Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (11:11): by leave–on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition I move:
That this bill be read a second time.
I rise to strongly support the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011 introduced into this House by the Leader of the Opposition on 12 September 2011.
The existing wild rivers legislation was put in place by the Queensland state Labor government in 2005. The existing laws gave the state government the power to declare any river a ‘wild river’, which allows the government to enforce a whole range of restrictions and regulations on what you can and cannot do on any land within certain ranges of that river or watercourse.
These Queensland government laws have negatively impacted on locals in Cape York, particularly Indigenous people. It is rather ironic that after decades and decades of campaigning by Indigenous people to recover some of their country at a time when they are becoming one of the major landholders within Cape York they are faced with the challenge of being able to do very little with the land because of the restrictions put in place by this legislation. It is no doubt that it is an agenda begin driven by the Wilderness Society and by an obliging and compliant state Labor government. Many of the opportunities for these people who have campaigned for so long to get their own country back are being put at threat by this legislation.
It seems like great rhetoric when you hear those on the other side always talking about recognition of land management by our Indigenous people for 40,000-odd years, but when there is an opportunity for Indigenous people to get out there and do something on their own country they are immediately stifled by this type of legislation. So much for closing the gap!
The Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011 has been presented by the Leader of the Opposition to give freedom back to landowners in Cape York, particularly the traditional owners, and to give them an opportunity to be consulted on decisions that are being made on their own land. This is something that needs to be seriously considered. This bill is effectively being introduced for a fourth time into this place.
The original Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 was introduced into the House of Representatives by the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, on 8 February 2010 as a private 20 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Monday, 19 September 2011 CHAMBER
member’s bill. A bill with identical wording was then introduced into the Senate as a private senator’s bill, the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No. 2], on 23 February 2010 by Senator the Hon. Nigel Scullion. The latter bill passed the Senate and was introduced into the House of Representatives on June 2010. Unfortunately, both bills lapsed when parliament was dissolved prior to the 2010 election.
After the 2010 federal election the bill was again reintroduced on 15 November 2010. In an attempt to frustrate parliamentary process, the Labor-Greens alliance moved to have this bill referred to a parliamentary committee which was designed to do nothing but stall and halt the progress of the legislation until Labor had the Greens and the Greens got the balance of power in the Senate. Unfortunately, that bill lapsed.
Last week the Leader of the Opposition introduced this bill to reiterate its importance to the economic development of Cape York Aboriginal people in particular and to recognise their stewardship over their own country and give them the opportunity to have a say and make decisions in relation to the long-term future of that country. Sadly, the Labor-Greens alliance has, again, referred this latest bill to another committee in a further attempt to totally delay and frustrate the parliamentary process.
There are some additions in this bill and I think these are quite appropriate, given some of the mischief that has been espoused by the other side. One is the new definitions of Aboriginal land, owner and register under clause 3, and the definition of ‘native title’ is deleted.
There is a new clause 4(3)(b), which provides a guarantee that the Commonwealth government should provide employment to persons who lose employment as a result of the enactment of the wild rivers. This one is particularly important given that, in an attempt to bribe some groups within the community, the state government has spent a lot of money in training up wild rivers rangers and there is a concern that these rangers, if the wild rivers legislation is thrown out or amended, may lose their jobs. This gives them a very strong guarantee that this is not the case. The reality is in Cape York, while the Wilderness Society and the Greens and the government obsess over this wild rivers legislation, the majority of national parks up there are underresourced, they have no management plans whatsoever and many of them are not even manned. So there is tremendous opportunity for wild rivers rangers to be able to go onto country that has been handed back. Rather than tokenism about handing back national parks to traditional owners, it provides a great opportunity for these traditional owners to play a very significant role in the management and be the face of these national parks as rangers and have that appropriate training.
Another difference in this bill is that it omits the term ‘traditional owners’ and substitutes ‘owner’, and ‘native title land’ is omitted and substituted with ‘Aboriginal land’. Owners are required to agree in writing. A new clause 6 relates to obtaining agreement of native title holders, which should have been there right from the beginning. Amended clause 8 provides for regulations to be made. Clause 8(2)(c) provides for regulations concerning the continued employment of Aboriginal people if their employment should be lost.
I reiterate that these laws have seriously and negatively impacted on local Cape York people, particularly our Indigenous people. Recently, Mr Gerhardt Pearson of the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation:
… strongly expressed concerns about the potential impact of wild rivers declarations on economic development opportunities for indigenous people on Cape York. Some critical issues in relation to legislation include the onerous and unnecessary process for development approvals in wild river areas.
A very good example of this was outlined in an episode of the Law Report on the ABC on 5 October 2010. It was a story in relation to the community of Lockhart River, which is on the eastern cape.
There are currently massive levels of unemployment up there, as there are in many remote communities. The biggest private sector employer is a biofuels company called Evergreen and it employs about 10 people. So we certainly need more private sector development in supporting the communities in this area. For this one to be out there actively working with the community, to drive the creation of jobs, can only be a good thing, but wild rivers is certainly not allowing this to happen. In fact, they have been very restricted in any opportunities for expansion. The government puts its hand on its chest and says, ‘We are providing opportunities through the employment of rangers.’ There was a very relevant comment made there at Lockhart River that having two rangers really does not make a great deal of economic sense, insofar as they would rather have a biodiesel plantation that would not just take the two rangers but also provide economic opportunities for at least another 100 people in that region. It would certainly be a hell of a lot more beneficial for the community.
It is interesting to note, in fact, that the Lockhart River airstrip would not even have been able to be built if the wild rivers legislation was in place at the time, because it is within a high-preservation area, as declared on any land within 1,000 metres of any designated river.
Staying in that eastern area, the Hopevale community has been desperately trying to establish a Monday, 19 September 2011 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 21 CHAMBER
banana plantation. Now, they are not a wild rivers designated area, but they have gone through all of the hoops, all the different government bureaucracies, in trying to get approval to establish the plantation over the last three years-this is an opportunity for something like 200 jobs in the region, a great opportunity. They have a small area that they have set aside now. They have about 300 trees, and they have been training community members enthusiastically to build on this plantation. It has taken three years so far to get to this stage, where they have only 300 trees and are doing the training, because of all the restrictions put in place by existing government agencies. The imposition of wild rivers legislation on that area would complicate the process to the point that, even at three years, they are almost looking at walking away; it is only their own commitment and determination that allow them to stay there. But, if there were another level of bureaucracy over the top of that, it would make it absolutely impossible for them to do anything.
They have also had another situation that was quite high profile, at Pisolite Hills, the bauxite mine up near old Mapoon-great opportunities for the community, with the prospect of creating about 1,700 jobs over the 15-year life of the project. They were building a full village not far from the old Mapoon community, which was then going to be handed over as a lodge for tourism for the community. They were guaranteed all sorts of jobs as well. That has now basically been scuttled by the wild rivers legislation and through the influence of the Wilderness Society. On top of that, we are now looking at this federal government working overtime with the state government and, again, with the Wilderness Society to look at blanket World Heritage listing for the entire Cape York region. Of course, combined with wild rivers and all the other legislation, that will guarantee that they lock it up to such a point that the only opportunity you are going to find for our Indigenous people in Cape York would be to stand there bare bummed in a lily pond, on one foot, with a spear, being photo fodder for tourists. That is the sort of opportunity that this mob on the other side are looking to create for Indigenous people in Cape York. It is absolutely appalling. These people have struggled for so long to get their country back. They have every right, after that struggle, to sit down and contemplate what they have, to plan a future for themselves. They do not have to be curios for the benefit of the Wilderness Society.
I see my friend and colleague Mr Katter here and I would just like to recognise that Mr Katter as a minister gave the first cattle property lease, at Christmas Creek, to Eddie Holroyd, our good friend who just passed, who had a great amount of pride in that. If wild rivers legislation had been around, that would never have been able to happen. These people have very strong views on what they want to do, and they need time to assess what they have and to do their planning. It may not necessarily be of benefit to them, but it will be for their kids and grandkids, and for us to deny them that opportunity is absolutely appalling.
We on this side believe in the protection and sustainable development of our environment. But I think it has to be done in a cooperative and collaborative way that gives the Indigenous population the genuine opportunity to have a say, and the right to manage and operate their own land. And that is what this bill does. It is about giving economic destiny back into the hands of the traditional owners, the Indigenous people. It about giving them hope and aspiration and opportunity so that they can give better lives to their people, to their children, to stimulate their communities and to be able to make their own determinations. They certainly have the capacity to do that. Unfortunately, with the stranglehold that the Greens have over the Labor Party-and, particularly in Cape York, the Wilderness Society and the ACF-there is little chance of this happening under this current mob. (Time expired)