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Preliminary pages

Chair’s foreword

This inquiry covered the important issue of Indigenous economic development in Cape York. The isolation of the region means that, while Indigenous participation in cultural activitiesis vibrant, Indigenous people face additional hurdles to participating in the market economy. The inquiry has brought out many of these problems, but has also pointed to opportunities and successes in areas such as natural resource management and Indigenous cultural activities.

The focus of the inquiry was on the Queensland Wild Rivers Act 2005. Although there is room for improvement in implementing the Act, this should not obscure the main picture that it benefits Queensland through preserving the natural values of rivers that have all, or most, of their natural values intact while still permitting Indigenous economic development and maintaining a suitable environment for traditional activities.

The committee held a number of hearings in far north Queensland and it soon became apparent that a large degree of misinformation has been in circulation about the Act. Perhaps the key message of the inquiry is that consultations under the Act need to be improved. Clearly, the Queensland Government expended significant resources in travelling to remote communities and discussing with them the Act and the declarations made under it. However, the committee received a clear message from some Indigenous communities that the consultations were not sufficient.

During the inquiry, the Queensland Government announced an important measure to improve its consultations. It will establish Indigenous reference committees for any potential wild river area on Cape York Peninsula. These bodies will ensure members can directly advise the Minister about declaration proposals as well as their community’s aspirations for future economic development. The aim of the Queensland Government is for each reference committee to reflect the native title, traditional ownership and Indigenous stakeholders in the relevant river basin.

The Queensland Government also outlined several other initiatives supporting Indigenous economic development. It will facilitate economic growth on Cape York through a strategic regional economic development plan. It will examine how to create jobs in the Cape, including nature-based opportunities that are being enhanced by the Wild Rivers Act 2005. The Queensland Government will also build the capacity of Indigenous councils in dealing with planning legislation and establish an independent economic development mentors support network.

I commend the Queensland Government for taking an active approach on these issues and for responding to concerns raised during the Inquiry.

The inquiry also examined the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010, which was introduced in the House in November 2010. The inquiry process has revealed a flawed document which is unworkable for a variety of reasons. Importantly, the Bill uses ambiguous definitions which would result in confusion and would override the Wild Rivers Act 2005 putting the successful Wild Rivers Rangers program at risk. The committee has concluded that the Bill should not be passed.

Indigenous economic development is a large and complex issue and this report can only cover part of such a wide topic. However, this report does include important recommendations on how the Commonwealth can be more involved in assisting Indigenous economic development in Cape York. I also anticipate that the material presented to the committee and made public will contribute to a greater awareness of these issues and assist policy development in the future.

I would like to thank those who made submissions to the inquiry and the witnesses who attended hearings. The committee is very appreciative of this assistance and expertise. I also thank my colleagues on the committee for their contribution to the report.


Craig Thomson MP


Membership of the Committee


Mr Craig Thomson MP

Deputy Chair

Mr Steven Ciobo MP


Mr Scott Buchholz MP


Mr Stephen Jones MP


Dr Andrew Leigh MP


Ms Kelly O'Dwyer MP


Ms Julie Owens MP


Committee Secretariat



Mr Stephen Boyd

Inquiry Secretary

Mr David Monk (from 9 March 2011)

Mr Justin Baker (until 18 February 2011)

Principal Research Officer

Dr Andrew Gaczol

Technical Advisor

Ms Kit Quarry

Administrative Officer

Ms Natasha Petrovic

Terms of reference

On the 3 November 2010 the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP referred the following reference to the Committee.

The Committee should examine the scope for increasing sustainable Indigenous economic development in Queensland and including in the Cape York region having regard to the aspirations of Indigenous people and the social and cultural context surrounding their participation in the economy.

The Committee should consider:

  1. existing environmental regulation, legislation in relation to mining and other relevant legislation including the Wild Rivers Act (Qld) 2005 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;

  2. the impact which legislation in the form of the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 would have, if passed; and

  3. options for facilitating economic development for the benefit of Indigenous people and the protection of the environmental values of undisturbed river systems.

The inquiry should pay particular attention to the following:

  • The nature and extent of current barriers to economic development and land use by people, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, including those involved in the mining, pastoral, tourism, cultural heritage and environmental management;

  • Options for overcoming or reducing those barriers and better facilitating sustainable economic development, especially where that development involves Indigenous people;

  • The potential for industries which promote preservation of the environment to provide economic development and employment for Indigenous people;

  • The effectiveness of current State and Commonwealth mechanisms for appropriate preservation of free-flowing river systems which have much of their natural values intact, including the preserving of biodiversity;

  • Options for improving environmental regulation for such systems;

  • The impact of existing environmental regulation, legislation in relation to mining and other relevant legislation on the exercise of native title rights and on the national operation of the native title regime and the impact which legislation in the form of the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 would have on these matters.

The Committee should also make recommendations as to what initiatives might be pursued in order to promote economic development while preserving environmental and cultural values.


On 17 November 2010 the House of Representatives referred the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill to the Committee for Inquiry and Report by the end of the autumn period of sittings in 2011.  Submissions addressing this Bill will be received as part of the committee’s broader inquiry into indigenous economic development.

List of abbreviations


Aboriginal Land Act 1991


Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation


Community Development Employment Program


Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation


Commonwealth Council of Australian Governments


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy


Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations


Department of Environment and Resource Management (Qld)


Deed of Grant in Trust


Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999


Inter-Departmental Committee


Indigenous Land Corporation


Indigenous Land Use Agreements


Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (Land Holding) Act 1985


Minerals Council of Australia


National Partnership Agreement


Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council


Native Title Act 1993


Native Title Representative Body




Rio Tinto Alcan


Torres Strait Islander Land Act 1991


United Nations


Wild Rivers Inter Departmental Committee

List of recommendations

1 Background

Recommendation 1

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.

2 Cape York – Context and Consultation

Recommendation 2

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.

Recommendation 3

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.

Recommendation 4

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.

Recommendation 5

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 administration.

Recommendation 6

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.

Recommendation 7

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.

Recommendation 8

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.

Recommendation 9

The Commonwealth support the Queensland Government in developing its strategic regional economic development plan for Cape York under its Sustainable Cape Communities initiative.

Recommendation 10

In consultation with Indigenous communities, the Queensland Government increase opportunities for Indigenous business partnerships under its Sustainable Cape Communities initiative.

3 The Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010

Recommendation 11

That the House of Representatives not pass the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010.

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