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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
Indigenous economic development in Queensland
House of Reps
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
Standing Committee on Economics
CHAIR (Mr Craig Thomson)
Mr STEPHEN JONES
Indigenous economic development in Queensland
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
(House of Representatives-Tuesday, 30 November 2010)
DONALD, Mr David
BLANCO, Mr Sylvester
KOONDUMBIN, Miss Dawn
PARRY, Miss Rhonda
HAUSIA (GEORGE), Mrs Kakie
MILLER, Mr Peter
LUDWICK, Miss Tracey
CHAIR (Mr Craig Thomson)
WOOSUP, Mr Larry
WILLIAMS, Mr Greg
YUNKAPORTA, Miss Phyllis
Mr STEPHEN JONES
WEST, Mrs Maleta
FOSTER, Mr Dick
ARTHUR, Mr Cecil
- DONALD, Mr David
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON ECONOMICS
Indigenous economic development in Queensland
CHAIR (Mr Craig Thomson) —First of all, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to elders past, present and future. The committee also acknowledges the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who now reside in this area. With that, I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into issues affecting Indigenous economic development in Queensland, including issues surrounding Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act 2005. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for attending here today, particularly given the very short notice of today’s hearings. I would also like to reinforce that there are still many opportunities for interested parties to contribute to this inquiry. The submission deadline has now been extended until the end of January 2011, and the committee expects that further hearings will be conducted after that time.
The Wild Rivers Act 2005, Queensland, aims ‘to preserve the natural values of rivers that have all, or almost all, of their natural values intact’ but not undermine sustainable Indigenous economic development in the Cape York region or other parts of Queensland. In addition to examining the broader questions of Indigenous economic development, the committee has been asked to examine the impact that the recently introduced Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 would have if passed. The bill provides that the development or use of native title land in a wild river area cannot be regulated under the Wild Rivers Act 2005, Queensland, without the agreement of the landowner in writing.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to hear some community views on issues arising from the inquiry’s terms of reference. To maintain the structure of the proceedings, it is important that all comments be addressed through the chair. Although the committee does not require participants to give evidence under oath, this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and warrants the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and will attract parliamentary privilege. We hope that many of you in the room will contribute. We ask all participants to be as succinct as possible in making their comments so we can make best use of the available time. But please do not feel that you are going to be cut off in any way. If you have got something that you want to tell us, make sure that you do take the time to tell us as clearly as you possibly can. I also remind members of the media—and we do have some at the back who may be monitoring this hearing—of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.
With that formal part out of the way, does anyone here want to start, to give us their view on the wild rivers legislation and economic development in the cape generally? We are in your hands.
Mr Arthur —I am a traditional owner ranger up at Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. That is our traditional land, the land of the Taepithiggi people. We have heard rumours that the legislation stops us going back to our traditional lands, stops us from having our rights in our waterways—say if we want to run fishing charters, organisations around running ecosystems, tourist camps and that sort of stuff. I would like to find out if it stops us starting up these economic businesses by ourselves.
CHAIR —We are here to hear from you rather than to give information but I take it they are issues of concern to you in relation to this legislation.
Mr Arthur —Not really. I am actually doing it in practice now up there. I am starting an organisation. I am building a traditional house up there. I have got the gate keys to the property. I am still doing my fishing. No-one has ever told me to stop. There are all these accusations going around. I am actually moving forward with the government in building this traditional house to take kids back to their country, to recognise them as who they are again.
CHAIR —Can you give us a bit of feel for the nature of the business you are doing? It is bringing people back to the country?
Mr Arthur —Yes, it is basically taking the elders and the kids, the next generation, back to where they originated. It is teaching them about who they really are again—their culture, who they are, what the significance is to them. In the long term I look at that as a legacy everyone has in their family organisation that they want to live on and to see what they have done. I have not had any hurdles yet. No-one has put a gun to my head and stopped me doing what I am doing at the moment. I know a few organisations around, like David Claudie from the Kaantju people and the girls from Aurukun running fishing charters, and they have not said anything about the wild rivers stopping them doing this or doing that. They are actually moving forward and they are saying that the wild rivers legislation actually keeps their environment together, it pristines it, it sustains it for the long-term so it is there for the next generation to come along and have a look at what we have gone through.
What we are hearing is that it stops mining companies. But I do not think that the government would put some legislation in to stop mining because, at the end of the day, the government gets the benefit of mining. So why would they want to put legislation in that stops mining? But I think it gives the mining companies hoops to then jump through, and it gives us as traditional owners hoops as well. Other than that, I have not run into any of these hoops through doing my organisation. I am still striving along. I am waiting for a gun to get put to my head but it has not been yet, so I am still doing the things that people say that we cannot do.
CHAIR —The concerns are, for you, that people are saying that there may be issues there, but you have not, practically, found any of those issues?
Mr Arthur —I think how the government have come in and proposed it to us as traditional owners is where the biggest fall-out has been. If they had taken it our way and through our organisations, like the land council and maybe Balkanu itself, they could have found out from these organisations how you could actually come in and sit here as you are doing now and propose the wild rivers legislation and we can have someone there so there are two sides of the party and we can have answers yes or no. Basically, we do not want to walk out of here with questions marks. We want to walk out of here with answers.
CHAIR —So you would say that there has not been great consultation, that that is an issue that has come up for you?
Mr Arthur —Yes. Basically I would have done it the traditional way or through the land council, what they are doing now, and that is to find out who the leaders are for these tribes, to catch all these catchment areas that connect to where you are proposing and find the leaders. They all have an elder board. We all have a clan guideline up here and we have amended it together. That is our rule book, so that anybody like you, the Australia Zoo or anybody who comes in and tries to propose something to us comes down the right road. They sit with our directors on the elder board, so they get to see and hear the views and answer yes or no and get their questions answered. That is the clear way. If you go to a tribe like where I am, there may be five or six families who come from that tribe, so if you have to bring five elders in then that is what you have to do. They are the people who you need to tick off a proposal with and then it goes down the channel.
But all I have seen is them coming around to our doors, knocking on our doors and saying, ‘Do you agree?’ I do not have anyone, my lawyer or whoever, there to say yes, that is the right thing, or it is not. At the end of the day, what we say down here, the government on top still makes their own decision. At the end of the day it is like: ‘We’ll see you and then we’ll make the decision anyway. Whether you say no, whether you say yes, it’s our call at the end of the day.’ I do not really know how the system works, but I would really like everyone to have a view on it and to propose whatever is being proposed in the right way through the right channels and get the right boards to overrule it and tick it off and say, ‘Yes, we do understand it,’ whether we have our lawyers there to back us and say to us: ‘Yes, you can do this. Yes, you can have mining. Yes, you can run an ecosystem. Yes, you can do a fishing charter—all of this.’ But we do not have these answers. We are just basically doing it in practice ourselves.
What I am doing now is just walking up there, putting the key in the gate and opening it and seeing if I get a gun to my head. That is how it is being done, that is what we are doing today. We would like to move forward in a traditional way as well, as traditional owners, and have an organisation that does not stop us and does not give us hurdles. All I can see is I think it is a buffer zone that has grown bigger, from 200 metres to 500 metres. I love the ecosystem. I love the Wenlock were I come from. I love being who I am. I have been for 36 years a traditional landowner, I have lived with my mother and my family, so I ain’t going to change who I am. I am going to make sure I pass on what I have been taught back down to the next generation.
Ms O’DWYER —I have a couple of questions to follow up on what you have just said. It seems very clear from what you have said that there was not a lot of consultation before bringing this in and there is a lot of confusion about exactly what it is going to mean for traditional owners. Would you say that is a fair statement?
Mr Arthur —Yes.
Ms O’DWYER —You said that the government is going to make the final decision and you will ultimately be told what to do and what the rules are. There is an alternative proposal, which is that traditional owners will finally have consent, potentially, as to whether they want wild rivers or not. Those who want it can consent to it and those who do not want it do not consent to it. Would you want the ability to give consent?
Mr Arthur —I would, but I would like to stand my ground and still find out my rights. That is all. That is what I am looking for today. Basically, I have been doing it like I said: walking up to the gate and opening it and no-one has taken the key off me. I am building a traditional house. I have the feasibility study done. But I am making sure that, if I am going to go into the high-preservation zone—and I understand that, if you are going to build in that high-preservation zone, you will have hurdles under wild rivers.
Ms O’DWYER —You are saying that you need certainty. You need to understand what it will mean so that you can pursue economic opportunities—building a business—and do that with certainty, without having somebody coming later to undermine what you have done.
Mr Arthur —Yes. I want to know whether I can catch and release fish on my waters, take fishing tours out, do croc spotting—
Ms O’DWYER —That is the next question. Obviously you think you should be able to do all of that. That is part of your traditional rites and you would like to be able to build up a business in this area.
Mr Arthur —Yes.
Ms O’DWYER —Would you be concerned if wild rivers had the impact of stopping small businesses from being able to set up small farms, aquaculture and things like that near the river?
Mr Arthur —Yes. That is the sort of thing I am looking for. At the end of the day, we want to hear if we can move ahead as traditional landowners on our land—whether that is mining, conservation, bush tours, birdwatching or whatever. We want to be able to make sure that we can do these things without jumping hurdles.
Dr LEIGH —Can you tell me a bit more about the house you are building? Is it close to the river?
Mr Arthur —No, mate. I have actually gone away from the high-preservation zone. The high-preservation zone is 500 metres along the Wenlock—is that correct? Correct me if I am wrong. I have gone away from that. I am trying to build on DOGIT land—deed of grant. I am trying to go somewhere where I just have to see the DOGIT trustees, the Mapoon council and the traditional owners about this building—basically, the government as well, at the end of the day. I am trying to stay out of all of the high-preservation areas. I am not trying to build in the Steve Irwin lease area, the pastoral lease or the mining lease. I am basically staying out of everyone’s way. I want this house to just be for kids and elders, to teach them programs in the school holidays. We can teach them multicultural programs. We can teach them about the non-Indigenous side, GPS, marketing, fishing and all of that—put it all together—and then we can teach them the Indigenous side as well, about bush medicine, bush tucker, what the totem is, what is significant to them, and that all of that sort of stuff.
Dr LEIGH —Sounds like a good program.
Mr Arthur —I hope it goes well.
CHAIR —Thank you for that. It was very interesting to hear your contribution. Would anyone else like to speak to us?
Mr Woosup —My name is Larry Woosup. I am from the Angkamuthi clan group, which is north of Port Musgrave. Part of my river is going to be affected by the wild rivers legislation. First of all, it gets down to consultation and consent. A lot of our people are not up to date with what is in the legislation. There are 13-odd bits of legislation to go through. Like brother Cecil said, we should have the right to build in high-preservation areas or low-preservation areas. Who is to tell us that we cannot be there? We cannot impact on the environment. We know how to look after it because we were the custodians for 80,000 years. We were the stewards of country. We talk now about economic viability for our future generations. I am in the area of the Wenlock Basin, right at the tip of the Moreton Telegraph Station. That part of the estuary is going to be affected by the wild rivers legislation. The Queensland government gave us barren country, barren land, with hardly any trees, to set up agriculture, farming. This, for us, is a knock on the head because the most important area that you can get water is from the river, from the creek. We cannot put in artificial dams. The only way we can get water is to pipe it, and it costs a lot to pipe. People like me, Indigenous people in the cape, we do not have that sort of money. So the economic side is an issue, the costing, plus there is the legislation on top of that. It sort of puts us back. It takes away our economic viability for future generations.
CHAIR —How do we overcome the problem where there may be a number of traditional owners on a river, some upstream and some further downstream, and those upstream want to do some development that is going to affect those downstream? How do you see that being sorted out?
Mr Woosup —Like everybody else, we do an assessment; we do a feasibility study. It is just like anybody else on pastoral land or a station. We look at practising that sort of white man system and also we look at our traditional owner interests. We are not there to destroy that country; we are there to manage it. It is about giving us the opportunity. We are trying to wean ourselves off the welfare mentality in this day and age. Wild rivers is one of those types of legislation that is going to stop us achieving that. A lot of our people and our children, down the track, want to go on country. When you look at the cost of meat or a veggie that gets sent up from Cairns or anywhere down there it is a living expense for us here, especially in the remote communities. I do not know whether the government took that into consideration. The cost of living is so extreme up here. It is every little thing that affects us as Indigenous people.
CHAIR —With the issue of consent, you would see that there would be some negotiation about what is appropriate to be developed there, but both parties would agree at the end of the day. Is that how you are proposing it?
Mr Woosup —Yes. We would like to have a look at the legislation, look at what is there that we can tap into and vice versa. It is not about locking anybody out of the system. It is about looking at what we can achieve together instead of arguing the case. From my perspective, and from a lot of people that I have spoken to around Cape York, especially people who are affected by the wild rivers legislation, they want to see what is in the legislation. There are 13-odd pieces of legislation out there but none of us have an idea.
To build a house you have to get clearance. You have to go through the wild vegetation act or something. There are a lot of loopholes. At the end of the day, we still have to get a tick to build something. Brother here should not be made to build on the low-preservation area or the area outside of it. We should have the opportunity to build wherever we want. Like I said, we are going to manage it how we managed it for the last 80,000 years. This is about ecotourism. I have no argument against wild rivers, but we can work in partnership and look at the issue from both sides.
CHAIR —What else should we be doing? This inquiry is much broader than just wild rivers. Wild rivers is part of it, but it is also about what we can do to encourage economic development and sustainability in this area. What other things should the government be looking at doing to help?
Mr Woosup —First of all, the government needs to come back down to the grassroots level and talk to people like Cecil and us and to look at it from our perspective. We need to project stuff. These people are not going to live in the cape; it is us—our children and our generation. We have to make sure that their interests are being adequately built into this policy. Once again people who make the decision about the legislation live down south; they do not live up here. It is about looking at our needs and our interests because a lot of us can look for that. It is not about planning it for now. We are looking at 50 years; we are looking at long-term economic sustainability now in our traditional country.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —Thank you for the information. The point you make about your custodianship of land is very powerful. I am curious to know from your perspective whether you think there is ever a role for government to pass legislation about environmental management of land that is the traditional lands of your people?
Mr Woosup —From my perspective there has not been any of that from our input. A lot of us have not put any submission into it. All we know is the legislation has been put in parliament and it is something we cannot undo. We can only probably get it to come back to negotiate the ramifications of the whole act and whatever is in there. It is about us giving our view, our concerns and our perspective. We are part of the society in Cape York. We are part of the society of Australia.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —Yes, I understand.
Mr Woosup —It is not that we are just part of a tree or an animal just walking straight; you are a human being of Cape York and I think it works both ways. We need to put our input because, like I said, we are the ones who are going to live on country—my children, their children and the generation that comes after me.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —Just so I am clear: are you saying that it is not that you are opposed to environmental legislation which governs the way that land can be used but that you want more input, more say into how that legislation—
Mr Woosup —Exactly. It needs to come from us as well.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —I am not trying to put words into your mouth; I am just trying to understand.
Mr Woosup —It needs to come from us because you have people who are sitting in the corridors of parliament on the tax book who do not even know where the country is and so forth. I think it is in our best interests that it come down to us, the grassroots people.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —I understand.
Mr Woosup —Like I said, it will work both ways. It is about giving us the opportunity.
Ms OWENS —Before the wild rivers legislation, which is only quite new, there were still anywhere between 12 and 29 acts, depending on who we talk to, that regulated what you could do on your land. There were fisheries acts, environment acts, water acts and all sorts of acts. There was still lots of legislation and lots of permits you had to get before wild rivers. I am trying to get a sense of why it has become such an issue with wild rivers when it did not seem to be such an issue. Even now I think Cecil and you also seem to accept the other pieces of legislation that limit what you can do to protect the environment but not this one.
Mr Woosup —This one was done behind closed doors before we knew it.
Ms OWENS —But so were the others.
Mr Woosup —Yes, but the thing is a lot of us have native title here. We practice native title future act section 29. By that as a Commonwealth act we should be consulted and engaged from the very beginning. This is a common practice in Cape York. When there is something happening with the DOGIT trust council or traditional owned ALA land we get consulted by whoever comes in—whether it is miners, pastoralists or someone who has an interest in eco-tourism. It has been happening, but this wild river thing is just a top-down approach. All of a sudden this legislation is declared. There is no consultation. This one is so mystified. It happened in the middle of the night. That is why there are some unhappy people around the cape.
We do want mining in our country. I believe miners work with the Aboriginal people. We can minimise the impact on the environment. We work with people. That is the whole thing. We have to work in partnership. It is not one or the other. This is the misconception of the government. They think to take the role and responsibility in their hands and their control, and they are missing the point of us, the actual custodians of the country, the land.
Ms O’DWYER —I just want to pick up on the point that you made about there not being a lot of consultation. Can you perhaps just elaborate a little bit further in terms of how much notice you received and the people that you talked to received about the wild rivers legislation before it was actually brought in?
Mr Woosup —The whole cape, a lot of the traditional owners that were affected by the river—I have not seen the legislation myself. I have not been approached by the conservation people or the likes of DNRW. We just get our legal representatives like the Cape York Land Council or others like Balkanu to represent our interests. We say: ‘Look, what are our interests in this? This is what should be happening on the grassroots level.’ So it is about giving us the opportunity to project our information. Again, it comes back to that: we are the ones who are going to be on the country.
Ms O’DWYER —Just so I understand, do you feel that you had an opportunity to do that before the legislation was brought in?
Mr Woosup —We have not. We have not even had an opportunity from day one. All we knew was that there were 13 pieces of legislation. A lot of that was to do with the vegetation act. There was a lot to do with the clearance act, the Water Commission act—a lot of these acts are going to affect us, especially when we want to look at economic development down the track, because where can one live without water? You need water. Water is a survival source for us.
Dr LEIGH —Larry, I am just wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you see the jobs coming from in the cape over the next couple of decades. Do you see mining as being pretty important?
Mr Woosup —I believe so. Mining is one of the ample opportunities for us, and also the likes of ecotourism and looking after country, whether it is doing a joint venture with the national park or the Queensland government. There is a lot you can do on country. It is not just to show tourists the trees. You should be showing them our traditional culture and the stories and stuff like that. There are a lot of opportunities that a lot of our people can achieve in these areas.
Dr LEIGH —Do you get different views about the cape from traditional owners who live in the cape than from others who live in Cairns?
Mr Woosup —I live in Cairns myself. My family lives in Cape York. But, to come up and to go on country, it is going to affect me, because you cannot build anything. A lot of our people in the community do not know about the act; they do not know about the legislation. It is just that I have the opportunity because I live in Cairns. I have access to the internet. I have access to government departments. So it is about me going down and getting my knowledge and expertise around that and sharing it with my mob. That is how people learn. Again, we need to sit across the table and look at ways that will achieve both sides. I am there to look after my country. Like I said, we can do it in partnership. It is not one or the other. That is what I believe. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thanks for that, Larry. That is great. As some new people have come here: this is an open microphone. We are after your views about Indigenous economic development in Queensland and wild rivers generally. We have had a couple who have contributed so far, but we are really after you to tell us your views, so I invite someone else to speak.
Mr Donald —I have been a tour operator on the cape for over 20 years, 15 years here in Weipa. Lately, I have been trying to get up a project to try and establish some Indigenous businesses around charter fishing and recreational fishing on the cape. I have not been quite successful yet. What I would like to say is that recently there was a tourism workshop held in Coen for the cape. The No. 1 problem that we see on the cape for future tourism is tenure. Tenure issues on the cape are absolutely massive. We are faced with a multilayered tenure system that involves Commonwealth, state and quite a different number of pieces of legislation. Now wild rivers is going to put another layer on this.
That complex layer and that complex system basically means that Indigenous people, for instance, do not really have any meaningful tenure. They go to a bank and say, ‘I own this. I want a loan. I’m going to do this.’ Their land is worth nothing to a bank. Wild rivers is just going to add to the great confused state that we have on the cape. It is going to stifle future business, mainly for Indigenous people but also for the people who have been here for many years and have businesses here, like me.
The cape is so far away from everyone. People drop in for a couple of hours or a couple of days and then go back to the wilds of Brisbane and Canberra. They have absolutely no comprehension of what it is like to live here and to run a business here. We do not just go down to the corner store and buy things. We have to source stuff from Cairns, which is 850 kilometres away—things like that. We have transport difficulties. The roads close for four months of the year and we cannot get things even. We are looking at a totally different situation and almost a totally different country to what normal society operates under. They seem to have picked out the cape: ‘We’ll just chuck all the bits and pieces up to that end and let them wallow in it.’ It is not a good situation. It has to be clarified.
I am not saying that I agree with it or not. I have some agreement in that it will protect the area and keep it fairly pristine. That is good when we are running businesses, provided we are allowed to run businesses to a small extent, where we are not impacting too much on the environment. It is good if it allows that, but if it starts shutting everything down—when you build a house and want to get some water out of the river, you cannot even pull water out of the river, and that is totally unrealistic.
The problem is not just wild rivers, as far as I am concerned. It is the whole mess that we are faced with on the cape, particularly the Indigenous people because they cannot do anything. They are hamstrung. If they do get someone who wants to be a bit entrepreneurial, they cannot go ahead because they do not have ownership. They do not have ownership of anything. Sure, they have DOGITs, deeds of grant in trust—this, that and something else—but, as I said before, when it comes down to the bottom line, you go to the bank with a DOGIT and they will say, ‘See you later.’ This is a huge problem. Wild rivers just adds another layer to that.
CHAIR —Was that a tourism conference that you attended locally that identified tenure as the No. 1 issue?
Mr Donald —Yes. It was the first in a series of tourism conferences that the Cape York Sustainable Futures are holding. That was the first one, in Coen. I was not actually there, but I read the minutes yesterday and I spoke to some people who attended, and that was the major issue.
CHAIR —We heard from Cape York Sustainable Futures yesterday in Cairns. I certainly do not want to put words in your mouth, but was wild rivers the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak? You are saying that red tape is generally the issue or is it specifically that?
Mr Donald —I do not think it is the straw that broke the camel’s back; I think the camel’s back was broken well and truly before wild rivers. It adds another layer and another restriction. That is something we do not really need.
CHAIR —What should the federal government do? Should we be trying to make laws easier and more certain in terms of tenure?
Mr Donald —Both previous speakers said that we need people to talk to us. We are not getting people talking to us enough. They do not understand what is going on up here. They just chucked 300 people into Scherger air base. That has had a huge impact on the town. Every room in town is booked out.
CHAIR —We know.
Mr Donald —Yes, as you found out. We have tourist people here who want to put all their clients into hotels next year. We cannot even get a guarantee that there are going to be rooms for our clients because you have taken them all. By putting all these people in, the government have taken all the rooms. We have tour buses that come up here and they are in the same boat. They do not know whether they have rooms next year. All the tours are prebooked. Doing that without properly thinking about how it is going to affect a small place like Weipa, which has only very limited accommodation, throws a great spanner in the works. Things have to be thought through a bit better by governments; the impacts on a small place like this have to be thought of.
Ms OWENS —Thank you for that. I have been trying to get to that because there is so much emotion around wild rivers, and sometimes when we dig what we find is that the problem was there before, because wild rivers is actually quite new. If wild rivers was now removed as an extra layer, what else do you need? Where would you be then? My sense is that there is a hell of a lot more going on here other than wild rivers.
Mr Donald —As I say, wild rivers is just another layer. We really have to go underneath that and look at what prevailed before and try to sort that mess out before we put wild rivers on the top.
Ms OWENS —So talk about that mess for me.
Mr Donald —The mess is the tenure. As I say, we have these multilayered tenures. We have Commonwealth involvement and we have state involvement. The Indigenous communities are hamstrung and have been for many, many years. On one hand, the government is saying, ‘We need enterprise in Indigenous communities,’ but they cannot because there is nowhere to build a fishing lodge or whatever. They have no tenure to stick something on. Dick can probably talk about this a lot better than I can, because he is involved in the Mapoon turtle conservation camp, and that has virtually shut down because of tenure issues. This is a tourism venture that was actually operating but fell in a heap because of tenure issues.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —I am interested in exploring the issue of tenure. It is your opportunity to tell me that I am just a dumb white person from down south but nobody has unlimited tenure on any form of land holding in this country, so maybe you could explain to me a bit more about that. Also, in simple terms, what are two or three things that could really make a difference that governments, or even non-government organisations, could do which would assist you and people like you in getting the sorts of businesses up and running that you started out talking about?
Mr Donald —That is a pretty complex question.
Mrs West —On the issue of tenure when it comes to Indigenous folks, they have just got the docket, they have got native title and that is pretty much it. They have got Indigenous land use agreements, which do not give them a lot of stuff to do anyway.
The problem that traditional owners have is that they cannot do anything with it. They cannot sell it; they cannot go to the bank as they have said. If they had the opportunity to get it handed back as a freehold block and then sell it or do what they will with it, I think that is a better opportunity for these fellas. It is like me buying my own house. That is my opportunity to benefit my family and me.
CHAIR —Dave, is that what you meant as well.
Mr Donald —Yes, but within reason.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —I absolutely am not trying to put words in your mouth, so if I have it wrong please tell me. When you are talking about tenure is the issue the capacity to convert native title and the rights associated with that to some form of freehold?
Mr Donald —Some of it, yes. Indigenous people have a different view of the land from us, so it is hard to say to them, ‘Freehold land is going to be the answer,’ because it basically passes the land to somebody whereas before everyone owned it, if you get what I mean. I think you have to take that into consideration because they have a different view of ownership of the land than we do.
Ms OWENS —In terms of economic development?
Mr Donald —I think it has to be very carefully done but in terms of economic development it is something that has to be addressed. That is what I am saying.
Dr LEIGH —To follow up on Stephen’s question, are there ways you could expand your business to employ more Indigenous or non-Indigenous people? I was really interested in the aspect that Stephen was asking about to improve economic development in this part of the world.
Mr Donald —There would be. This project that I have been trying to get off the ground would be looking at that style of thing.
Dr LEIGH —How would that work?
Mr Donald —We have people interested around the place. I have been talking to a couple of Aboriginal communities on the cape. This is out there but a lot of the projects that have been put up for Indigenous communities have been looked at in the very short term. I think that has been a huge problem too. Everything has been short term rather than long term because people are just trying to say, ‘We’ve just created so many jobs this year,’ so they can tick a box.
CHAIR —Is the issue that you are raising with freehold—and I know you have been very careful to explain that there are different views and feelings about freehold—about how to raise capital for ventures?
Mr Donald —Yes.
CHAIR —It is giving you access to capital so that business ventures get to go ahead.
Mr Donald —Giving the Indigenous communities access to capital so that they can, say, build a lodge or some sort of facility.
CHAIR —It is probably not the only way. If there were other sources of collateral or investment they could be things to look at as well.
Mr Donald —Yes. But certainly as I said that conference identified that tenure was the biggest.
Dr LEIGH —That would of course mean that if the loans were not repaid that the bank would then take the land and the land would then go from being native title to freehold owned by an Indigenous person to freehold owned by a bank.
Mr Donald —Yes, that would be a problem that we would have to look at.
Dr LEIGH —That is why the bank wants collateral in order that if the loan is not repaid they have something that they can access.
Mr Donald —That is something that would have to be considered.
Ms O’DWYER —Can I just take it back a step to wild rivers? You were talking about there being multiple layers. Obviously, wild rivers has been brought in. Would you say that one of the recommendations that you would make is to get rid of one of those layers—that is, the wild rivers legislation—as part of the way of tackling this issue?
Mr Donald —I would see that probably by not bringing it in and then trying to work on the underlying problem and maybe reconsidering it. On one hand I can see the value in wild rivers in protecting the river environment. I am totally in agreeance with that, but (a) it has to be done in consultation with the traditional owners and (b) it has to not just be a carte blanche thing to shut the whole place down. As I understand it, existing businesses and whatever that run along the river are to be allowed to continue. We have to have a process, if wild rivers are brought in, whereby if somebody wants to start something that has a minor impact or no impact at all on the environment we are able to streamline things and not hold anything up for years and years because of all the paperwork and all the permits. There has to be some process that would streamline any small things that were happening, like traditional owner people trying to build something or a fishing business wanting to operate or an ecobusiness wanting to operate. We would have to have something that would facilitate that very quickly or give an answer very quickly, instead of people having to go through months or years of stuffing around.
Ms O’DWYER —You also highlighted the importance of conservation. I think everybody agrees that conserving and protecting our environment is an important thing. But in your view is there a particular argument as to why there is a need to bring in wild rivers legislation? As somebody who has worked in the area of Weipa for 15 years and run a business here, do you think there are particular risks at the moment associated with conservation up here in this local area?
Mr Donald —That is a hard one. From my own point of view, I think we are facing at the moment a green movement that have lost sight of the grassroots stuff. They are so intent on closing and shouting things down and closing huge areas off. They have lost sight of the everyday sort of stuff that is going on. I regard myself as a conservationist but there is no way in the world that I could agree with what the green people are trying to do at the moment. I think it is more of a regional type of thing. When these sorts of things happen it has got to be a regional thing. The people that live here are the people that know the place. We are being dictated to by green people from the cities who have got no comprehension of what is happening in the countryside. This is a huge problem. I see this as a huge problem and it is ruining things.
When we had the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park come along we had businesses ruined overnight. We had people committing suicide and we had marriages busting up—and no-one seemed to worry about that—because all the areas were suddenly shut down overnight. We have the same thing looming here in the gulf. We are going to get supposedly marine protection over huge areas of ocean that nobody ever goes to or a few of us go along the edges. They might even shut our area here down. To me I cannot comprehend why people need to shut down such huge areas when there are so many other things that they could be doing. It is a bit like that with wild rivers. On one hand, I agree with the environmental side of it, of trying to keep a river pristine and of trying to keep down major industries like huge agricultural things and mining right on the riverbank but, on the other hand, I can see that we need to be able to set up small things that probably enhance the whole thing. It is the same with national parks. We need within national parks to have businesses that encourage people to enjoy what we have got there and enhance it, not just shut everybody out and lock the gate.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —I want to tap into some of the knowledge that you have built up over your 15 years in operating a tourism related business here in Weipa. What are the limitations on that business, the one that you run at the moment, expanding?
Mr Donald —On the fishing side of things the limitation is the fishery, which is another whole question. The fishery here is in huge decline at the moment because of the commercial fishing pressure upfront, but we will not go into that.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —Our inquiry is supposed to look at how we expand economic opportunities and employment opportunities up here. I do not often get the opportunity to talk to somebody who has that experience, so I am interested.
Mr Donald —The potential for tourism here is expanding every year, and I am talking about general tourism. I think the numbers on the cape are up by something like 50 per cent. The caravan park that I was living in in the middle of the year had to turn people away. The accommodation could not handle the number of people that were coming. The global financial crisis has had no effect on the tourism industry. On the four-wheel-drive vehicle side of things, my friend in the four-wheel-drive business tells me business is booming. The fishing guides in the town and the houseboat people are all flat out with clients. It has not affected us. As I have said, the thing that is going to limit the fishing is the marked decline that we have had in the fishery here.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —You have mentioned two things and one on which I would like to get more information from you is accommodation, which you have mentioned a couple of times in different contexts. Is there anything more that you could tell us about the limitations that accommodation has on expanding the economic opportunities? I would like to hear a bit more about the fisheries stuff too.
Mr Donald —Now?
Mr STEPHEN JONES —Yes.
Mr Donald —The accommodation in town here is restricted because the town is owned by Rio Tinto and they dole out any land for development. Because Rio Tinto are basically a mining company and are interested in digging stuff out of the ground and are not tourism focused, they have not really given much thought to tourism expansion. The attitude of Rio Tinto affects the town because we are not getting any more development but on the whole cape that is happening too, that the increase in tourism is showing big holes in accommodation. The other problem is that we have a wet and a dry, so our tourism season goes from, say, May till October and then during the rest of the other months usually there is not much happening. So you have that problem that your accommodation is half empty or three-quarters empty for the rest of the year, so the seasonality problem is a huge thing too that affects your viability That gives you a small idea of that side of things.
Dr LEIGH —I have a quick one. The Queensland government tell us that they have not knocked back any Indigenous development applications in the wild rivers area and that they have approved over 100 development applications. Do you have any comments on that?
Mr Donald —I do not. I am not familiar with that side of things.
CHAIR —Dave, thank you for that. That was a very good contribution. I now invite another of our witnesses to make a comment.
Miss Ludwick —I am an Angkamuthi traditional owner, the same as Larry Woosup. I have also been working voluntarily against the wild rivers legislation, so in opposition to it, in a campaign for the last two years. I have been listening to what everybody has been saying. There are a whole lot of things that put up barriers in Cape York when it comes to economic opportunities. One of the biggest ones that I see is the wild rivers legislation, and not only that but there is the mistrust of government.
I will take you back very quickly to 1974. The husband of this lady here was John Koowarta. You will remember the John Koowarta-Joh Bjelke-Petersen case, where Mr Koowarta went to purchase the land which is now known as Archer River Bend. Overnight Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the Queensland government turned it into a national park. Historically, there is mistrust of government from the Cape York people. Even though my area is up near Vrilya Point, my grandfather is from down near Wujal Wujal. I work for, I hope, the good of the Aboriginal people in Cape York.
Let me suggest that one of the sorest points with the wild rivers legislation in the Cape York area is that there was no consent of traditional owners. Mr Woosup and I sat in a Senate inquiry earlier this year and we listened to some of the Wilderness Society members around the government’s consultation with Cape York people. Every person that we speak to—and I am hoping that some of them will come in today—has been talked to, all right, and it is through that bureaucratic process of consultation where people are talked to but consent is never given. It is a breach of our rights as the first nation people of Australia not to have our consent given.
I hear other members here speak about the plethora of land management laws which are across Cape York. That is true. You have land clearance laws. Now all we have is another piece, another layer, of legislation, and it is across an area where people have intractable poverty. If you remember, some parties are trying to implement welfare reform across the cape. How is this to be successful if, with the other hand, the government is taking the land off us? By that, I suggest that it is not only 500 metres either side as a high-preservation zone. It is a kilometre, and outside of that kilometre is a low-preservation zone. Yes, this may mean something for Rio Tinto or any other mining company to jump through, but for people who live in intractable poverty here in the cape it is absolutely catastrophic. There is welfare dependency. You see it every day in the paper. I saw an article on the lost generation. We had the Napranum community down the road, the third poorest community in Australia, sitting on the steps of a global mining company.
The Koowarta and Joh Bjelke-Petersen argument played out in 1974, and he turned that land into national park. I am a person who looks into the future. I see wild rivers as a stepping stone for World Heritage. I received an email about two months ago looking for a person to come up here to ask traditional owners which parcels of land they would like wrapped up in World Heritage—second step. Third step, once there is World Heritage right across Cape York, they are going to come here and take our traditional hunting and our traditional gathering. Lyndon Schneider, the man who sits on the Wilderness Society, is the man colouring in all the rivers. In the 2004 Peter Beattie landslide, when he got into government, he gave the Cape York area to the green people. Where the preferential votes sit, down in the south in his corner of Queensland, the people gave their votes to Peter Beattie in order that he gift them this area, Cape York.
When you talk about land tenure, land tenure is about the relationship that the people have to the land, whether it is legal or whether it is customary. The native title that exists in Australia today is under the legal act, but it only gives us the rights of custodians. We cannot go into the marketplace or to the bank and get a guarantee, because it is still not our land. We are the custodians, and have been for the last 40,000 years or more, and we are the people who look after the waters up here. Why do we need wild rivers legislation? It is just another land management law across an area that we have kept pristine. Take the Lockhart River people now—and I think we had a few of them down there yesterday at the inquiry—with their biodiesel palms—
CHAIR —They are on Thursday as well.
Miss Ludwick —They have a really lucrative business that could see them escape welfare dependency, but these wild river laws stop us from going into that high-preservation zone. If it does not stop us, let me say that it stifles us. It stifles us because of the different hoops that we have to jump through that only big corporate companies like Rio Tinto or other people from down in Brisbane can jump through, because they are the ones with the money.
Economic opportunity here in the cape is going backwards for the Aboriginal people of Cape York, and we are the majority. It is funny, but this law was supposed to apply to the whole of Queensland when Peter Beattie got back in in 2004. The first target was the Gulf of Carpentaria and here at Cape York where the majority of the Indigenous population is. Tell me why that is.
It is a pity that you guys are not going over to Aurukun, because you would see the great work that welfare reform over there is doing. But there is only so much that that can do, because resources are being taken by the government from the people. They say that it does not impact on native title; I say that consent that is not given by the people in that way impacts on people’s rights to their native title. I know a few businesses have been started by Indigenous people and they can support wild rivers. I will never support wild rivers across here and I am sure that 80 per cent of people in Cape York, since I have been working on the campaign trail, do not support it. A lot of them are elders.
It was the consultation and the consultation process. We had a woman come up here from DNR, the Department of Environment and Heritage, and she stood in front of 11 traditional owner groups from right across the western cape and said that consultation had been done. Let me tell you that not one of those people was consulted, and they were the representatives of 11 traditional owner groups across the western cape. They may have come here. They may have talked to the people, but they did not ask the people what they wanted. They just came in here. Those people are sitting in their ivory towers down there in the south-east corner of Queensland, the new colonial environmentalists of Cape York—that is who they are. They are the people making decisions across my land, my aunties’ land and my brothers’ land, and we do not have a say in it.
CHAIR —Thank you, Tracey. We have obviously got some questions in relation to that. The notion of consent is clearly bound up with the views on consultation. I think that you are saying that if there is not the ability to consent then consultation is about telling people rather than having meaningful consultation—
Miss Ludwick —That is correct.
CHAIR —I think you were very articulate and very clear as to your views on the wild rivers legislation. I want to get a little bit beyond that though, if we can as well. I understand that point, and you have made that well. What other things can we be looking at in terms of economic development? Is it concentrating on this stifling, or is it legislation generally that has been there before wild rivers, which has only been there for two years? Are they the sorts of things that we should be looking at as well? We heard from Dave, of course, who was talking about some of the multiple effects of legislation there. What are your views of the things other than wild rivers—and we understand very clearly your position on wild rivers? What else should we be looking at?
Miss Ludwick —It is about allowing Aboriginal people in Cape York to make decisions on any of their land management laws and their river management laws. If we want to put a ranger system out on Vrilya Point, where Larry and I come from and our grandparents come from, even if the government gives us the funding we want to be able to make those decisions regarding how we want our land to be either looked after or developed. We want input into that. We do not want a whole lot of bureaucratic guidelines coming down to us and saying, ‘This is the funding. We are going to send three consultants up there and we are going to pay them a quarter of the money that we are giving you anyway.’ We want to be able to make those laws. We do not need people with degrees in these communities to tell us how to look after our river systems.
Over in Aurukun, for example—and I am sorry I am speaking on other people’s land—there are at least 400 providers who go through that community, yet that community is still in the same position: there are no jobs. For the jobs that do become available, such as ranger jobs, they always have to bring in an academic person to tell these people how to look after their land. They need to stop doing that.
CHAIR —So, in some ways, it is about the approach. The approach should be about coming to the traditional owners first rather than passing a law in Brisbane and then coming here to discuss it afterwards. You are saying it is the wrong way round.
Miss Ludwick —Yes. The approach should be from the grassroots up, not from the top down. They can make all the laws they like down there, but it does not mean anything to the people up here in the cape—not on my country and not on anyone else’s country.
Ms OWENS —You said the communities need to be able to make decisions for themselves about what to do and where to go. Were you able to do that two years ago, before wild rivers declarations?
Miss Ludwick —As you know, the community councils have all been either amalgamated or turned into shires. When self-determination first came in, the communities had a council—we had ATSIC—and we were allowed to make decisions concerning our communities. When it comes to land, I do not think it is appropriate for people to make a decision as a community, because we have traditional owner groups who are not people of the same clan. If you go to somewhere like Hope Vale, there are 13 different clans down there. In a community council you cannot make decisions on other people’s land. That would be disrespectful to those people. That is the customary Aboriginal way of doing things. We have a different perspective on land. To us, land does not just mean money and the economy; it means a whole lot of other things.
Ms OWENS —I am asking whether wild rivers removed an ability to do something that you are already doing, or just made the dream of doing it more difficult.
Miss Ludwick —It definitely made the dream of doing anything in the future difficult, because it now requires more money. We live a very simple life in the cape. We do not pollute the air—some of us do not even own a car to pollute the air—and we definitely do not own factories. My brother wants to do a market garden—something very simple that will cost him maybe $500. With wild rivers across it now, he might have to put in more piping and he will probably have to get an environmental impact study done on the land. It will cost him $10,000 to do that. It is okay if you have got a lot of funding behind you, but if you are just a normal family that wants to pull in a little bit of income apart from welfare, it cannot be done. Well, it can be done if you go and get some more money from somewhere else—but, once you say you are from the cape, you would be flat out even getting into a nightclub in Cairns!
Ms OWENS —If we had come a few years ago, before wild rivers, would we still be having the same conversation about local people needing to be able to design their own futures and build their communities?
Miss Ludwick —I have heard you ask the same question multiple times across the speakers. I am just trying to think of an answer for you.
Ms OWENS —I get the impression that removing wild rivers would remove a layer. But my sense is that there was a whole stack more going on before wild rivers.
Miss Ludwick —I heard someone say that wild rivers is recent, but we have had it since 2004. I do not know if you would call that recent. People in the cape, as I know it, have started to become a bit more proactive in going out and getting a business together, trying to get a market garden together and wanting to go back to their country and outstations. There seems to be a new mindset within the community of wanting to do things. Previously they were happy to sit in their communities and be part of the community that they were herded into. Now people are becoming more educated. That is not to say that our elders were not educated. Our elders were educated more than the young people today, but the young people are becoming more educated in the Western way. They understand things like accounting, which you need to run a business. They are becoming a bit more passionate about starting. They understand that, while we are here in the cape, we live in poverty because, like one man said yesterday, they put a barbed wire fence across Cape York and leave us up here until they want something. This is the view of people from Queensland. Now people are deciding: how are we going to get out of this poverty? How are we going to get out of the welfare system? We cannot sit up here and do that, but we love our hunting, our fishing and going back to our country. The old people will die without it. Not only that, but I spoke to someone from Aurukun who said, ‘You know what, sister—we’re lucky we have fishing and hunting over in Aurukun or else we would die in poverty, because we have no money and no jobs.’ That is why people are looking for opportunities now to enrich their lives, because there is no money.
Mr Woosup —In answer to your question, I have to reflect on what brother was saying there. Before wild rivers, there was the other layer of land tenure. That is true, because we have the Injinoo Land Trust up there that was created under the Aboriginal Land Act in 1991. We have existed for the last 20 or 30 years. The backfall of that is that there was no funding from the Queensland government or the Commonwealth to look after country or care for country, like turtle monitoring or ghost net monitoring on the coastal area. These are the problems with land tenure. If you look at the Aboriginal Land Act, there is a system of a 99-year lease. I can sublease my area to brother Cecil or he can sublease it, but it is in regard to ownership. With freehold, there is a lot of legislation, but I cannot go to the bank and say, ‘Mr A or B, I have land here. Can you source me some funds so I can get something going?’—even if that is in partnership with a non-Indigenous person. These are the problems with land tenure as far as wild rivers is concerned.
That goes back to what you are trying to say. There has been a problem in the past and it still is a problem today. Wild rivers is just another layer of land legislation that can affect us. The problem lies with the land tenure itself. Freehold is a problem. My countrymen cannot even own our land in our country. We cannot even own land in the community. For us to own a little block with a Queensland government house, we have to do lease agreement arrangement for a 99-year lease. At the end of the day, that house still belongs to the Queensland government. There are lots of problems with the land tenure issue across the board in the state of Queensland—for Aboriginal land tenure issues. I think there should be a Senate inquiry—something down there in Canberra, with the likes of you guys interstate—to look at more flexibility for Aboriginal land tenure in the state of Queensland. We are talking about ownership. If somebody in Melbourne or Sydney can own a freehold house, we should be allowed to do that.
Ms OWENS —You said something earlier about the red tape favouring big companies. I would like to give you the opportunity to say it again in perhaps a more detailed way for the record. I know the intention of wild rivers is, if anything, to assist in the maintenance of this wonderful asset for future generations, but you seem to be saying that, essentially, the legislation makes the bigger companies that do not come from the area more powerful than local people to exploit the resources that you have—that it shifts the power base.
Miss Ludwick —Like I said before, with the wild rivers legislation first they said there were going to be 13 declarations of major rivers. This is not 13 declarations of rivers; it is almost 70 rivers, all of the tributaries and the whole basins that they are going to lay this legislation across. By the time they have finished, there will be enough space for a cockroach to crawl through. One kilometre each side of the rivers—no more 500 metres—is the high-preservation area. That is the area where you are not allowed to develop at all. One kilometre outside of that is the low-preservation area, but it is also restricted.
If I were to decide that on the side of one of these rivers I want to put a vegetable garden or a passionfruit farm, like one of my friends in Hope Vale wanted to, for me to get the pipe into the water would cost very little. With the wild rivers legislation on top of it you have so many different types of codes that you need to jump through to be able to put the pipe through the ground—environmental impact, land clearance law and all these different things. It makes it pretty hard for a family that lives on $240 a week of CDEP welfare in a community. Whereas the big corporate companies that want to put a big orchard there will do it no worries because there is nothing to stifle their progression. That is what I mean about money.
The reality of Cape York is that at least 90 per cent of people are on CDEP—that is $240 a week; I got that out of the CDEP manager over at Aurukun. By the time they have paid their mainstream housing commission rents in these communities that they are now under obligation to do, some of them are left with $100. That is the way they exist.
Ms O’DWYER —I found your testimony to be very passionate and incredibly articulate. On that final point regarding the impact that the wild rivers legislation will have on communities, I think you highlighted it quite well when you said it was going to impede the people who want to get up their own small business initiatives. Can you outline for us some of the economic developments that you understand people would like to progress in this part of the world? What sorts of things we are talking about? Is it aquaculture or what—you tell me? What sorts of small business operations are we talking about when we talk about the businesses that will be impeded by this wild rivers legislation?
Miss Ludwick —I keep going back to the market garden because for a lot of people that is all they want to do. They want to grow their own fruits and vegetables not so that they make millions of dollars a year but just so they have enough to help them and their families along to get the basic things. Australia is one of the richest nations yet Aboriginal people in Cape York and probably all around Australia still live in Third World conditions. All they want to do is get the basic things like food and clothes. We all share in the community. We do not need big business.
Some people have said to me: ‘We want to build a few cabins along the side of the river. What does this mean for us?’ You cannot put them in the high-preservation zone. You have a whole lot of hoops to jump through over here in the low-preservation zone. By the time you get out of the low-preservation zone you might bump into a national park because in the 1996 heads of agreement between the Wilderness Society, the government and the Aboriginal people of Cape York was the biggest donation of land from a single group of people. They gave 25 per cent of Cape York to the Queensland people.
Now all they want to do is build things like ecocabins, things that are sustainable, things that do not impact on our waters. Somebody said a small fishing venture. I imagine some of the people out at Mapoon might be setting their crab pots up somewhere further up the river since the Wenlock declaration. There are a whole different range of agriculture, animal husbandry and ecosustainable projects that people would like to do in a very small way, but they are just going to find it harder now because they do not have the capital. They cannot walk into a bank and say, ‘Here, I’ll mortgage my house.’ What house? We do not own homes up here—maybe a few people do, but we do not own homes. I cannot mortgage my car; it is still on a lease.
So in all these things they have to take into consideration that, yes, we do have aspirations to put our businesses or our small enterprises on community, but how are we going to do that? No. 1, we do not have the capital to do it. We have to keep on fighting the government land management laws. And we are not even a part of the consultation process; we are just told what we have to accept.
Ms O’DWYER —Even in circumstances where certain small businesses would be able to be developed under wild rivers legislation, what I am hearing from you—and correct me if I am wrong—is that a lot of people will be dissuaded from trying to progress it because they do not have the money to go through all of those hoops and hurdles.
Miss Ludwick —They will not personally have the money. They can go for funding. We have quite a few trusts around that people can get funding out of. With a lot of those trusts that are set up by the mining companies, we cannot get money out of them for businesses anyway because they are charitable trusts, so we still have to go to the bank or to the government and put in applications there to get money for small projects. And then we have to get these consultants into the cape to administer the money. We have to get corporations involved to house the money. There are all these hidden expenses. You might see in the newspaper that Aboriginal people from, let us say, Hope Vale—I will not speak on anyone else’s land—get $3.1 million; in fact, the people from Hope Vale only got $800,000. The rest went to consultants and to housing the money. It went to all this and that. Wild rivers has just added to the difficulties of the Indigenous people of Cape York in trying to find some sort of opportunity to get out of poverty.
Dr LEIGH —In terms of the sorts of activities you have talked about, the market gardens and the ecocabins and the fishing ventures and crab pots, my understanding is that the intent of the legislation is that a lot of that would continue and that in practice none of these projects have been blocked in the case of a traditional owner putting forward an application for a venture of that kind.
Miss Ludwick —Anyone can put in an application for a business. How successful you are in getting the money—that is what I was talking about in the earlier part. You might put in for $380,000 but actually, as an Indigenous person, most of these places will not give you funding unless you have collateral. Most of us do not own a house or a car. They will not give it to you as an Aboriginal corporation unless you can house and administer the money properly.
Dr LEIGH —I take your point on the funding. I guess I was just thinking in terms of applications for development under wild rivers. So far Indigenous development applications have a 100 per cent success rate for those that have gone forward.
Miss Ludwick —Yes, that is only if you are supporting wild rivers. Like I said before, the sorest point with me is the consent, and it is the realisation that Aboriginal people do have a voice in the cape. If you support wild rivers, you will most probably get government funding, and they probably will not block many of the things that you have to do. If you are in opposition to wild rivers, you are not getting wild rivers funding—because I believe they have a lot of funding that goes out to people, to groups.
Let me take the guy from Archer River as an example. He is not here in the audience. Can he expand his business? He is not Indigenous, but this is just an example. There is nothing stopping him—there is nothing stopping us—from developing business or having business opportunity; it is the dollars that will stop us in the end because we just do not have that sort of money unless we go and get funding.
Do you know how hard it is to fill out a funding submission from one of these government departments? I have done university exams that are easier than filling out a funding guideline. Go to the ICC or somewhere like that. For their funding submissions, you have to have two degrees to be able to fill out one of those. That is what stops people: you go and you see this five-, 10- or 15-page submission guideline.
Okay, just say I want to put a business beside the Jardine River. I have to first fill out this 15-page submission. On top of that, it will ask me, ‘What do you own?’ Well, I own nothing. I lease a car and I pay rent on a unit, so I cannot put anything in there. On top of that, wild rivers now makes it harder or more costly. If I want to put a pipe there, I now have to pay $10,000 instead of $2,000. Are you getting what I am saying? It is the proximity to the waters and it is the amount of resources that are needed now to get from the low-preservation zone into the river.
Ms O’DWYER —Can I just clarify something. What you are getting at, if I understand you correctly, is that quite a number of the applications that have gone in might have been successful, but the point you are making with respect to the funding is that there are a lot of people who will not put in an application because they are too dissuaded from doing that by the enormous paperwork. Is that correct?
Miss Ludwick —Yes.
CHAIR —Thanks, Tracey, for that contribution. I know today is a work day, so if anyone wants to make a contribution now they can do so; otherwise we are going to have a short suspension. Is there anyone who needs to make one right now? Okay.
Proceedings suspended from 1.03 pm to 1.27 pm
CHAIR —Thank you, everybody, for coming back. We will go up and down the table to allow you to complete your questions before we move on to the next person.
Mr Blanco —My name is Sylvester Blanco. I am a trustee for the Mapoon area, the Mapoon DOGIT. Mapoon was closed in 1963; the people were shifted out of the community. There were a few attempts to get back to Mapoon. I am using Mapoon as an example with regard to land for the people of Cape York. My wife was born there, and we are heavily involved. At the time I was working for Comalco, the name for the mining company in the early days. That was around 1974. I retired only 10 years ago but, in the meantime, we fought for the land there that Comalco surrendered. It was land that they did not want. It was under the mining lease. We then talked to the government and the government said, ‘We could just about give you some of the land back that Comalco doesn’t want,’ so we got back a fair bit of broken land from Mapoon, which is now a little community. To cut a long story short, at least we have a DOGIT now and I am one of the trustees. In the early days there was a lot of mining—the Kolan, Logan and Staaten rivers—and there has been an attempt by other small mining companies to start bauxite mining in Mapoon, alongside the big giant, which is now Rio Tinto.
My problem with government has always been with the obstacles put in front of people, especially Indigenous people in the Far North. It is not only me saying that. If you look at all the Indigenous people in this room, you will find that we all think on the same wavelength. We all treasure the land. My tribal land is up in the Cape York area, from Escape River on the east coast to Captain Billy Landing. We do not occupy that land anymore because it is nearly all national park. The Aboriginal people 40,000 years ago did not need homes. They did not need anything to live here. They travelled around Australia, the whole of Australia, for 40,000 years and they used the land as a place for hunting and living. They never had any structures that were permanent. In the modern days now you have towns and cities. Going back to the old days, there were just a few mission stations on the Gulf of Carpentaria. There was Weipa, Mapoon, Aurukun, Pormpuraaw, all the way down the west coast. The missions were set up there by church groups and the government. Aboriginal people lived off the land. They did not have to go to any shops or anything. They were not employed. Their employment was learning the skills to hunt.
These days it is frustrating for people like me to see that you have to have a job to survive. Everyone does. In the cape there are not only Indigenous people; there are Europeans too who have occupied the land here. Everyone finds Cape York Peninsula to be a very, very important place for them. They have to work and live here now to survive. With government coming in, with their legislation and rules about this, you have heard it all before—fisheries or whatever. Every time bureaucrats come into the communities to consult, all they want to do is just talk to you and walk away. It does not matter what you say. Whatever you think you are going to get sorted out with them, the end result is that they are going to do it anyway.
Wild rivers is another thing that has just come up. We have been consulting with a mining group that has already given up hope because of the wild rivers situation. Mapoon people need employment and they have not been getting it. Yet 80 kilometres south of Mapoon is a multimillion dollar mining company that I have worked for for 35 years. That mining company started here in the early days when the people had no say and the mining company just came in and did what they did. It has all changed now, but Rio Tinto—they are the big guns—get all the wealth out of the country. Most of the Indigenous people here still do not get the benefits of the land.
You can talk about native title rights and whatever—DOGITS. People think that they own the land but it is just the same. If I wanted to build something up the river I could not do that. I could not go up in my tinnie and build a bit of a wharf there and do what I want to do because now this wild rivers legislation is stopping me. Yet along the Gold Coast you see man-made areas where the houses are built and everyone has a walkway, a jetty and a boat there. They can do it, yet we cannot have a little 10-foot tinnie to go up there on a tiny, little riverbank and put our little humpies there. We cannot do that because the wild rivers legislation says you cannot do it.
There is one mining company operating here now but that operated before wild rivers started. People have to live here but their livelihood is taken away. They cannot hunt any more because mostly all the land that they own—my grandmother’s land now is all national park—they cannot do anything there; it is a no-no. My question to the panel is: who invented wild rivers? As the lady said earlier it started off when they consulted with us. They said, ‘We’ll go back and do something about it.’ It was a mile corridor each side of the river. That was the high-preservation area. I will repeat it again. Then of course the low-preservation areas are the tributaries that run into those little creeks. Then the little gullies that eventuate in the catchment area go for miles. They might take a whole basin. Of course all you have now is just the hills, the Great Dividing Range, in between the east coast and the west coast. All the high-preservation and low-preservation areas, all the flow ins and the basin is all taken up now by wild rivers. What have the people got left?
There is no chance of any economic development whatsoever. We negotiated with the mining company just recently. They have given up. They have walked away from it because of the wild rivers’ situation. I started the community at Mapoon in 1984. I got the deed of grant in trust, 183,962.8 hectares to be precise. That was the deed of grant and it was only land that was given back to the people because it was not feasible to mine. Yet these little mining companies are coming in now and saying, ‘Look, we can still mine that because of the other markets in China and other places.’ We are saying, ‘Yes, we’ll negotiate with you people,’ so that we can then have some sort of a livelihood in Mapoon. There are only 200 or 300 people there and they are the ones that are surviving off CDEP. There is no employment up there, so we are dependent on that. Some of the lucky ones have actually been employed by Rio Tinto. They are working for Rio Tinto and yet they want to go out and live in Mapoon. That is the situation there.
There is only a little part, 34,000 hectares, of land in Mapoon that the people have occupied now and they cannot even get an industry there. Fifty, 60, 100 years from now when mining is finished all we will have is the people that were there before mining started. The people will still be there after mining has gone because they care for the land. I want to see some industry in there because of the livelihood of the people; they need to live. You cannot live on CDEP which is two days. That is equivalent to the dole. You cannot live on that. You need something more substantial. In the old days people used to go out and hunt. They did not need jobs. Now they are forced into that. They have to get a job to survive, to live, just like anyone else.
I am a little bit frustrated about the wild rivers. Every time the government comes up with something, it is always an obstacle. It is put in there in front of the people. You address it and you think you have got it beat then, all of a sudden, something else comes up and they put another obstacle in front of you. It has always been like that. It is like trying to play catch-up all the time.
This wild rivers thing is very frustrating for me. I would just like to see how it started—just like anything else. Regulations, rules—we have to live by those. Look at the old days, when the Indigenous people had their own, traditional laws: they knew what they were doing with territories. If they had speared a kangaroo here and it had crossed to the other side, crossed another clan’s boundary, they would have had the decency to say, ‘I’ve got to go and get this animal; I’ve got to cross your boundary.’ But it was common courtesy in those days to let one another know that there was overlapping in their boundaries, so it was feasible for them to go over and pick up that animal so that they could eat it.
These days, you have laws from the government. If you put the two laws together, I would prefer to live under the old, Indigenous ones, like my grandmother taught me how to live. I think the European ways spoilt Indigenous people—they could not hunt anymore; they were not allowed to speak the language; they were not allowed to use their weapons. They took away their tools and made them live the European way. Now they are taking away some of our rights and the rights of people who actually live in the cape.
People say the wild rivers thing is another overlapping thing but I am saying that it is not right that people say that you cannot do this and you cannot do that. For the people of the land, it has always been their livelihood. If they were to go to the cities, into the concrete jungle, they would not be able to live there. If there were power failures, if there were a big catastrophe in the world, people would starve in the cities, but not out in the country. That is why we fight for our land, because we could still live there and we could teach you people to live there as well. That is all I have got to say.
CHAIR —Thanks, Sylvester. We will now go to questions.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —Sylvester, thanks very much for your submission. I am interested in what sorts of employment and development opportunities you think are available to you and your people in the area.
Mr Blanco —What is available out there? Right now there is nothing—not in Mapoon. You have got mining companies here. You have got people living in Cairns. They can live there but they have to fly to other mining companies in other states to get employment. It is getting worse in the Far North. We need some industry here ourselves. I think the only thing we will end up living with is ecotourism.
Of course we can look after the land. We do not need the government to tell us what to do to look after the land. All we need to do is for them to help with some of the obstacles that we are confronted with. A lot of times it is about resources. They start off with a lot of things, a lot of business: ‘You’ve got to do this,’ or ‘You can do that.’ Land trusts and things like that come into contention. They give you enough funding to start off for the first 12 months but then after that—unbeknownst to you, you are set up to fail because there are no more resources coming in. That has been the copybook style all the way through.
You know for a fact that if you start off a business you have got to have enough collateral there to go to the bank, as previous speakers have said, so that you can then start up a business. But you cannot start up a business without resources. You have got to have that. On some of the land we have up there now, the local people there want to start their own businesses—like Cecil: he wants to do a few odds and ends up the river. There are other people who want to do the same thing.
The mining companies walked away from one. We are still negotiating with another mining company. But what is to say that the government is not going to say, ‘The Skardon River’s going to be the next one’? The next mining company may not eventuate after that as well. So they are taking away the local people’s livelihood and they have the audacity to say, ‘We’ll give you two days CDEP, or four days CDEP equivalent to a married man.’
CDEP in communities was good at one time. When it started it was supported by a lot of funding that helped to develop the system, but now that has been taken away and was given to an outside business. Mapoon does not have any CDEP anymore. I would like to see some of the people that are living on $70,000 or $80,000 a year try living on welfare. It is the government that gives you the welfare. They give it to you and say it is a good thing. But it is not like the dole; you have to work for it. It is a hard old road and gets frustrating every time a new piece of legislation comes out for another industry. What happens when they find gold in the Great Dividing Range? They will in the future. Then we will not even own the hills or the mountains. It will be taken away.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —I have never been to Mapoon. Can you help me a bit? I know where it is; I have a map here.
Mr Blanco —It is about 70 or 80 kilometres north of here.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —How many people live in or around that area?
Mr Blanco —About 200 or 300 people. It is land that is only for the Mapoon people—inalienable freehold title. Under the DOGIT it is inalienable freehold title. That means that it will always be Aboriginal land and can never be sold.
Ms O’DWYER —I think you have covered most of the questions I was going to ask. The only thing I want to tease out, because you have not touched on it yet, is the issue of consultation before wild rivers was introduced.
Mr Blanco —I do not need to touch on consultation. A lot of people went up there and they said, ‘We’re going to consult with you.’ You talk about it but, six months down the track, you hear the same thing: they are going to go ahead and do it anyway. That has been the mentality of the Queensland government.
Ms O’DWYER —Are you saying that in this instance there was no consultation or in this instance there was, but people do not get involved anymore because it does not make any difference to the outcome?
Mr Blanco —It is frustrating when they say, ‘We come here to consult with you. You tell us what you want and we’ll see if we can do something about it,’ and nothing gets done. As the lady said, it is all false promises. They have the right name for it: ‘wild rivers’—it make people wild!
Ms O’DWYER —I think that will be the call of the day!
Ms OWENS —You were talking about how you cannot hunt or put a jetty in a high-preservation zone, or even in one of the lesser zones. My understanding of the act is that that is not right. A number of people have said that sort of thing: you cannot build a house, for example, in a high-preservation zone.
Mr Blanco —A high-preservation area is a kilometre from the river.
Ms O’DWYER —Up to a kilometre, by the way—not necessarily a kilometre—depending on how much is put aside, and that precludes building dams, large-scale agriculture and large-scale farming. It does not actually preclude the jetty or the hunting, according to my interpretation, but a number of people on Friday and today said that it does. Where do you get that impression? Do you have examples of people who have been told they cannot do it?
Mr Blanco —Take Aurukun, for instance. There are 16 outstations up there. In the mission days, that is what they built. The missionaries built it for the people up there. There are some Aurukun people here today. They can tell you. There are 16 outstations. The Mapoon have all the broken land that cannot be mined. The broken land now consists of 183,962.8 hectares of land that has been relinquished. We got that under the form of deed of grant. They said that, otherwise, they would give it back to the Crown. I said, ‘It belonged to Aboriginal people before mining even started and it should go back to Aboriginal people.’
But I still have to answer your question. These outstations up in Aurukun are built along the river and there are 16 of them. In the dry season there is road access to these outstations, but most of the time, access is by boat. It is the old people who go up there. They want to live there because it is part of their land. They go there to hunt every wet season, or they spend time there in the season when certain food is in the area. But they are deprived of that because of these little rules that the government have.
Ms OWENS —Why do you think there is a rule that says you cannot go and hunt where you were hunting two years ago?
Mr Blanco —Most of the old people have gone. They used to be able to go anywhere and hunt because that is how they used to live. Now, because they are not here the younger generation has to live the way other people live. It is a pity that they did not get the culture.
CHAIR —I think what Julie is trying to ask you is: who has told you that wild rivers restricts you from building the wharf?
Mr Blanco —The Wild Rivers Act tells you itself. A kilometre each side, you cannot—
CHAIR —It does not say that. We are trying to find out why you have that view, because that is not what the legislation says.
Mr Blanco —Then what can you do a mile each side of the river? We can go out there tomorrow and start doing it.
CHAIR —Your perceptions are very important, but we are interested in how you got that view. Who told you that was the position?
Mr Blanco —You hear general rumours from people. If they do not tell you in detail precisely what they are going to do, people make an impression in their minds. You asked me that question, but you do not have the same thoughts that I have got now. You have a different picture, don’t you?
Miss Ludwick —If they are not told about it in the beginning they are not going to understand it. Everyone has that same point of view. There are lots of things that folks have been saying outside—you can’t do this and you can’t do that—but who the hell knows? We do not know. Who the hell is going to tell us?
Mr STEPHEN JONES —We are interested in who told you that, because, on a plain reading of what we have in front of us, it clearly says that nothing in the act prevents camping, fishing, hunting, conducting ceremonies—
Miss Ludwick —When the Department of Natural Resources did their consultation, that was one of the things they did say, but that does not mean these folks are going to understand that. Depending on how they explain themselves in the first place, it makes it more difficult for people to understand. Two white people came in and tried to explain what the Wild Rivers Act was about. If they had an Indigenous person sitting there with them to tell people what was going on in layman’s terms—’I will tell you how I see it, not how these fellas see it’—
Mr STEPHEN JONES —The reason we are asking is that it might be important for our inquiry to know if there is a disconnect between—
Mr BUCHHOLZ —Chair, on a point of order: I believe that Mr Blanco’s initial inquiry was about the construction of a jetty, but the debate has morphed into one about fishing and camping. Could we just bring the debate back to the construction of a jetty and where that is referred to in the act. I am sure you will find that Mr Blanco is correct.
CHAIR —I appreciate that, but we are trying to be reasonably relaxed in relation to these discussions. We are happy to let the discussion flow and everyone will get their turn to ask some questions.
Ms OWENS —And I am still going.
CHAIR —Yes, so we will go back to Julie.
Ms OWENS —We are not asking this in an accusatory way—
Mrs West —I was just explaining how I have seen it over the couple of years since they started the consultation—the so-called consultation.
Ms OWENS —I want to talk about consultation in a little more detail. In the world that I live in, sometimes consultation means that the information is put out there and people can respond if they want to. My understanding, from what I have heard over the last couple of days, is that there are different expectations of what a consultation will entail. I need you to tell me what consultation means in your community.
Mrs West —To me it means coming out here and explaining what is going on with the wild rivers proposal so that I can have my say as to whether or not I agree. It does not mean coming out here and saying, ‘We’re going to put wild rivers in; that’s the way it’s going to be,’ as it was put to the folks up here. They never asked for anybody’s view. No-one has asked for my own personal view. I do not come from this country, but I live here and I know it will affect the folks that I work for. It was like they said: ‘This is what’s going to happen. We’re up here consulting everyone about it but we don’t give a stuff what you think of it—we’re still going to go ahead and do it.’ To us, consultation is coming up here, sitting down, talking to us and giving us a decision in the process. It is not you fellas coming and telling us, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’
Ms OWENS —So it is a consent and self-determination issue rather than—
Mrs West —Yes. There is all this talk: ‘We recognise people of the cape’—or of whatever country people come from. But you do not recognise those people. You still come in and force all these laws on people, and we are still not getting any recognition as the people from this country.
Mr Woosup —Just to elaborate on what Uncle Sylver said about the jetty, yes, we can build a jetty, but it might be either for traditional and cultural purposes or for business. There are two different parts. So it needs to be broader. The jetty might be used for carting tourists, for business, or it might be for traditional purposes. The definition needs to be broader on that.
CHAIR —Thank you, Sylvester, for that contribution, particularly for giving the historical perspective; that was very useful.
Mr Blanco —I would say it all boils down to proper consultation. If people are going to come out and talk to us about it then both parties should walk away from that satisfied that there will be action on what they discussed, rather than talking about it and then it just being a one-way street.
CHAIR —Who would like to talk to us next?
Miss Yunkaporta —Good afternoon. When one talks about consultation, it is a funny thing that I was not consulted. I found out about this inquiry at five last night. There has been a lack in informing people.
CHAIR —I tried to say at the start of this hearing that the committee will certainly be looking at coming back to Queensland. The submissions do not close until the end of January; however, because of the wet season and this inquiry, we decided to come up here as soon as possible so that we could give as many people as we could the opportunity to talk. I do apologise for the short notice for today’s hearing, but the committee will endeavour to hear as many people as it possibly can over a longer time. I apologise for the late notice.
CHAIR —We are going to see whether there are other submissions and so forth. We were mindful that this is not the greatest season to come north. We came up here as soon as the parliamentary year finished, and this is the first week after that.
CHAIR —Yes. It is very unusual for us to be out and about before submissions close. We usually wait until submissions close, which is at the end of January, and then we work out where it is best for us to travel to based on where those submissions come from. We decided that, with the wet season pretty much upon us, we should come up here as quickly as we could, even though the time for submissions has not closed. When we get the submissions in, we will determine another itinerary. I am sorry to interrupt you, Miss Yunkaporta, but I needed to apologise and to explain that.
Miss Yunkaporta —I come from the community of Aurukun. Aurukun was established in the 1900s by missionaries and governments of that era. I come from the south of Aurukun—nearly under the Kirk River. Aurukun’s community consists of five clan groupings. Those five clan groups were mustered into Aurukun by church missionaries. I must say that in doing so they have been pretty much deprived of the things they did on their country. We have looked after country for centuries, and now we are having to talk about wild rivers. It canvasses the deprivation of my Aboriginal people, who have taken care of the country, the traditions, the culture and the language. Aurukun is a Wik-Mungkan speaking language. English is our second language. So you have to bear with me: I am a Wik-Mungkan speaker. In saying that, I feel that I have been sent here by my forefathers. I stand for them. And in a way I feel proud that today I can stand up and fight for a cause, a purpose and a benefit for my community and for all Aboriginal people that are in the cape. I cannot forever be fighting. But now it is wild rivers; it was the land previously. When all of these situations overlap each other, it becomes really complex.
As Europeans, you research your backgrounds. I come with my heart. I come with my head. My brain is from my forefathers. One feels emotional to have to express those things, I guess. When one talks about balance in this world we really want our kids educated in a way where they can come forward, sit on a panel and express their views on what they feel for their land, their feelings. When government has to come into communities of course they have to consult with the people on the ground to see what they want, because it is what we need; it is not what government needs. As for the future, I really do not want to sound like a broken record. Today I stand up for the people of the cape and for the fight we have put on as to wild rivers. I am not for wild rivers. It is an obstacle like the old fella, the grandfather there, said. It really is so when you have to face up to one obstacle here and another one there to get over. Such obstacles hold us back from developing ourselves for a better future for our communities, for our people. When I think of the economy in this day and age, to me it is like a virus that is really taking over the world when governments are asking for more and more and not giving back to the people. If resources and funds were to be given back to the people, we would be capable people; we would have the abilities. Let us not underestimate that. In order to better ourselves for the future, we really have to be consulted in a way where we are clear, so we have clarifications as to what government has decided for people so we have a full understanding of what everything is all about. That is all I want to say on behalf of my cape people here.
CHAIR —Thank you for that. We will go to Scott first for questions.
Mr BUCHHOLZ —In your opinion why do you believe the state government imposed wild rivers on this area, your land? In your humble opinion why? I am being a devil’s advocate. Is there a possibility that you are mismanaging the land?
Miss Yunkaporta —I do not think my forefathers have mismanaged the land. For centuries we have taken care of it. Now government wants to put forward something to be put on the ground to take things over. It is like I said before. It is deprivation—do you know?
Mr BUCHHOLZ —Yes.
Miss Yunkaporta —That is what I pretty much see it as. It is money grabbing. The opportunities that were there for the Aboriginal people are now being taken away.
Mr BUCHHOLZ —What potential opportunities do you see in the future?
Miss Yunkaporta —As for the opportunities I see for the future of my people to really benefit from this, they want to work on country. We want to be resourced properly. If we were given buckets of money we would probably take good care of it in a way where we can look after our own people.
Mr BUCHHOLZ —Without leading you to a point, is that the resources sector? Is that the mining sector?
Miss Yunkaporta —Well, if the mining is there then they are the people with the big bucks that could pretty much put the dollars back into the community.
Mr BUCHHOLZ —Thank you very much.
Ms OWENS —Phyllis, thank you for that. I want to go to the word ‘consult’. In your first language do you have a word for consult? We have consult, discuss, tell, ask.
Miss Yunkaporta —Wik thaythayanam thawamp.
Ms OWENS —What does that mean to you?
Miss Yunkaporta —Talk up strongly for the land. That is how our forefathers have met and each time they would meet they would speak strongly for the land.
Ms OWENS —Thank you.
Dr LEIGH —Phyllis, part of our job is to think about sustainable economic development for the cape. When I am outside talking to people before the hearings or during the lunchbreak, a lot of people talk about the way in which the education system could be better, but no-one has talked about that in here. I am wondering if you could say something about the way in which the education system could work to get more sustainable economic development. I would be interested in other people’s views on that as well.
Miss Yunkaporta —The education system, as I knew it before, has been of low standard. The curriculum in the past, as it is in all cape Aboriginal communities, has been of very low standard. By the time our children go out to mainstream schools they are hardly there—a child in grade 8 still has the understanding of a child in grade 1. Speaking for Aurukun, I was one of the persons who were invited to the States last October; I went to New York and Los Angeles visiting African-American schools. What we have brought back to Aurukun is a new kind of teaching method and we are having that implemented in the school. Of course it took time. At the beginning it pretty much had been, in my words, chaos before that. Since having this new program come in, if you come to the classrooms in Aurukun the kids are fully focused. This new method of teaching has got them going. The teacher is full-on with the tasks given and you cannot believe it when you enter those classrooms—it is as if some of those kids are play-acting. They are not; they are just full-on, focused. I guess in time we have to have expectations for our children to be educated in a way where they have to balance both worlds—the Western world and the traditional way. Of course we want them to hang onto the traditional way because that is where they are going to be identifying themselves for the future. And with them having to venture out into mainstream, we want them to compete. It is a competitive world out there. We want our black little kids to start taking on the world. That is the aim of all this.
Dr LEIGH —Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you for that. Who would like to make a contribution next?
Mrs Hausia —Good afternoon. I have been sitting here listening to your part of the story, from the politicians and from the grassroots itself. It is very different. I do not know how to say it like a politician. My side of my story is stressful. I have been in areas in the education department for 15 to 20 years, working near the minister as a consultative person from the grassroots. What Phyllis said was that the plan was not easy. For a person who does not understand anything, coming from an isolated community and speaking to politicians and ministers in a parliament room, it is not easy. You are here to talk about wild rivers. I am sitting here and I have only heard about wild rivers. In the past generation, my family member met with people who came out from parliament to talk to us about things. They have passed now. It is hard as a young person, or as a representative, an elder from the Wik. It is like me going to Parliament House—I would sit in the middle and need a GPS to know where I am! It is like me taking you to my country, to Wik, and putting you there. How would you go? How would you survive? Our traditional elders always tell us that, wherever that footstep goes, if you see the area and the food is dying, or the arts and craft that we make are going, there will always be an opportunity from another area.
I heard that the government was sent here to talk about wild rivers. I do not understand what it is about. Scott was saying they were sent here to manage. Did you explain properly to the elders and the younger people about what is worrying us? I do not even know. Through education, I know where I stand and who I am. Being a consultant, looking up to the western cape and down to the other area, I know where I can pin a point. One of the questions I asked the principal, the head director and all those kinds of people was about the knowledge and understanding of our children—not only our children but the non-Indigenous children too. Whatever we do, we always forget teaching children between the ages of seven to nine. Yes, we have senior school and uni and whatever, but between the ages of seven to nine is the learning point of our children. We are sitting here and listening and will take your discussion back. It is not always the same members coming to attend the meetings. There are different representatives because people have to do things. You are getting information from other people. This is my first time to attend and hear it, and my people are not hearing it. You are travelling around the cape and you are forgetting about my people on that side. They are not getting the benefit. We are sitting here and listening, from the elders’ point of view, and my brother and my sister are over that side, and they really follow up. The Balkanu land council has been through this, because it is their job. When you sit in a community, it is isolated and it is very hard because you do not get the information.
Working for Rio Tinto is not easy. It is like me trying to go into the company and saying, ‘Hey, listen to my culture.’ I cannot do that. It is hard. I know it is my land, but they make the decisions. It is like me working with my friends. We cannot make the policy. The people on the top have to do that. We do the hard work. We carry the loads and make money for the community and get nothing out of it. I do not know anything about wild rivers. What I see where I come from is that we do have plenty of rivers, and the outcome of that is: where do we hunt and what do we gather? We have a tradition: you will never pass that point because something happened to our family member. That place can stay there for six or seven months. It is up to the elders to get together and talk about it.
So when I hear the way it is put to ask the question, not everybody is like that, honestly. You have to know, to understand the Indigenous tradition, to actually be there. It is like me having a meeting with you underneath the tree with the sun hot. You cannot sit out there; it is that simple. I know I can because I am from here. We hear these things. I understand where you are coming from, the politicians’ side.
Now the closing date is going to be 2011, in January, and this is November. January will come up, but we did not get the outcomes of what wild rivers is—not a sign going up Cape York, not a sign going down south. So I want to know what wild rivers is. In the questions you are asking you need to break it down to the grassroots. When you come to the education area, we have got elders who sit here. You need to respect our elders for their understanding. Yes, whatever school you went to and whatever things you did to get a position in the parliamentary area, I know it is your job—and it is our job to look after our area too.
You need to explain more about wild rivers and where we stand and what we are doing. It is a good experience sitting and listening to people that attend all the time. They really need those one-on-one, only one at a time meetings. You have got the government papers or whatever you have got. All the legislation has been copied. We do not carry that, because our old people keep it up there and they walk with it.
CHAIR —Just to clarify a couple of things, we are not the Queensland government, who put in wild rivers. We are members of the Australian parliament who have been asked to look at ways in which economic development can be assisted in Queensland for Indigenous Australians. As part of that, there has been a narrower focus on the effects that this Queensland legislation called wild rivers has. If, in your experience, wild rivers has not come up as an issue, then that is fine; there is no problem with that. We are still very interested in hearing from you issues about economic development, what things are standing in its way and what ideas you might have on it. We are really here to hear from you rather than to explain the Queensland government’s legislation, which we may or may not agree with.
Mrs Hausia —The economic side of it from my tradition is that I just want to stay on my land and have it as a freehold for myself and for my people.
CHAIR —You raised a question about education. You followed on from Phyllis in that. It is a very important point in terms of economic development—making sure that there is the appropriate and right access to education that fits and so forth.
Mr BUCHHOLZ —Kakie, I am more than happy to sit out underneath the tree after this and explain to you what I believe it is.
Mrs Hausia —That is fine, because I really want to know. The Wild Rivers Act is getting everybody confused. When you read and when you hear about it, what more burden are we going to have? What is it? It did not come into the Indigenous community itself. What are we doing here? We should be down in Napranum talking about it.
CHAIR —We are also very mindful about the criticism that you have been raising generally about consultation. We are not here to tell you things; we are here to actually listen to you. Those are the parameters, so we are trying to be very careful to listen to your views. Scott and I may have very different views about what wild rivers means. It would be inappropriate for me or Scott—or Kelly or anyone here—to say: ‘This is what we think it means and this is how it is going to work.’ The Wild Rivers Act is not this parliament’s legislation. We are interested to hear whether you know about it, what it means to you and, most importantly, what barriers there are to economic development and growth in this area. This is a small but very important part of it. If you have not had any of the effects of wild rivers or do not know about it, that is fine; we are also interested in the other things you have already suggested are barriers. If other people have particular issues on wild rivers, whether we agree with it and think it is right, or whether the legislation says that or not, does not really matter either; it is an important view that is being put because it is someone’s position as to how they understand it, and that is as important as what it actually means. We are really concentrating on listening to your views yesterday.
Mrs Hausia —I just want to see the land stay the same and never change. I want it to be always there for us and not taken away. That is all.
Mr Woosup —I think education plays a major role for both non-Indigenous and Indigenous people, especially with wild rivers. The people up there, especially the tree huggers and the parliamentarians, need to be educated from a traditional owner’s perspective. They need to know about the country and the flora and fauna. I think education is a two-way street; it will also give our younger generation the scope and opportunity to look at the future economic development of the cape. I say to the politicians down there that education is a must and it is a two-way street; they need to be educated with an Indigenous perspective on the wild rivers and the cape area generally speaking. That is where I believe education comes into it.
Miss Ludwick —I want to say something to Ms Owens. I have been thinking about one of the questions you asked to a couple of the people here. You keep asking: ‘Who says you cannot build in a high-preservation area?’ It may not be that you cannot build in a high-preservation area, but the legal complexities of having to build in a high-preservation area are so many and so varied that it becomes absolutely futile for you to go ahead. I am not Nostradamus, but I predict that the cape is going to be wrapped up as a World Heritage area. I use the example of the rangers down in Wujal Wujal. It has taken three years and $80,000 to even build a toilet for the rangers to use in that area—a World Heritage area. So you may be able to build, but wild rivers triggers every conservation act here on the cape, as well as every environmental law, and that is where the hardship is for Aboriginal people.
Mr Miller —I am the deputy chair of the Weipa Town Authority. The chair of the Weipa Town Authority has asked me to inform you that she is opposed to wild rivers and has deep concerns with the level of consultation that has happened. I would like to talk about economic development for communities. I have lived in Weipa for nearly 26 years. Our closest neighbour is Napranum. In that 26 years I have not seen a lot to benefit Napranum. One thing I am aware of is that, in the nineties—and I am hoping some people in the room might be able to help me—there was a proposed development at Billy’s Lagoon. Billy’s Lagoon is a cattle station and I believe a small portion of it, 25,000 acres, was going to be irrigated from the Wenlock River. There were plans in place. That could have generated up to 200 local jobs. These jobs ranged from agricultural scientists down to tractor drivers. A European company was involved in this development. One weekend the tree clearing got stopped and the development got stopped. I believe that development would have made an enormous contribution to Napranum but, as a result of a state government decision not to allow them to remove the trees, it got stopped. That would have been a sustainable development—not a mining operation that would have had a 20- or 30-year life. I am concerned that those sorts of developments are being stopped—and not necessarily because of wild rivers. I believe it shows that the ALP have sold out Cape York for the sake of a few votes from the Greens.
CHAIR —Rio Tinto obviously plays a very large role in terms of employment and the town itself. What role does it play in terms of stopping development in Weipa?
Mr Miller —Development in Weipa can only happen through Rio Tinto.
CHAIR —So Rio Tinto’s private ownership is the major issue that determines development?
Mr Miller —At the moment, about 76 per cent of houses are not owned by Rio Tinto. The land—
Mr Williams —I can speak on that. I am from North Queensland Civil Engineering and I am a long-time resident of the cape. This town has changed from being totally owned by Rio Tinto to being about 60 or 70 per cent privately owned freehold. They are transitioning the town into total freehold ownership. The boundaries will be expanded shortly and more developments are going to be done. It is just that Rio are very good at mining but not very good at development, and consequently they are lagging behind. I am sure they are not trying to do it to inflate the price, because they do not make any money out of selling the land.
CHAIR —We heard earlier about the lack of accommodation in Weipa. The development issues are due to a lag in Rio’s actions rather than anything else?
Mr Williams —Yes. Rio do not stand in the way of development—they encourage it—but they are very, very slow at it. I was at a meeting only last week where I heard that another 75 blocks are going to come onto the market—but they are about 20 blocks too late.
Mr Foster —I am from the Cape York Regional Natural Resource Management Board. I would like to address my concerns to the members of the parliament. I am going to talk about economic development, and I will put the word ‘sustainable’ in front of that. You asked the question: what can be done? I will throw a few things up, and hopefully they will be taken on board. We are looking to move forward.
In moving forward, I would like you to consider Cape York in a holistic approach—that is, east, west, north and south, and everybody in Cape York. On the tourism side, there are two iconic things to me about Cape York. One is Cape York itself, and the other the people from Cape York. I am not going to go into the various issues. I think that everyone has suffered enough and experienced the difficulties of what is happening and what has happened. Hopefully, if you guys take some of this onboard, the people can move forward a little bit easier.
There is no quick fix—I think we all realise that. People understand that at times the message comes across that they are spoken at, not to or not with. I think that a roadway or a pathway has got to be created where the engagement of all stakeholders, no matter which side of the fence they are on, can work through the system. There are difficulties in Cape York, and I will mention a few as far as tourism and industry go. The further north you get, the wetter it gets, and you are limited in time, that is, by season. In tourism, you have a six-month year. It is a very, very expensive place to operate and to attract people with the money to survive. Ecotourism has been bandied around. I have spent 22 years in the business and it is one of the hardest places in the country to operate. People do have a beautiful place. The showcase is here naturally. However, working within that time constraint and getting the right people here is a difficult thing.
To overcome this, I would like to put a few suggestions forward and hopefully you can take them onboard. We have all had the experience that something is going to happen so a consultant is obtained. He is from Adelaide or he could be from Perth or he could be from Mexico. I would like the government, no matter who it is, to consider having a panel set up. There is enough talent to draw from in Cape York, I feel, to establish a panel to help tourism or industry operators up here to work through the difficulties. I think that a conduit is needed directly into Cape York. We are not North Cairns or North Brisbane. The sooner we are created as an individual brand—we have Kakadu and we have the Territory—the better. Cape York is pretty special and I would like the government to consider putting this place up as an icon. There is an emphasis on Rio. I think there are many stronger things than Rio around the place that can hold the place together. Rio has been pretty good in terms of being a great neighbour and a great operator in the place, but there are many other things, I think, that can hold the place together. As I say, the panel can be comprised of all the people from Cape York, from traditional owners through to some of the local people who have been in business and have worked here long enough and who can assist and pass the message down to the people concerned.
Capacity is another thing. Tourists are ready for Cape York—I think we all know that—they are bulging at the seams. But Cape York is not ready for the tourists. We have spoken about that. We don’t have the beds, we don’t have this and we don’t have that. Again, I am sure that the government can assist in possibly putting something together to be able to get a result. We have some research. I think we need to find out what capacity is here for the people to get some research done. Very little has been done in the way of tourism research in Cape York, actual on-the-coalface stuff. Again, it is economic development and part of the sustainable future.
And employment has to go along with it. I am pretty certain that we can move the employment with it. It is no good having 30 ecotourism ventures if we know on paper that 10 will survive. So let us have 10 good ones and we can all enjoy them. So that guidance has got to be drawn from people that know. People here are given a lot of stuff. They have had a lot of stuff pushed at them.
We have just walked away from a very good project, not through the fault of the people but because of the system, and I think we have to learn from that. Your investment in the future has to be more long term and more vision has to be put into it. I am not talking about you individually, but when something is passed on you hear, ‘This is going to be good for you; you guys are going to benefit from this,’ but after two years of funding and the training wheels have been taken off, inevitably another one has fallen over the fence. That has got to be taken on board and looked at as a commercial investment long term and factor in what will happen after two years of funding to carry it on and make it more sustainable for the people. Again, it is not the fault of the people. It is a fact of life; that is the system. ‘The two years’ money has run out. ‘We didn’t think of what would happen after the two years.’ Maybe there could be another year’s bridging, but get the economists involved in it. I guess I have bored you long enough with that but you did ask what can be done, and I think the suggestion of a panel could be achieved. Education is a prime factor in the whole thing from the ground level, from the schoolkids right through. I think that has to assist.
Ms O’DWYER —I just want to get a bit more of an understanding, given your experience in the tourism industry and now with the wild rivers legislation coming in. What impact does that have on potential current tourism operations within the region but also new initiatives that might come about?
Mr Foster —As far as new initiatives go, the scare factor is there. What is going to happen? We came here to invest. You think, ‘What is around the corner? Wild rivers is here. Do we invest here with the thought of losing it in a couple of years?’ That is the thing. The explanation given was that it does not, but that message has not got down even to the people who consider investing. The wild rivers bogey is out there and someone has done a good job of spreading the word.
Ms O’DWYER —So you do not think it is going to have an impact?
Mr Foster —I really do not know. We have been operating on the Wenlock River for years. I approached someone in government and said, ‘Will that affect us?’ and they said, ‘No.’ ‘Is that guaranteed?’ ‘Yes, that’s guaranteed.’
Ms O’DWYER —Is that because you are an existing operator? If you were to change—
Mr Foster —As an existing operator with a history on the river. We have a written history of 10 years on the river, yes.
Ms O’DWYER —But if, for instance, you wanted to do something different, to build something along the riverside or to change your business operations, presumably, in those circumstances, you have been advised that it would have an impact on your business.
Mr Foster —We came here to build lodges adjacent to the river but we cannot. Our business there is dwindling. We have not operated for 18 months, with the unknown factor, and we are looking at other things rather than investing in the area up there.
Ms O’DWYER —And that is because of—
Mr Foster —That is because of doubt.
Ms O’DWYER —Okay, because of the uncertainty.
Mr Foster —Uncertainty, yes.
Ms O’DWYER —Right. I am just trying to understand.
Dr LEIGH —On the education aspect, can you flesh out a bit more about what sort of education and training would be useful.
Mr Foster —The people themselves have all the knowledge. It is about broadening the education to be able to get the children to carry that with them and communicate it to the wider world—in other words, to carry that heritage or the cultural value and bring it out further. It is kept within. Some of it gets out but I would like to see the kids share a lot more and more people come in here to learn, not to take photos but to take a bit of knowledge and stuff away. That can be imparted by these people. That is what I mean by education. It is here; it just has to be tapped into and put out there.
CHAIR —Thank you for your contribution.
Mr Williams —As I said before, I have been based in the cape and have lived in Weipa permanently for the last seven years, with quite a considerable investment in the town and community. I have been working in Indigenous communities and the cape for probably 20 to 25 years, so I have a long history in the area.
First of all, I would like to congratulate the Indigenous speakers on the way they presented the case, because I endorse everything that they say, from a business perspective as well in this community. But I would like to expand a little bit on the consultation bit. Consultation only works if two like-minded people are talking who have the same degree of understanding, so to speak, where they can sit down and work on the same wavelength of, ‘Yes, I understand what you’re saying,’ and, ‘Yes, I agree with that,’ or, ‘No, I disagree with that.’ The imbalance that occurs in this community, particularly with the Indigenous people, is that they do not think like the people who come up with a university degree. They think, as you have heard from them all, about the land. They think about the land as being part of them. They are very shy people in general and do not have a desire to sit down and negotiate high-level negotiations about the welfare or how the land is going to be used.
Consequently, people come up here, they fly in, they spend a little bit of time here and they gather up particularly the people who are like-minded. They are good at finding out who the people are who might agree with them, so they get an imbalance of those people on that consultation committee. And then they tell people—and not just the Indigenous people; the white people of the area—what they going to do, virtually. They do not ask you. They do not consult with you. And they then say, because some of these people said yes, they have agreed to what they have said—under duress, I might add, in a lot of cases. They then go back and say, ‘Yes, we have a consultation agreement on these particular items.’
I would like you to ask those people what concrete evidence they got. Did somebody sign something to say that they agreed with that, or did they just, under duress, agree to what was said? The band of people who have been consulted is so narrow that it is not representative of the whole community, so the consultation process has been flawed. Consultation does not just apply to wild rivers; it applies to things like education that they are talking about, and it applies to things like development that could possibly benefit the community. And this is not occurring.
I understand you guys’ position. You are here to find out from a federal government position whether you should be or should not be agreeing with the effects of wild rivers and other effects that are happening in Cape York. However, you are only here for a fleeting moment. I see you are already looking at your watches, thinking about what time the plane is going to leave—that type of business. There is the consultation and what is necessary to come out of these meetings—and you talk about submissions. These people will not put in a written submission. But, if you come and talk to them in their communities, talk to us in our community and talk to other people in their communities, that is the only way you are going to get those submissions. You are not going to get somebody sitting down writing great reams of information about why they agree or why they disagree. I have worked in these communities for 25 years. I know how it works. I know how slow a process it has to be. It cannot be rushed.
But I know we are running out of time. I disagree with wild rivers from a commercial perspective. My business is directly related to mining, infrastructure development and subdivisional work—everything else that happens up here. I was in the process of forming a joint venture with some Indigenous people from Mapoon, purely on the basis that we were going to supply engineering services and development assistance to the mine at Cape Alumina. The fact that the mine stopped I understand from their perspective. If you had a high-impact area of only one kilometre over the main river, that would not stop the mine. With a high-impact area over the main river and some of the major tributaries, and then put on top of that varying degrees of impact over every other watercourse and tributary of those rivers, you can just about black out the whole of that region because they overlap to such a degree that you have very narrow corridors.
For mining, they are not interested in the rivers. The bauxite is on the plateaus. It does not go down to the rivers. It is something that a lot of hoo-ha has been said about, particularly by environmentalists, where they say that it is going to destroy the rivers. My opinion is, and the opinion of learned people in environmental impact studies has proven, that that is not the case. What has happened is that drawing this blanket across the whole of the cape or the whole of that area has stopped that economic development of that area, and in turn, as you have heard from the traditional owners, the opportunities that were there for them to make some progress and to get some financial benefit out of it have been wiped out by the stroke of a pen. That stroke of a pen is in this instance directly related to wild rivers. That is my view on wild rivers.
CHAIR —That is the example you were talking about, Sylvester?
Mr Blanco —Exactly.
Mr Foster —I do not want to bore you. Most of these people have said everything that I am saying. I am just trying to endorse their comments. I must congratulate them again on the way they have presented their case and the views of their people because I agree with them 100 per cent.
CHAIR —Thank you for that.
Mrs West —About 2½ months ago we approached Infrastructure to purchase some property to put a water park in. Infrastructure was fine with that. We took it next door to the town office and they pretty much refused and said no because it would go into competition with the pool. That chucked a spanner in my works. How is anyone supposed to get anywhere if town office is not going to support you? Economic development in this town is extremely limited. I thought I would bring that up.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Miss Parry —I am one of the traditional owners for Taepithiggi Pargan where the Wenlock River is now. My family and I were stirred up by the wild rivers because they never consulted with us, the rightful traditional owners of this area. We never signed anything or agreed for them to go ahead. Early this year they came to have a meeting with us out in Mapoon. My family and I went out and they had the minister, Stephen Robertson, with them. We had a meeting and we said to them, ‘Hang on, we didn’t know about this.’ We never said they could go ahead and declare wild rivers. We had a talk and we said, ‘We are the rightful traditional owners of that area where Wenlock is now.’ That is where they have their buffer zone. They said, ‘We’ll go away, we’ll come back and we’ll have a meeting with you guys before we declare this.’ But they never came back. We were all stirred up and they went ahead and did it without consent. We never signed anything to allow wild rivers to go ahead.
At that time in Bertiehaugh with the mining company, Cape Alumina, we were walking in the country doing surveys, checking for artefacts and scar trees. We did all that clearance. After that we got slapped in our faces with wild rivers. That took away economic development and job opportunities for the people of Mapoon community. Today we are struggling because now that has been taken away by wild rivers. My family and I do not know where we stand with this at the moment. We are the Pargan people of Bertiehaugh where the Wenlock River is today. Are they going to provide job opportunities for our people? The mining company had all that. We negotiated for years to get what we wanted for ourselves, our kids, their kids and their kids but it has all gone now. It has been thrown out.
Now we are struggling because it is very hard today to get a job in Rio Tinto. You have got to be well educated. You have got to have a certificate or a degree to get into Rio. You have got to be a perfect driver to drive a truck. Where are you going to get people like that? Where is that new mining company that is going to come up and give you that opportunity that will build up your skill in driving? That is where we are at today. A lot of people get knocked back. Where do you think they are now? They have got no job. They live on the dole—$245, $249 or $260 or whatever. That is not enough. You pay your rent and you buy your food and what are you left after that? Five dollars or maybe nothing. You come out of Woolies with an empty pocket. That is what wild rivers did to me and my family. It took away our hope. We were struggling through and negotiating until we got slapped across the face. That is all I want to put to you guys on what wild rivers did to us.
CHAIR —Thank you for that. Any questions?
Mr Williams —Can I make one comment?
CHAIR —You certainly can.
Mr Williams —It appears with wild rivers that they are trying on the areas that have the least amount of votes and the least amount of opportunity to object to what is happening with wild rivers. I do not see any application as to the Brisbane River. I do not see any application as to the Coleman River. I do not see any application over some of the major river areas where people have a lot of property and a lot of development. They are only taking on the areas where we represent a very small part of the community. So even if we object to it and our votes are wiped out, it will have absolutely no effect on the government.
CHAIR —We will go to Tracey.
Miss Ludwick —Take the dirtiest rivers. They have trashed the Murray-Darling and now the greenies want to come up here and do the same to our area. There is one thing that I was thinking about the other day. I was listening to sister Rhonda’s thing about Bertiehaugh as well. I don’t get this: you are talking about economic opportunity and the Queensland government would not give back the land to the traditional owners of the area but they gave it to Steve Irwin’s wife to put an Australia Zoo on. They were going to give us money for a rangers system. Why couldn’t they have not given it back to the traditional owners, to be able to manage that land? They gave it to a woman who, I am sorry to say, has no connection with any of us up here. She came in on the back of her husband—sorry, and bless his soul. Why couldn’t the government have given it back to the traditional owners? But, no, they had to wait for this woman to come up, from Brisbane or wherever she came from, for them to be able to entrust the land. We are talking about jobs and economic opportunities for Aboriginal people, yet we have to wait for someone alien to the cape to come in to be able to tell the blackfellas what to do on their lands. That hurts people.
CHAIR —We will go to Larry.
Mr Woosup —To go on from what sister Rhonda said, and my five-year-old grandson talked to me about this, this was about the loss of the aspiration and inspiration of Cape York people when the Cape Alumina mine got wiped off. I said, ‘Sorry, Son, you cannot go to the Gold Coast for rides at Seaworld because there are no job prospects.’ This is the sort of physical and mental thing that runs throughout the whole cape. It is like taking toys off your little loved ones. It says: ‘Sorry, you won’t have that next Christmas.’
The thing that we face here, job opportunities and things like the mining company, where do we turn to? This is what I want to say because I believe the mining company is there to provide security for us, not to harm things, to be part of the environment where the work was. So the aspiration and inspiration and everything that we had was Cape Alumina just went out the door and I tell you what, it was more than a ton of bricks that got us, but we are still standing strong.
Miss Parry —Me and my family lived there for two weeks and we rotated walking the country, checking where to go. The mining company never told us where to go, we were telling them where they could and could not go, because of the sacred sites we had in Bertiehaugh. With the wild rivers, they could have come to the proper channel and said, ‘Are you people traditional owners of this land, do you want to come and walk the country first before we set up?’ Where they have got their setup there are a lot of sacred sites. It goes way back. When you look at it you can hear, and things were happening in those years in the 19th and 20th centuries, people getting killed there, our ancestors. These people never go to the right channel like the mining company did. They came to the proper channel. We walked the country and we showed them which way to make the road. But do you think these others did? They did nothing. They closed us behind a closed door. They blocked us out. They did not want to hear us. They were thinking, ‘Oh, they are black people. We don’t want to listen to them. What do they know? We know more.’ But they know nothing about that country. We do. That is our people, our ancestors, lying there today but never been discovered because they did not let us walk the country. It is hurtful.
There was one iron tree they knocked down where my auntie told them not to knock it down because that iron tree carried the blood of our ancestors, our old people. It is hurtful when people don’t hear us, because we are the people of that land. We walk the land. We hear our people and there you can feel them and sense them because their spirit comes out to you. That knowledge has been passed down to today by our old people. It is painful and it is hurtful. All Indigenous traditional owners struggle. We want to go forward but we never got there, we never reached that goal or achieved that goal because you always had someone stopping you. Our old people never reached that and that is why we have got that opportunity to reach that goal for them and be recognised as the traditional person and as one Indigenous people of the whole cape. This is what we have been taught and the knowledge that the old people left for us, to stand up and not to be afraid. Our people were always told no, no, no but today it is for us to say. They had always been saying yes, yes to Europeans but today it is for us to say, ‘No, enough is enough. Listen to us. This is our country, this is our land.’ Our people walked that land and left it here for us. We like to work with one another but give us the opportunity and hear us out, don’t block us out. We are from generation and generation way back. In the 1800s and 1900s our people suffered. Today we do not want to suffer what they went through. Thank you.
Miss Koondumbin —I am from the top Archer River, my traditional land. Archer is my home. I always go out camping with my grandchildren and my sons. My father said to me: ‘Don’t let white men.’ He was a strong man, my father. Any fishermen who go up there: you have got to have permission. Get out. Pack up your net and go. I have to be strong for my river.
You see on the map Stony Crossing and Hagen’s Lagoon, they are my two outstations. Next year I am going out taking my grandchildren back to my traditional land. That is all I have to say: a few words about Archer River.
CHAIR —Is there anyone else who would like to make a contribution this afternoon? Thank you everyone. We are listening to you. Part of why we are here is obviously to listen, rather than stand here and talk to you. This is part of an inquiry where the submissions will close on 28 January. This inquiry will not be finished until midway through next year. We will be back in touch with people. Everyone who spoke today will get a copy of the transcript of what they said. If there are any errors or things that have been left out, let us know so we can correct those for the record. Again, thank you for being here.
Resolved (on motion by Mr Stephen Jones):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the proof transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Mr STEPHEN JONES —For people here today what that simply means is that the committee is authorising that this gets typed up as a public record.
CHAIR —Again, thank you for coming. We particularly appreciate that you did not have much time. There was not much notice in relation to it, but I think it has been very valuable from our point of view to spend four hours with you today going through those issues. Thank you.
Committee adjourned at 3.07 pm