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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
13/04/2010
Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No. 2]

CHAIR —Welcome. We have received a submission from you which we have numbered 18 for our purposes. Before I ask you to make an opening statement, do you have any amendments or corrections that you would like to make?

Mr Pearson —No.

CHAIR —Please make an opening statement and then we will go to questions.

Mr Pearson —Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry. Cape York regional organisations and our leaders have been consistently opposed to the wild rivers initiative, first proposed by the Beattie government in 2004. The issue has blown up on a number of occasions since that time and the Cape York organisations have not altered their position. For this reason wild river declarations proceeded in the gulf region, supported by Murrandoo Yanner of the Carpentaria Land Council, but not in Cape York, that is until after the elections in 2009.

The principle of traditional-owner consent is a fundamental land rights principle. Some people call this the right to self determination; others call it the right to sovereignty. It is this right that lies at the heart of all land right controversies from Noonkanbah to old Mapoon. It is the right of Indigenous people to have the say over what happens on their land. The struggle to defend this principle has always been a struggle against government trying to impose decisions on the traditional owners. It is this principle that is central to the international declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The wild rivers legislation and the declarations made by government under it are clearly imposed upon Indigenous landholders. The principle of consent has been completely flattened. This principle means that if traditional owner groups want to place their lands under conservation regimes like the wild rivers, then they should be able to give their free consent by agreement. There is a mechanism in Australian law for traditional owner consent to be obtained, and that is through Indigenous land use agreements. The Tony Abbott bill upholds the fundamental land rights principle, the principle of traditional owner consent.

We, in Cape York, are not against the conservation of our rivers and our lands. Indeed, our lands and our rivers of Cape York are in such pristine condition precisely because of the stewardship of Aboriginal people. Since 2001 Indigenous people have led policy and implementation towards the expansion of significant parcels of lands as national park in Cape York Peninsula. Some 500,000 hectares have already been declared. Traditional owners have negotiated, and continue to negotiate, and give their consent to the expansion of the national park estate and conservation management regimes right across Cape York Peninsula. This negotiated agreement-making respects our right to say yes or no. The Wild Rivers Act does not give any opportunity for agreement-making between the parties.

I would now like to address the question put by the chair of this committee, Senator Crossin, to Mr Noel Pearson at the hearings in Canberra in relation to $70,000 that was paid to my organisation. In making our statement, I would also like to alert the senators to the fact that Dr John Bradley has again misled this committee on two occasions today. I assume that Senator Crossin was put up to asking this question by either the Wilderness Society or the Queensland government, as this matter has been shamelessly used—

CHAIR —Mr Pearson, I do not think you can assume that at all.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Chairman, you made Senator Boswell wait until he finished the statement before you allowed—

Mr Pearson —Can I finish my statement please?

CHAIR —First of all, it is an aspersion on me as chair and as a senator. I take offence at the fact that you would assume that I have been given questions from other organisations rather than do my own research and my own investigation when I investigated how the Queensland government had conducted its consultations and discovered they had provided Balkanu with money. I am entitled to ask about how that money was spent. Please continue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —This is inappropriate. Chair, I am taking a point of order. When Senator Boswell wanted to challenge something done by a witness you insisted he wait until the witness finished and then you gave him the right of reply, yet because you are chairman you seem to be able to interrupt a witness and respond immediately. I just think you need to be consistent.

CHAIR —It is not a point of order. I am not taking that as a point of order. The previous witness did not make a personal comment about Senator Boswell.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Yes, they did.

CHAIR —There is no point of order. Mr Pearson, continue please.

Mr Pearson —This matter has been shamelessly used by the Wilderness Society, the Queensland premier and Minister Stephen Robertson to seek to undermine the integrity of my organisation. The submission to this inquiry from the Wilderness Society states:

Balkanu Development Corporation, headed by Gerhardt Pearson, took $70,000 of public funding to help run the first set of consultations.

Premier Bligh has made similar public claims. On ABC television Q&A the Premier said:

Balkanu was funded to undertake that consultation in partnership with the relevant department.

This is where I believe the committee has been misled. I wish to make this very clear, that Balkanu was not funded to undertake the consultations in relation to the wild rivers. The minister cannot, under the act—nor does our funding contract between the agency and our organisation—delegate the minister’s responsibility to conduct consultations to Balkanu. Indeed, I quote from correspondence from Minister Robertson of 20 July 2009:

It is the government’s responsibility to undertake consultation on the wild river declaration proposals. Part of Balkanu’s role was to identify those Indigenous people who should be included in the consultation process.

The contract of works that we had undertaken with the activities funded by the Queensland government was to firstly:

  • develop a work plan;
  • identify the traditional owner groups;
  • identify the range of land tenures;
  • identify other resources and other scientific reports relevant to these proposed nomination areas;
  • identification of other stakeholders; and
  • arrange at least three meetings with relevant Indigenous groups by mid-July 2008.

Balkanu met our obligations in the four month period between July 2008 and November 2008. Balkanu was paid by the Queensland government $63,500.

In contrast to the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart River areas the state has expected traditional owners to engage in the Wenlock River consultation process with very little support or assistance to consider the issues and to prepare submissions. This is a serious failing on the part of the state government. I would like my chief operating officer to make a brief statement.

Mr Piper —I would like to address a couple of issues, firstly an issue raised by the Wilderness Society in their submission. The Wilderness Society state:

After it conducted extensive consultations for the first three wild river declarations on Cape York … meetings were cancelled by Balkanu that should have led to the addressing of traditional owners concerns.

Also Mr Seelig said in a previous media statement:

I believe there was a meeting scheduled in February in Coen where traditional owners were going to sit down with the government and that meeting got cancelled by Balkanu at short notice because they wanted to have a big fight over it.

Senator FEENEY —Where did the Wilderness Society make those assertions? Are they in the submission for us?

Mr Piper —In the Wilderness Society submissions.

Senator FEENEY —Can you direct us to a page?

Mr Piper —I will find it and let you know.

Senator FEENEY —Sorry to interrupt you.

Mr Piper —There is an email in relation to that meeting. We assert that that meeting was not a consultation meeting at all, it was a meeting that was to occur after the declarations were made as a damage control meeting. There is an email here from Tom Curruthers who is in charge of Mr Scott Buchanan.

Scott, I had a discussion with Debbie late yesterday and she is of the view that we should go back to Terry Piper and ascertain what days the Cape York Land Council and Balkanu board meetings are on and try to get front to back to them.

The email goes on:

I responded in my view that they would smell a rat and also indicated that the preferred location was not in Cairns.

That is not a way to respect Indigenous people on Cape York.

CHAIR —Is that a document that you need to table?

Mr Piper —I will table this document. I would also like to table documents that set out that the meeting was proposed for the week of 23 February. We did not cancel that meeting, but during the week prior to that—I will table these documents—the wild rivers declarations had gone to the executive council team, so the wild rivers declarations were very advanced, and that the government had prepared media statements and was seeking Mr Scott Buchanan’s approval of these media statements before the 23rd and on the morning of 23 February. The media statements were for Minister Wallace to announce the declarations of the wild rivers.

The meeting about which the Wilderness Society is referring to and casting accusations against our organisation was a meeting that was actually to tell traditional owners how their issues had been dealt with after the declarations had actually been made. That is our view on that and I will table these documents.

Senator BARNETT —Post-facto.

Mr Piper —Post-facto. I would also like to table some other documents, firstly the Executive Council process for approval by Governor in Council. It is a two-stage process; it takes 10 days. If the Executive Council process is followed it is a 10-day process to go through to Governor in Council approval. An Executive Council minute is lodged with the secretariat on the Tuesday, then on the following Monday it goes to Cabinet and Executive Council members at cabinet endorse the Executive Council minute recommending that Governor in Council approve the Executive Council minute. On the Thursday it goes to Governor in Council for approval. There are normally 10 days for that process. Minister Robertson and the government were sworn in on 26 March, so to have that 10-day process the Executive Council minute would have had to have been lodged with the secretariat two days before. The Executive Council minute was either done in a rush after the government was sworn in—

Senator BOSWELL —Could you say that again?

Mr Piper —It was either lodged after 26 March when the government was appointed, or it was lodged before the election to give enough time for that to be approved. We received correspondence from Minister Robertson on 26 May, which I will table, where Minister Robertson denied the Cape York Land Council a right to get reasons for the declarations. Minister Robertson said:

Having regard to the results of community consultation and written submissions, as well as other matters, I decided to proceed to make the declarations, although with certain changes, in order to address the issues raised through consultation and in submissions. The declarations were therefore submitted to the Governor in Council for approval and subsequently approved.

Senator BARNETT —What date was that?

Mr Piper —This was on 26 May. I will table this. Minister Robertson was appointed on 26 March. We have been through the wild rivers declarations, the drafts and the material. We cannot see that Minister Robertson made any changes to the declarations between 26 March and 2 April.

The Senate has to be very clear that there is a process where the minister has to make a declaration and then that declaration is approved by Governor in Council. The minister does not just make a decision to make a declaration and forward it on to Governor in Council, the minister has to actually make a declaration, and it is those declarations that are approved by Governor in Council.

We know from the FOI material that Minister Robertson was appointed on the 26th. On the 30th there is an email which states:

Also Scott, Kerrie Waters has asked that I make sure that the minister’s office has been made aware of the fact that they are proceeding to Governor in Council.

On 30 March, two days before the declarations were supposedly made, there is an email to let the minister’s office know that they are proceeding to Governor in Council. Presumably the minister’s office did not know at that stage.

Later there is the document which was quoted here about the CTS. We know that CTS was the result of public consultation and the public submissions. We know from the documents that Minister Wallace did not sign that briefing note, so we know that Minister Wallace may not have considered the results of public consultation or the submissions himself. We also know from Mr Buchanan’s email and we know from the FOI material that that briefing was made up of 341 pages, so it was quite an extensive briefing.

Senator BARNETT —A very big document.

Mr Piper —Yes. If Minister Robertson had not seen that on 30 March then he did not have much time to consider it. The other issue is the final declarations for Governor in Council approval needed to be ready by late on 30 March or on the morning of 31 March. There are emails here to show that. If Minister Robertson did actually consider the public submissions it was something where he made no changes and it was too late to make any changes because the declarations were already on their way to Governor in Council. I will table these documents.

We have major concerns as set out in Mr Noel Pearson’s submission, that these declarations have not been done properly or validly. We have asked the minister, written to the premier and written to the governor to seek a copy of the instrument by which the declarations were made. Nobody has provided a copy of that instrument. The declarations do not say who made them or when. That instrument should be something that is on the public record and we have constantly asked for it.

Senator TROOD —When did you ask for that?

Mr Piper —I can get you the dates of it. We have asked over the last five months in various correspondence.

Senator TROOD —You have asked more than once?

Mr Piper —More than once, yes.

Senator TROOD —You have asked numerous times?

Mr Piper —Yes.

Senator TROOD —And they have refused?

Mr Piper —They have not provided it.

Senator TROOD —Have you ever had a response to any of your requests?

Mr Piper —We have had a response to our request. The acting premier and Minister Robertson did not say that Minister Robertson made the declarations, they said that Minister Robertson made the decision about the declarations on 1 April.

Senator TROOD —They are avoiding the question.

Mr Piper —I believe they are.

CHAIR —Mr Piper, you made reference a minute ago to Mr Noel Pearson. Is that in relation to issues that are raised in the Cape York Institute’s submission?

Mr Piper —Yes.

CHAIR —And his evidence before this committee in Canberra; is that correct?

Mr Piper —Yes.

CHAIR —I just wanted to clarify that in my mind. Senator Trood, do you have any questions?

Senator TROOD —I do. Gentlemen, there is a very disturbing claim in your submission about the origins of this wild river Queensland legislation about the relationship between the Wilderness Society and the Queensland government at the time. Can you put on record your concerns about that legislation?

Mr Piper —Yes. Our concerns come from case studies that were done from people who worked closely with the Wilderness Society at that time. There is a belief on Cape York that the Wild Rivers Act and the declarations came at a time when Cubbie station and dams in south-east Queensland were significant issues for the Queensland government and it was a way of taking the heat off the Queensland government by transferring that heat to remote Queensland.

Senator TROOD —Do you think this was a political stitch-up deal done between the Wilderness Society and the Queensland government for electoral advantage?

Mr Pearson —Yes.

Senator TROOD —For the Queensland government’s electoral advantage; is that right?

Mr Pearson —Yes.

Senator TROOD —I see. In your submission you also raise questions about the nature of the policy development and you have been very eloquent about the issues that you have drawn attention to here. The point you have made consistently is the difference between rivers and basins, as I understand it. In fact there has been, on your view, a consistent deception on the part of the Queensland Labor government in relation to these matters; is that correct?

Mr Pearson —That is right.

Senator TROOD —Let me understand this perception as best I can. On occasions when there is an intention to declare a river—that is the statement—but in fact on all of those occasions far more than just a river is being declared. In fact, on each of these occasions when there has been a declaration, it relates to the river and a very large amount of land around the river, in other words, the basin. Is that right, Mr Pearson?

Mr Pearson —That is right. If you were to turn around and have a look at that map on the left-hand side of you, that is a pretty good depiction of a state government map that was around a few years ago that pointed out the extent of the reach of these wild river declarations. In 2004-05, when the legislation was being discussed and finalised in the community, Queenslanders, including ourselves here in Cape York, were told that this was just about river protection. There is no indication that the rivers would extend to basins, in fact, that they would take large tracts of land. Most of the lands in the three declarations so far are 99.9 per cent Aboriginal lands and more than 50 per cent Aboriginal freehold land. The three rivers, as a consequence, have now moved to 13 rivers in those three declarations.

Mr Piper —Somebody had the map for the Archer and Stewart River here earlier. If you look at the declaration for the Lockhart River, for example, it says the Lockhart River, but in fact that declaration also included the Nesbit River, the Chester River, Rocky Creek and Claudie River, which are separate rivers that flow separately into the sea. The election commitment in 2004 just identified the Lockhart River. The election commitment in 2004 identified the Stewart River, but the actual declarations include four other wild rivers flowing into the sea. So under the cover of the Stewart River also were declared the Massey River, Breakfast Creek, Balclutha Creek and Gorge Creek, some of them are only 20 metres wide. They flow separately into the sea. Because the election commitment has changed from rivers to basins it has meant that what were once 13 rivers are now about 60 separate rivers. So when the premier announced that she declared three wild rivers on 3 April last year she did not say that she had, in fact, declared 13 wild rivers in that bunch.

Senator TROOD —How many rivers do you now understand to have been declared under this deceptive activity?

Mr Piper —On Cape York, 13 wild rivers. There are 13 wild rivers that have been declared on Cape York.

Senator TROOD —That is not the number that was publicly announced.

Mr Piper —The public number is three.

CHAIR —Are they tributaries of the Lockhart?

Mr Piper —They are not. If you look at the maps you will see that they are quite separate rivers. They have nothing to do with each other.

Mr Pearson —They each have their own basin. So, using the basin concept, coming from the gully to the basin there is this river, this basin—captured the lot, from basin to basin and basin to basin. That is how the legislation has taken a broad-brush approach to the land. The top of the basin, at the ridge of the basin, is in some cases more than 20 kilometres from the nearest river.

Mr Piper —If you look at the maps you will see that.

CHAIR —Senator Barnett, do you have any questions?

Senator BARNETT —No.

CHAIR —Senator Boswell.

Senator BOSWELL —I am confused with the 13 rivers or 60 rivers. I have heard there are up to 70 rivers. Can you take on notice, Mr Piper, how many rivers and nominate the rivers?

Mr Piper —I can tell you right now the wild rivers that were declared on Cape York last year on 3 April. There were the Love River, Kirke River and Archer River—three separate rivers. There were the Claudie River, Lockhart River, Chester River, Nesbit River and Rocky River. There were Massey Creek, Breakfast Creek, Stewart River, Balclutha Creek and Gorge Creek—all declared as wild rivers, all separate wild rivers under the guise of three basins.

Senator BOSWELL —I would like to read a statement here. It is a letter from the Bligh government to the Wilderness Society which states:

A re-elected Bligh government will also complete the program of wild declarations on Cape York Peninsula as outlined in recent correspondence to your society. This will see a total of 19 wild rivers declared, including those rivers already declared in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York, Hinchinbrook and Fraser Islands.

That statement went out on 13 March. My question is: was the Wilderness Society advised of that before the landholders?

Mr Piper —The election commitment said 19 wild rivers. It did not say 19 river basins. We were not aware of that letter before the election. That is a letter that was—

Senator BOSWELL —It was given to the Wilderness Society.

Mr Piper —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —I have a copy of that letter. Were you advised before the Wilderness Society or did the Wilderness Society get the drop on you guys?

Mr Pearson —I met with senior members of Bligh’s administration during the middle of the election. There were two weeks in the elections last year. Amongst other things we discussed wild rivers and our concerns about any impending declarations. At no stage were we alerted by Mike Kaiser, who was at that meeting and Ken Smith, the director general, that it was the government’s intention after the elections to go ahead and declare not just the three rivers but the 13 rivers.

Senator BOSWELL —It seems to me that the Wilderness Society had a fair influence in this government. In fact, some of the ministerial decisions have hand-balled the decisions to the Wilderness Society. I particularly take from your submission that the landholders asked the government to extend a decision on a declaration and you were told, or the landholders were told, to go and apply to the Wilderness Society. A meeting was then arranged with the Wilderness Society in Cairns on 4 November. The Wilderness Society subsequently advised by letter dated 11 November from Mr Esposito:

We are sincerely of the view that to meet your concern it is best that the government maintain its current formal closing date for public submissions.

Mr Esposito went on to state:

We wish to see a meaningful dialogue and negotiation between traditional owners and the Queensland government regarding the declaration proposal for the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart River Basins.

What right has the Wilderness Society to tell you whether you are able to have an extension? I would have thought that was solely the role of the government, but it seems to me, by reading this, if your submission is accurate, that the government has abrogated its responsibilities and passed them on to the Wilderness Society. They tell the Wilderness Society before they tell the landholders what they are going to do, then they ask the Wilderness Society to arbitrate on whether you can have an extension or not. Am I reading that correctly?

Mr Pearson —I am not sure of the dates. Mr Piper will have those dates. I recall the meeting. It was at the twilight of the consultation period in 2008. On behalf of all of the traditional owners concerned with the three declarations, I had written to the government setting out their concerns, raised in the consultation report, about the impending declarations and seeking an opportunity to be able to have a process to negotiate with the government and the traditional owners their concerns to seek resolution of their concerns. A meeting was arranged when the community cabinet sat here in Cairns and with the permission of the department we brought down traditional owner representatives from the three rivers, a large contingent of representatives, and they met with Minister Wallace, the local member Jason O’Brien and departmental staff.

Senator BARNETT —I am not a Queenslander so can you tell me what Minister Wallace was responsible for?

Mr Pearson —He was the minister responsible for the wild rivers.

Senator BARNETT —Preceding?

Mr Piper —Minister Robertson.

Mr Pearson —That is right.

Senator BARNETT —Thank you.

Mr Pearson —I, of course, was not there, but my staff were. During the course of the meeting traditional owners had requested consideration of their concerns by the minister. Local member Jason O’Brien and the minister, Minister Wallace, had told these traditional owners who came from Coen, 600 kilometres away, and Aurukun which is even further, that ‘if you were able to get the approval of the Wilderness Society then we will be able to take account of your concerns’.

Senator BOSWELL —And the Wilderness Society would not meet your request?

Mr Pearson —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —We definitely have to revisit this, Chair, because this is outrageous. I think under any circumstances, any political party you are, when the government starts asking the Wilderness Society what they want to do—

Senator FEENEY —We are not having an inquiry into that.

CHAIR —I have mentioned before that will be a matter for the committee to determine at another date. We are currently inquiring into a piece of legislation before us, not the activities of organisations or the Queensland government in relation to the Queensland government’s legislation. We are inquiring into your legislation, if I am correct, in respect of the impact it has on this area. If you have questions about this legislation and this organisation’s view of that, please proceed, otherwise I think it is Senator Siewert’s turn.

Senator BARNETT —Can I just follow up from Senator Boswell very briefly?

CHAIR —Yes.

Senator BARNETT —Mr Piper, you have tabled a lot of documents to support your argument. The import is that the Queensland government has breached its own laws. That is the first point. Do you believe that?

Mr Piper —We believe that is the case.

Senator BARNETT —The consequence of that is the validity of the declarations of those three rivers, as they say only three but we know it is many more, is now called into serious doubt. Do you agree with that?

Mr Pearson —Yes, we believe that.

Senator SIEWERT —I do not want to spend a lot of time on this because we have explored it quite a bit, but I would like to discuss the issue around the definition of rivers and basins. In looking at the response that you quote in your submission around what the Wilderness Society responded to you by letter regarding the declaration proposals for the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart River basins, they used the term ‘basins’ there in November 2008. When did your organisation realise that you were talking about basins, that there was one concept that you understood around rivers and there was the other concept around river basins? When did that become clear to you?

Mr Piper —We raised that with government about two years ago. It was raised with the premier at that stage by one of the organisations. The premier had said that his understanding was that it was rivers.

Senator SIEWERT —This was Premier Beattie?

Mr Piper —That is right. We can table the documentation of the various statements over the years by the government, the Wilderness Society and Greens that it was rivers.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be appreciated. That was two years ago, so around 2007.

Mr Piper —When it became very clear was when the declarations were released for comment. Until then there was no certainty about what the government was talking about, but it became absolutely clear that they were talking about basins in 2008 when the declarations were released.

Senator SIEWERT —The comments that your organisations and your community members were putting in were definitely around basins rather than rivers.

Mr Piper —Traditional owners, Balkanu and the Land Council raised the issue of basins in the submissions about those declarations.

Senator SIEWERT —I had taken from what you were saying earlier that you had only understood it was basins when the declarations were finalised and announced in April last year, but you did understand it in the consultation process.

Mr Piper —When they were released, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —I would like to leave that and go back to the consultation process that Balkanu undertook under the $70,000.

Mr Piper —Can I correct that? We did not undertake the consultation process; we assisted with facilitating and organising meetings.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, I am sorry. That is where I want to get to. I get the sense that there is confusion around what your organisation had undertaken to provide in terms of your engagement with the process for the $70,000 and what some people in the community may have understood you undertook to provide. Would that be a fair comment?

Mr Pearson —No, I think it is mischief making.

Senator SIEWERT —I am not trying to mischief make, by the way. I understood that it was to undertake consultation.

Mr Pearson —Absolutely. The minister, the premier, the department and the Wilderness Society have been mischief making. The legislation prohibits delegating consultation outside of the minister and the agency. We were engaged to identify the correct individuals concerned with the country. We were engaged to organise camp sites, tucker and transportation.

Senator SIEWERT —Did you perform all those functions?

Mr Piper —That is right.

Senator SIEWERT —Were those meetings subsequently held?

Mr Piper —Yes. We accompanied Department of Natural Resources staff to most of the meetings that were held on Cape York. In relation to the consultation, I would like to table this document which is an earlier draft of the consultation report. In that draft the government was claiming:

The government has undertaken extensive consultation with effected Indigenous communities on Cape York Peninsula and is confident that it has addressed any concerns the Indigenous communities may have had. It was also noted from the consultation that there is significant support for the intent of the wild rivers program amongst Indigenous communities on Cape York.

That is the line that the government was going to put in the consultation report. The comment from the two key people who did the consultation for the government was:

Ross and I strongly disagree with this paragraph. It is open to interpretation whether we did consult widely and extensively. What is consultation to one may not be consultation to another. I am not confident we have addressed concerns as we would not be going back to Balkanu with the Director-General if this were the case.

There was not significant support for wild rivers. It was a mixed viewpoint, significant in differences. We conveyed that message several times to the premier between the close of the consultation period and right up to before the election, that there has not been sufficient consultation and you should not proceed with these declarations without the support of Indigenous people.

Senator SIEWERT —What were you just reading from with your second comment?

Mr Piper —I will table this.

Senator SIEWERT —Can you also say where that came from?

Mr Piper —This is from the FOI material. It is from a draft of the consultation report. It is the DERM records.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you. We have been talking this morning about future acts and you have also raised this issue. Contrary to the government’s position, is it your position that this does constitute a future act?

Mr Piper —Definitely.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you had legal advice on that?

Mr Piper —We have, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Does your legal advice say that it is a future act?

Mr Piper —Our legal advice is that despite the Wild Rivers Act referring that other legislation does not affect native title, the Wild Rivers Act, itself, does effect native title. Our legal advice is that native title rights involve a right to make decisions about your country, and that the Wild Rivers Act infringes on that.

Senator SIEWERT —Isn’t it a right to negotiate? I am not justifying the Native Title Act. I am asking for what actually exists, whether I support it or not.

Mr Piper —A consequence of it being a future act is a right to negotiate.

Senator SIEWERT —Which is where ILUAs come from et cetera. It does not go as far as the bill goes.

Mr Piper —That is right, the Commonwealth bill—

Senator SIEWERT —The bill that we are considering?

Mr Piper —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —As I understand the Native Title Act, the bill that we are currently considering goes further than the Native Title Act. In fact, a number of submissions have made that same point and it was discussed in our previous hearing.

Mr Piper —Yes. In the Native Title Act you have a right to negotiate.

Mr Pearson —I have one more document that I would like to table.

CHAIR —Yes. What is it?

Mr Pearson —It is a set of minutes that relates to the Cape York Tenure Resolution Implementation Group. Craig Wallace and Andrew McNamara were the ministers at the time and there are representatives of the various Indigenous groups and the conservation groups. A couple of dot points here state that the chair noted that conservation groups have not yet received funding for participation in CYTRI processes and noted that funding has been approved and that the Department of Natural Resources and Water would ensure that processing was finalised as a priority. This is funding for the Wilderness Society. We do not know what amounts have been funded by the state to the conservation groups. The Cape York Tenure Resolution Implementation Group is an important group and it oversees tenure resolution in Cape York. It has also had discussions around wild rivers.

CHAIR —We will table that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I thought the Wilderness Society said this morning that they have not been funded by government.

CHAIR —Perhaps when they read this evidence and look at that tabling document they will care to respond to it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It could be a breach of Senate procedures in giving false information.

CHAIR —The committee may well put questions on notice on that. Mr Pearson, how many meetings did you help facilitate with the $70,000 that you were given?

Mr Piper —We had meetings in Coen and Aurukun. A lot of consultation with Indigenous people is not in big meetings.

CHAIR —You said you helped set up camps and provide tucker. Can you remember how many of those in total?

Mr Piper —I cannot off hand, but I would imagine that there would have been 20 or 30 meetings. Some of them were small meetings. In this funding we also paid for traditional owners to come down to meet with Minister Wallace. We paid for their travel and accommodation for that. We paid for the costs of the meeting with the Wilderness Society. We paid for the costs of traditional owners to come down for another meeting in October with the Department of Natural Resources and Water. Out of that money we also paid $7,000 for expert environmental advice to be able to assist traditional owners in their submissions. So it was not just meetings. There was a whole lot of costs that were made up out of that $63,000. One of the issues that we did have is that the government pretty well denied traditional owners the ability to get expert advice in being able to respond in their submissions. We had $7,000 that we spent on expert environmental advice about water quality, which we refer to in our submission.

CHAIR —Perhaps you could say my questions have helped clarify the mischief you believe that has been created around the $70,000.

Mr Piper —It is a mischief.

CHAIR —And my questions and your answers have now clarified that; would that be right?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Good for you, Madam Chair.

CHAIR —You do not think my questions and your answers have helped clarify your position in respect of the use of that money?

Mr Pearson —We are happy for the senators to table the file. I think it is important for the public record that this information is actually on file. We will list the schedule of meetings. For example, witnesses this morning attended meetings out on country. That is important for them. They participated as part of decisions that gave their opinion or advice about the Wild Rivers Act. For the public record we will provide all of that information.

Senator McLUCAS —There is just one issue that I would like to canvass. I have said this earlier. We have an assertion from different sides in this argument that various economic uses will or will not be allowed under the Queensland legislation. We have a very limited way to test those assertions and I suppose as the Indigenous economic development organisation I am wondering what your role is in terms of assisting Indigenous people to be able to make applications through their local government authority by and large. What role do you have? To me, the only way that we are going to ascertain whether or not you can clear any trees in a high preservation area is if someone asks the question. What role does Balkanu have in that process?

Mr Pearson —For about 10 years we have been with the corporates and government in partnership—Westpac, Boston Consulting, Qantas, IBM and Telstra. We have been supporting economic development, mentoring, developing options, feasibility studies, business plans and so on. It is a process that was heavily supported by Premier Beattie and the Howard government in partnership, and obviously the corporates.

Our key argument in the early phases of the development of the wild rivers legislation was that Indigenous people needed support from the government to actually undertake their own analysis on the economic and other social impacts of this legislation. That was denied. Just after the state elections last year and the declarations when we went to the public about our concerns, the relevant agency, the state development agency at the time—the minister was Desley Boyle—had cut funding for economic support to our organisation. I am not quite sure of the amount, but it is over $400,000. That funding was a contribution towards the partnership arrangement with the Commonwealth, the corporates and ourselves to provide economic development support to Indigenous people in Cape York. They cut that because of our opposition to wild rivers.

This funding provided for a business hub located in Weipa where we had specialist business support people in the community assisting Indigenous enterprise, corporations and individuals. It also provided support to Aurukun, Mapoon, Lockhart and the Coen communities. These are the prime communities that are now being affected. The other business hubs affected were located in Cooktown to support the Hope Vale, Cooktown, Wujal Wujal and Laura communities.

The state of play as it stands now in relation to funding, the Commonwealth government has continued its economic development support in Cape York. The corporates that I have mentioned have grown in numbers in providing support through in-kind specialists in Cape York. We are still to see whether or not the Queensland government is prepared to accept that the provision of economic development opportunities for Indigenous people in Cape York is more important than a political fight that we are having in relation to a draconian piece of legislation.

Senator McLUCAS —You could put it this way. If an Aboriginal person from Cape York in one of the wild rivers regions who is a traditional owner wanted to undertake a tourism venture, would they come to Balkanu? Is that right?

Mr Piper —They would come to Balkanu and we would try to assist them, remembering that our funding to do that kind of thing was removed by the state government last year.

Senator McLUCAS —I understand from Mr Pearson that you have federal money.

Mr Piper —We have federal money and we have the corporate support. I would like to just clarify something from earlier. When the state says that there have been no applications knocked back for development, one of the issues in this is the state cannot actually accept applications for many activities, so they do not get to the point of having to knock it back because they could never accept the application in the first place. A person wanting to do something does not even get to put the application over the counter.

It is our advice that any commercial activity within a high preservation area that involves clearing of vegetation would not be approved. As the state said, there are criteria. Ultimately, you can clear for a fence or a firebreak, but there are other criteria that it has to be necessary infrastructure and there has to be no reasonable alternative location. What amounts to necessary infrastructure? It is our understanding that the decision makers do not include a tourism resort or even a private outstation as necessary infrastructure.

Senator McLUCAS —This is the point. You have followed the state government representatives who have said exactly the opposite. How do we, as a committee, have any ability to make a judgement about those two sets of assertions? It is almost impossible unless we have a test.

Mr Piper —I think you can have a hypothetical proposal and get your own advice.

Senator McLUCAS —Would Balkanu, as the Indigenous economic development organisation for Cape York Peninsular, be part of that? The point I am making is that you are running a campaign against a piece of legislation. It is your right to do that and I support your right to do that. I might not agree with you, but I would support your right. Yet you are also the organisation to whom an Indigenous person would come to actually achieve an economic outcome. There is a problem there. From my reading of this, the economic development opportunities are being delayed, and that is concerning to me.

Mr Pearson —It is concerning to us.

Senator McLUCAS —Good.

CHAIR —We have run out of time for your evidence and our questioning this afternoon. Thank you for appearing today.

[3.56 pm]