Greens want wilderness park

by Chris Griffith
Published 24 September 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Australia's peak conservation bodies want Prime Minister Paul Keating to declare most of Cape York Peninsula a wilderness park -- by adding a central zone to the 3.6m hectare eastern park announced by Premier Wayne Goss during the state election campaign.

Outgoing Australian Conservation Foundation director, Trish Caswell, said tentative discussions with the federal government on "the zone concept" had already taken place and the government was interested.

"There is no doubt there is on-going significant interest both from the Minister for the Environment and the Prime Minister for completing the wilderness zone," Ms Caswell said.

"Buy backs are still necessary in parts and we would need to supplement management resources. There are certainly some areas which would deserve world heritage listing."

Foundation Vice President Jim Downey said the plan had the support of the peak conservation groups. He said the proposed new zone would extend down Cape York Peninsula from Archer Bend National Park as far south as Kowanyama. It would extend westward from the state government's wilderness zone, but would not take in areas subject to the Wik native title claim in western Cape York Peninsula.

He said the plan included a package for land acquisition by Aboriginal communities. He said roughly 30 properties would fall within the zone � 10 were already for sale, and the government could purchase the others as they became available.

Ms Caswell and Mr Downey last week revealed that the state government's plan for its eastern Cape York wilderness park was a total surprise to the conservation movement. Mr Goss announced the plan in late June during the election campaign.

They said conservationists had promoted a similar idea to the federal government earlier that month, just before the election was called. The Queensland Government heard about the idea then suddenly announced it as its own. As a result the Federal Government was denied the political kudos of establishing the zone itself.

"We got the wind taken out of our sails; personally I was flabbergasted to be quite honest, but elections do strange things to people," Mr Downey said.

"I think they implemented the east coast wilderness zone for a range of reasons, one of which included getting in with what they saw as an appealing electoral initiative going to the Commonwealth if we were successful in pursuing the Commonwealth."

Ms Caswell said conservationists had held only tentative talks with the state government to see if it would go along with the proposal they were pushing federally for a wilderness zone.

"With surprising speed the state government came out with support for the proposition and buybacks. We knew it was happening, but only very shortly before the announcement."

However a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Senator John Faulkner said the federal government was aware well in advance of the state's plan to create the eastern wilderness zone.

She also said there was "nothing in the pipeline" about extending the zone or nominating section of Cape York for world heritage listing. Yet in August Senator Faulkner conducted an aerial inspection tour of Cape York peninsula with Leichhardt MHR Peter Dodd and representatives of the Cape York Land Council. Discussions included the wilderness zone, world heritage listing, and coastal and land management.

Mr Faulkner's tour has fuelled speculation that the Federal Government would follow Queensland's example and announce a major conservation initiative in Cape York in its bid to woo the environment vote at the up-coming federal election.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Paul Keating would not comment on any proposal to extend the zone. "We're not saying anything," he said.