbott MP, and referred to this Committee for comment, provides Indigenous
communities with the option to pursue investment capable of creating employment
opportunities far in excess of those promised by the Queensland Government.
Further, it is the view of the
Coalition members that encouragement of private investment – subject to the
environmental conditions applicable elsewhere in Queensland – is a superior
policy option to create long-term employment given the expected life of mining
This concern was brought to the
fore during the testimony of Mr John Bradley, Director-General of the
Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management, when he admitted
the much-lauded rangers programme could be threatened by funding cuts and,
therefore, could not be considered sustainable.
Mr BUCHHOLZ—It is a
perplexing issue and we have a range of views but we are unanimous on the
success of the rangers program up there. In your opening comments you spoke to
the permanency of that program. When speaking with the rangers on the ground,
they are of the opinion that it is linked to a funding round and that they are
not permanent. Can you expand on that ambiguity?
Mr Bradley—I will take a
step back. One of the things we were trying to do when the wild river
rangers program was initiated was to build capacity in local communities by
engaging local community service providers—often the council is a provider of
that service—and to engage the wild river rangers in their local area. Very
often wild river rangers identify with their community rather than as part of a
whole of state approach. They are very strongly tied to their country and being
back on their country. So we try to engage through that outsourced approach
through local service providers but one of the consequences is that you then
have those rangers in positions where they are not directly engaged by the
state and therefore do not have the permanency of public servants or other
Given the terms of reference
which call for an investigation into options for facilitating the economic
development of Indigenous people, the Coalition members underscore the failure
of current programmes to satisfy this objective.
Failure of the Wild Rivers (Qld) Act 2005 to create opportunities
The Government members of the
Committee and other witnesses have pointed to existing approvals and mining
activity as a validation of the Act. Unfortunately, they have failed to
consider the Act has curtailed green field mines – arguably better able to use
low impact techniques – progressing from the exploratory phase. As such, they
have underserved the long term interests of the Indigenous communities and
discouraged the adoption of environmentally-friendly mining practices.
Ms Hayter—Yes, but what we
are talking about is a disincentive for exploration.
Mr Barger—The other point
that it is important to make about that list of names that you ran through is
that a lot of those are existing operations. They are existing mines that are
saying, ‘What is the next ore body that is going to sustain my operation? What
gives me an extra 15 years or 20 years, front of life, for my mine?’ Where the
deterrent value is strongest is in the greenfields explorations. They are the
people using new technologies, and increasingly they are low impact, so it is
you-beaut laptop things in aeroplanes flying over, rather than the traditional
sort of rock pick exploration. Again, the deterrent value is largest at the
smallest end of the exploration market, which is the greenfields stuff, looking
for new minerals, new techniques and new modelling approaches. That is where
the deterrent is strongest and that is where the longterm economic impact is
The Wild Rivers Act (Qld)
2005 (the Act) has created a discriminatory development approvals process which
places an inequitable regulatory burden on native title holders who may wish to
encourage investment in areas proclaimed, or which may be declared in the
future, as wild river areas.
Given existing Queensland and
Commonwealth legislation already provides for environmental factors to be
considered when granting approvals for projects, it is the view of the
Coalition the Act is an unnecessary and costly layer of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy, of course, has been
difficult for Indigenous communities to navigate in the past and has compounded
their difficulties to understand investment opportunities.
Additionally, as the Act has
undermined guaranteed employment and training opportunities for Indigenous
people – and discouraged many businesses from offering to do so in the future –
the Coalition maintains its effect is to prevent Indigenous communities from
furthering their economic development through access to local long-term
employers and education.
The Act and its implementation to
date are clearly at odds with the Commonwealth and Queensland Government’s
public undertakings to improve outcomes for Indigenous people in their
Furthermore, the testimony and
evidence clarifies the legislation is illegitimate given there was not consent
from indigenous peoples prior to the passage of the legislation.
As such, Coalition Members of the
Committee are of the view this legislation should be repealed.
For the reasons outlined above,
Coalition members of the committee recommend the Queensland Parliament repeal
the Wild Rivers Act (Qld) 2005.
In the absence of political will
or action by the Queensland Government to repeal the Wild Rivers Act (Qld)
2005, Coalition members of the committee view the passing of the Wild Rivers
(Environmental Management) Bill 2010 as a necessary step to restore the
rights of Indigenous people to explore and create for themselves, and in
partnership, community-sustaining industries which are subject to proven and
consistent environmental planning provisions.
It is important to note, the Wild
Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 is not designed to
necessarily prevent Indigenous communities from pursuing investment
opportunities under the existing Queensland Wild Rivers Act (Qld) 2005
regime should they so wis
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.
Mr Steven Ciobo MP, Deputy Chair
Mr Scott Buchholz MP
Ms Kelly O’Dwyer MP