I very strongly support the motion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition earlier today in relation to the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011. The wild rivers bill was first introduced on 8 February 2010. It is now over two years later. There have been five separate committee inquiries into this bill.
The first inquiry was held by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on 25 February 2010. Then it went to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics in November 2010. There was a further Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry in March 2011 and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry held an inquiry which commenced on 15 September 2010-and I know that in that case committee members were asking why this had been put to them and complaining that, in their view, it was an absolute waste of the committee’s time and absolutely frivolous. It then went to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs on 24 November. This is for a bill which is only five pages in its entirety.
All we are asking in this bill is for Indigenous Australians in Cape York to have the opportunity to make decisions about land of which they have been custodians for the last 40,000 years or more. But, in an effort to avoid going to a vote, the government continues to just dump it into one committee after another. It shows you the absolute lack of respect they have for Indigenous Australians. I often see the Leader of the House standing in here beating his chest about the number of pieces of legislation the government has got through this parliament. But it is interesting to note that, if anything comes up that they are not likely to get support for, they do not put it to the vote-I refer to the Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011. We are still waiting for that to be reintroduced into the parliament, as we are with the wild rivers bill.
The sad thing is that this is having a profound impact on people in Cape York, both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. This legislation was originally bulldozed through by the state government. They clearly did it because they were totally beholden to the Greens through the Wilderness Society and to shore up the exchange of preferences, particularly in the south-east corner of Queensland. We are seeing exactly the same thing from this current government. They are doing exactly the same thing. It does not matter what the impact is on the people living in this area. They do not give any consideration to the fact that these people have managed their own country now, as I said, for some 40,000 years. They have decided that what they need to do is introduce some sort of a motherhood policy which will do nothing more than patronise the local Indigenous population.
I can assure you that the Cape York community generally is absolutely outraged by what is happening here insomuch as it is robbing them of the opportunity to speak on the future of their own country. It is robbing them of the opportunity to consider economic futures for their children. Over the last couple of decades, there has been a real campaign, a real push, to enable Indigenous people to start to recover some of their own country and it has been very successful. Unfortunately, some of the largest leaseholders in Cape York are now in a position where they have no capacity whatsoever to make decisions in relation to the land-because of a grubby deal between the Wilderness Society and the state and federal Labor governments.
Another recent impact of this wild rivers legislation was the shelving of Cape Alumina’s $1.2 billion bauxite mine at Pisolite Hills in Cape York. It had to be shelved as a result of the Wenlock River being declared a wild river. This project would have created about 1,700 jobs and 1,300 of those jobs would have been in Far North Queensland. Many of those jobs would have been in Mapoon, or Old Mapoon, a community north of Weipa. The project was also going to see the creation of a village in the area. Once the mining lease had been completed, the intention was for that village to be handed over to the local people as a lodge. That opportunity has been taken away from these people. This community, like many others in Cape York, have had to struggle for any sort of employment opportunities. It is an absolute disgrace that this government continue to treat Indigenous people in the manner in which they have been. We need to bring the bill on without any further delay.
In recent times, we have seen individuals from both state and federal governments going to Cape York and looking at buying support, if you like, through the rangers program. It is a bit like the old days of baubles and beads, where they offer a number of financial incentives to get individual family groups to come in behind them and support them, or to sign letters of support, and they are offered a whole range of financial incentives to do so. It is very cynical and it is creating a very false impression that there is much broader support for this legislation.
This motion is all about giving traditional people in Cape York an opportunity of having a say in their own future. It is not about throwing the legislation out. I hope that that will happen after this Saturday, 24 March. I hope and expect with a new LNP government in Queensland that the new Premier Campbell Newman and the very good state government representative David Kempton will keep their promise to the Indigenous people and to all Cape York people that they will throw out the wild rivers legislation and give the opportunity back to the local people to make decisions in relation to their own future and to be part of their own land.
They will also make sure that those people who have been engaged as wild rivers rangers will go into the national parks that have been acquired by the state government over an extended period of time-and operated without any management plans and of course without any staff. There will be lots of opportunities for these rangers to hone their skills and to start to control their land. Up until now, the management has been tokenistic on the part of both state and federal governments.
In conclusion, I think the state government will turf out the wild rivers legislation after 24 March. But we need the opportunity of bringing on the vote here before this parliamentary session is completed. I think it is only fair that we have the parliament make a decision on whether we can be committed to giving some level of support to Indigenous people and to do it in a transparent and practical way rather than the tokenism that we have seen in relation to Indigenous policy that has come out of this Labor government up until now.