Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Fierce debate over the future of Cape York -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: After years of controversy an attempt by Opposition leader Tony Abbott to
overturn Queensland's Wild Rivers legislation failed in Federal Parliament a week ago, with Labor
referring the matter to a committee.

But the controversial laws continue to polarise the community.

The Environment movement says the Wild Rivers act sets a new benchmark for wilderness protection,
while some in the Indigenous community describe it as a new form of colonialism.

The Queensland Government has argued the laws haven't stopped any major development but that claim
is now being put to the test in a battle over a new bauxite mine on Cape York Peninsula.

From far north Queensland, Peter McCutcheon reports.

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: The Wenlock River on Cape York Peninsula is one of the most remote and
pristine rivers in Australia, if not the world.

Its natural beauty and environmental value is not in dispute.

But Queensland's Wild Rivers legislation placing stringent controls over use of surrounding land,
certainly is.

NOEL PEARSON: This legislation impedes development and cuts off a future for Aboriginal

for decision making in terms of what is appropriate development in these areas.

(Drill whines)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Queensland's strict environmental laws introduced five years ago are facing their
biggest test, with the potential collapse of a major project in a region desperate for economic

PAUL MESSENGER, CAPE ALUMINA: The project has been seriously jeopardised and has a high possibility
that it will be uneconomic in any form.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Dr Paul Messenger is the managing director of Cape alumina, a company listed on
the Australian stock exchange in 2009 and backed by one of China's largest aluminium producers.

The 7.30 Report accompanied Dr Messenger on a trip to the Pisolite Hills bauxite exploration lease
on Cape York.

PAUL MESSENGER: It's a sizeable deposit and it's sufficient to sustain a mining operation for 15
years at full production of 7 million tonnes per annum. So it would make Cape Alumina one of the
ten largest bauxite producers in the world.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Although the proposed bauxite mine would be in open woodland at least several
kilometres away from the Wenlock river - the project is within the catchment of this remote

And so under Queensland's Wild Rivers legislation, it is subject to some of the toughest
environmental laws in the country.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: We're talking about some of our last remaining pristine river systems. Once
they're gone, they're gone.

You'll never get them back.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The most environmentally sensitive part bordering this proposed mine project are
these freshwater springs known the Coolibah Springs complex.

They lie just below the bauxite plateau and play a vital role in maintaining the small pockets of
rainforest that stretch from east to west across Cape York.

BARRY LYON, RANGER, AUSTRALIA ZOO: They're of really great ecological significance. There's a whole
range of rare and threatened plant species and wildlife species.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Most of these springs lie within a pastoral lease owned by Australia Zoo.

Zoo owner Terri Irwin and her family, along with the Wilderness Society, have been leading the
campaign against mining.

TERRI IRWIN, AUSTRALIA ZOO (Channel 10, September 2010): While I believe we need mining and I
understand the need for it, I just don't think we need to mine the most delicate, fragile areas on
the planet.

BOB IRWIN JUNIOR, AUSTRALIA ZOO (Channel 10, September 2010):

It's one of the most terrible things and I just think it's just the worst thing ever. I really
don't like it.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Australia zoo ranger Barry Lyon showed the 7.30 Report around the property and
explained how he believed bauxite mining could destroy an environmental wonder.

BARRY LYON: We risk losing the special Coolibah Springs because they're rejuvenated by rainfall
that falls across that bauxite plateau.

We're really worried that taking the bauxite away will lose that recharging ability, so the springs
may die.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Cape Alumina disputes this claim, as does an independent consultant commissioned
by the Queensland's environment department.

The consultant concluded that on the evidence so far -

VOICEOVER (Reading report by RPS Group, March 30, 2010): Bauxite mining as proposed will have
relatively little impact on the groundwater hydrology of the springs.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Cape Alumina wanted its operation to be at least 200 metres away from the

The Queensland mines department recommended the buffer zone be at least 300 metres.

But the minister Stephen Robertson decided to set to figure at 500 metres.

(to Stephen Robertson) Your department recommended a buffer zone of at least 300 metres around
Coolibah Springs. Why did you personally add another 200 metres to that buffer zone?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Simply by taking the precautionary approach. It was only after I actually
travelled to the Wenlock myself- it was only then that I gained a real appreciation of the scale
and type of environment that was seeking Wild River declaration.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Cape Alumina says this arbitrary buffer zone has in effect locked away around 20
million tonnes of bauxite on the basis of no scientific evidence.

PAUL MESSENGER: It's effectively rendered inaccessible a substantial portion of the resource that
we've defined. At least 38 per cent of the resource is not now mineable.

But this dispute is not only about the environment.

NOEL PEARSON, CAPE YORK INSTUTUTE: We have been too long in the fight for land rights for it to be
lost overnight like this.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Noel Pearson has been campaigning for years against the Wild Rivers legislation
on the grounds that it disenfranchised indigenous people.

And in the Mapoon and Weipa regions of Cape York many Indigenous people echo his sentiments and
would like the see the bauxite mine go ahead.

GLEN PARRY, CAPE YORK TRADITIONAL OWNER: Community is suffering, eh. It's about time we make a
decision for ourselves. It's not the government come and tell us what to do.

LILY YORK, CAPE YORK TRADITIONAL OWNER: Why Wild Rivers want to tell us what to do? The Wenlock was
there for years, and Wenlock will be there forever.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So you think the mine can go ahead and the springs can be protected?

LILY YORK: That's right. The springs can be protected if we all work together.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Lilly York is one of the traditional owners of the land covered by the proposed
bauxite mine.

LILY YORK: In my opinion, I think the mine it will give us a great benefit for our future, for my-
our children and our children to come.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: At least one traditional owner of the springs complex is opposed to the mine - as
is David Claudie, whose traditional lands are in the Wenlock basin and who took the fight to to
Canberra last week.

DAVID CLAUDIE, CAPE YORK TRADITIONAL OWNER: If the mine is going to come in they're going to take
everything on the surface, such as a bauxite mine, then where are the animals going to live?

It's all about money, money, money, you know? Big money, big dollars.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Despite these differences, Cape Alumina says most people in the nearby community
of Mapoon are in favour of mining.

And the local mayor agrees.

PETER GUIVARRA, MAPOON MAYOR: If you would have come here 18 months, two years ago, most people
thought it was a bad idea but in that 18 months there has been a significant shift from anti mining
to pro mining and ah...

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Why do people support the mine?

PETER GUIVARRA: Because of the jobs.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The Queensland government says its Wild Rivers legislation has struck the right
balance between development, the environment and indigenous rights.

That ambitious claim is now being put to the test.

GLEN PARRY: We poor black fellas want us to make- traditional owners make the right decision for
ourself, the government comes and overrules us and takes that right right away from us.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Not everything we do has 100 per cent support but there are also a lot of people
that don't believe that mining close to a river system - or close to those Pisolite springs - is

KERRY O'BRIEN: Peter McCutcheon with that report from Cape York.