Park 'as dead as a dodo'

by Chris Griffith
' Published 17 December 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The Queensland Government's major July election promise of a 3.6 million hectare wilderness park in Cape York peninsula was "as dead as a dodo", a former Goss government ministerial adviser has said.

In June this year, Premier Wayne Goss announced the Eastern Cape York Wilderness Park, a belt of land stretching 1200 km from the Daintree River to the tip of Cape York, as the government's major election initiative.

The plan was Labor's election knockout blow. It split the Green movement, sections of which was considering backing the Coalition, and delivered key conservation, environmental, and Aboriginal support to the government.

But in an article to be published today (subs: read Sunday) in the Aboriginal newspaper Land Rights Queensland, former ministerial adviser Michael Duffy said a regional agreement privately-brokered between pastoralists and Aboriginal leaders was "a complete repudiation of the proposed buy-out of all pastoral land", and the end of the "Green-Black alliance" in the Cape.

"Leading figures in the Green movement are privately saying that it means the Cape York deal is as dead as the dodo," Mr Duffy said.

"With Mundingburra still unresolved as we go to press, Goss can ill afford his Green Cape York deal to come unstuck."

The state government yesterday rejected Mr Duffy's statement. A spokesman said the government remained committed to buy-backs within the proposed zone.

Mr Duffy was a senior policy and the personal adviser on indigenous affairs to former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs minister Anne Warner. He resigned in February this year.

His comments were made in the wake of recent talks between graziers and Cape York Land Council executive director Noel Pearson on the future of properties both within and outside the proposed wilderness zone.

The talks, held in Musgrave last month, were brokered by former National Farmers' Federation executive director Rick Farley, who is now working with the National Aboriginal Reconciliation Council.

In October Environment Minister Tom Barton said the government would acquire 11 cattle properties covering roughly 774,000 hectares. The government then set aside $10 million to acquire the properties which are mostly pastoral leasehold. -- only 107 hectares were freehold.

But events in the Cape have evolved since the June announcement.

In particular, the Federal Court's decision to reject the Waanyi native title claim in north-west Queensland had forced indigenous people in the Cape to consider less complex, less costly, and more certain mechanisms for access to land other than native title.

Likewise the fear of land acquisition has seen property owners willing to negotiate -- an historic regional agreement in the Cape was a possible outcome.

A spokesman for Mr Barton said the government's position on the zone would not change. Its buy-back plan had been motivated by conservation concerns; Aboriginal concerns were secondary in this case, the spokesman said.

But Mr Farley yesterday said voluntary acquisition at an agreed price, land swaps, and joint access by pastoralists and Aboriginal people were all options.

He said two key meetings had been planned this week.

On Wednesday, he had proposed a meeting in Cairns between the Queensland Government's Department of Environment and Heritage and pastoralists to discuss a negotiated settlement for properties within the wilderness zone.

He said on pastoralists throughout Queensland would meet in Coen on Thursday to discuss a proposal by the Cape York Land Council, whereby Aboriginal communities would forego future native title claims in return for a guaranteed traditional right of access to cattle properties.

Mr Farley said the draft included agreement to protect high cultural, conservation values in the Cape.

But talks so far have shut out conservation groups who in July joined publicly with Mr Pearson to urge a vote for Labor at the state election.

While the Australian Conservation Foundation is again supporting Labor in Mundingburra, Cape York Land Council campaigns officer Mark Horstman said it was unlikely Mr Pearson would become involved in the by-election campaign, particularly as the negotiations with pastoralists were sensitive.

Mr Horstman said Mr Pearson was spending the weekend discussing the proposals with the organisation's governing committee at Pajinka, and would not comment.

Meanwhile, some conservation groups say they remain calm about their exclusion from the talks.

Australian Conservation Council executive director Jim Downey said there was "some merit in the early stages" for the land council and grazing industry to talk on their own -- but that conservationists would eventually need to be involved..

He said the ACF was committed to the buy-back of all land within the proposed zone.

Mr Downey and the Cape York Land Council said the Farley talks were confined to the future of properties outside the wilderness zone.

However, their understanding differs from the view of pastoralists who said the negotiations must consider all alternatives for the future of cattle properties throughout the peninsula.

Mr Downey said he was in contact with Mr Pearson "at least a couple of times a week".

Cooktown solicitor David Kempton, who has been acting for several pastoralists, said his clients would "never give up" their tenure "as lost" in the Farley negotiations.