THE ‘people’s forum’ held at Musgrave on Saturday comprehensively rejected the Federal Government’s plan to only consult with Traditional Owners on a possible World Heritage listing.
More than 100 people attended the forum, including graziers, businesspeople, tourism operators, traditional owners (TOs) and representatives from Senate, Federal, State and Local Government.
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch has thrown his support behind the elected leaders of the region, saying they “must have a voice in any decisions that are made regarding Cape York”.
Traditional owners who attended were also vocal in their opposition to the government’s “selective” consultation process. “I can look after my country,” said Coen TO Victor Lawrence.
And Andrew Yeatman, of the Taipan people, said “unity and balance” was needed for Cape York, “not to lock this country up and exclude prospects for our young people in the future”.
Representing Cook Shire Council, Deputy Mayor Penny Johnson said she was “bitterly disappointed” that the Federal Government has not consulted with the elected leaders of Cape York.
Mr Entsch said it was sobering for the group to hear how World Heritage status had affected residents of the Daintree, who are restricted from developing their properties and receive no financial support while the State Government funds visitor attractions in direct competition.
Well-known economist Bill Cummings spoke on the economic opportunities that World Heritage could bring, but cautioned that even minor costs associated with another level of government red-tape could have a huge impact on businesses’ bottom line.
The Federal Government also failed to answer a series of questions put to it by World Heritage consultant Guy Chester before the meeting.
“They couldn’t even tell us the specific areas being considered and what economic enterprises would be available to people, let alone what the ‘immediate threats’ to the region were or how they would be managed,” Mr Entsch said.
Attendees were alarmed to learn that while the Federal Government’s own website states that a blanket listing is not being considered, this was contradicted at Senate Estimates last month by a senior departmental employee.
Closing the meeting, TO Andrew Yeatman proposed a motion that the government immediately cease proceedings until it was prepared to engage with the whole of the community. With the exception of one Laura grazier, the motion was unanimously approved.
“The people of Cape York want to look forward to an economically diverse future and break away from welfare dependency,” Mr Entsch said.
“If we take away the constraints, give tenure security to the people in this area and assist them to become financially independent, they won’t need government funding to survive.
“But World Heritage will be another spike in the economic coffin of Cape York we have to say absolutely, unequivocally no.”