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Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010 [No. 2]

ACTING CHAIR (Senator Barnett) —Mr Accoom, welcome. It is nice to meet you.

Mr Accoom —I would like to apologise for being late. I had to deal with some business about a 40-year lease.

ACTING CHAIR —Thank you. Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire has lodged submission No. 6 with the committee. I am going to invite you to make a short opening statement, but do you have any changes to your submission?

Mr Accoom —No.

ACTING CHAIR —Please go ahead and make your opening statement or submission and then we will have questions from the senators.

Mr Accoom —Our submission is from the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council and the traditional owners. It states:

Please find following a copy of the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council’s submission to the Committee’s inquiry into Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill (No. 2) (The Bill). We make this in our capacity as the authority entrusted with the management of the Shire as well as on behalf of the Traditional Owners who have been affected by the imposition of the Wild Rivers Act in Queensland. In addition also find a copy of a letter from the Traditional Owners in Lockhart River Community expressing their total disappointment and disgust at the imposition of the Wild Rivers Act on their Natural Resource.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for that.

Senator BOSWELL —Yes, I have some questions. I understand that you wrote to your local member, Mr Turner, pleading with him to oppose the wild rivers. You said in that letter:

… we are conservationists but we also want to get off welfare. We want a river protection system built as an Indigenous driven system.

What sort of a response to that letter did you get from your local member?

Mr Accoom —Nothing.

Senator BOSWELL —He did not reply?

Mr Accoom —No reply.

Senator BOSWELL —Do you get the feeling that the state government just does not trust you to conserve your own lands?

Mr Accoom —I think the state government should just back off and leave the land to my people so that they can get on with their lives.

Senator BOSWELL —The Queensland government has a policy framework called Looking After Country Together. How much confidence do you have in that, given the way in which they have handled the wild rivers fiasco?

Mr Accoom —How long had my people been looking after the country when the government Queensland came in? When my ancestors were there—which was before the white people came into Australia—they had looked after the country far longer than anybody else ever had.

Senator BOSWELL —How much land did you get under DOGIT? Are you from Aurukun?

Mr Accoom —No; Lockhart.

Senator BOSWELL —Lockhart. Looking at the map, you got a fair bit of land.

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —Was that land given to the communities for self-development? In other words, if someone wanted to grow watermelons or tomatoes or run cattle or whatever, they would apply to the council and it would be given to the council in trust for the people of Lockhart.

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —How much of that land on that blue map is impacted by wild rivers?

Mr Accoom —The Lockhart is affected by the wild rivers because the biodiesel bloke who was going to—

Senator BOSWELL —I was going to ask you about that.

Mr Accoom —Yes. He got knocked back. There are people who want to come and do something for the community and get people off the social or whatever they call it and they get knocked back.

Senator BOSWELL —Tell me about this diesel tree. Did you plant that or were you going to plant it?

Mr Accoom —We were going to plant it.

Senator BOSWELL —It is a pity that Senator McLucas is not here, because she has been asking continually what has been knocked back; and here is an example of an Aboriginal community trying to develop a project that was knocked back. Who knocked it back?

Mr Accoom —The government.

Senator BOSWELL —So you made an application and the government said, ‘No, you can’t do it.’

Mr Accoom —That bloke was going to do biodiesel. There were that many meetings. He flew to Brisbane, had meetings and came back, and now he is starting to give up.

Senator BOSWELL —We have been told by the government that you can do this; you can develop it. Here is a case in point where the Queensland government will have to say that you can do it or you cannot do it. They have virtually said that small horticulture, small growth areas or small farms are allowed, but you are saying that you have been knocked back.

Mr Accoom —You are saying that the government says that we can do it. If they give that to us in writing, then we will do it.

Senator BOSWELL —That is a challenge to the state government. How many acres were you trying to use?

Mr Accoom —There is a lot of acres everywhere.

Senator BOSWELL —Were you trying to get water out of the river to irrigate it?

Mr Accoom —You cannot get water out of the river. You have to go a kilometre from the river bank before you can start planting.

Senator BOSWELL —A kilometre from the river bank?

Mr Accoom —From the river bank.

Senator BOSWELL —What if you were trying to develop, say, a market garden? Instead of flying your vegetables in, you were going to grow those and sell them in the local store; would you be able to do that?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —You could?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —But not if it is done commercially.

Mr Accoom —No.

Senator BOSWELL —You cannot do it commercially?

Mr Accoom —No.

Senator BOSWELL —So if the community wanted to grow 20 acres of vegetables to supply the store and to sell that into the store, that would be commercial and you would not be able to do it.

Mr Accoom —That is right.

Senator BOSWELL —What if you wanted to put ecotourism on the river?

Mr Accoom —We cannot.

Senator BOSWELL —Can you clear any land on the river?

Mr Accoom —No, we cannot; we cannot even clear our land. You cannot even go onto your traditional land and cut down one tree.

Senator BOSWELL —We have been given a list of projects that have been undertaken. The state government gave us that list and I have it here. They say that ‘Lockhart River Shire’—of which you are the chairman, I take it—’passed an application’. Then it asks for the application’s purpose: ‘not available’; number of applications: ‘nil’; any refusers: ‘not available’ or ‘not appropriate’; and outcomes: ‘NA’. What happened in Lockhart River that you got a tick for? It says here, ‘The Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council gave permission for this to take place.’ Do you know what they are referring to?

Mr Accoom —No.

Senator BOSWELL —Well, you would know. It says here, ‘Location: Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire.’ Then it says, ‘Organisation responsible for assessing the application: Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council.’ So there must have been some application made that was passed by your shire council.

Mr Accoom —Yes. That is about the quarry. That got closed down by government officers when they came up to Lockhart.

Senator BOSWELL —So they closed the quarry down?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —They have said here in this that applications have been made and gone ahead, and they have given us a list of them. But you are saying—unless we are at cross-purposes here—that the application closed the quarry down; it did not open anything but closed it down. Are you sure that there is nothing else in Lockhart River that—

Mr Accoom —Nothing else.

Senator BOSWELL —This will have to be developed further. We should be asking about this of the Aurukun Shire Council, the Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire and the Burke Shire. What are all these processes that they have passed? We were talking to the mayor here and he said that the shire council has never passed any application. Is that correct?

Mr Accoom —That is correct.

Senator BOSWELL —All right. I know you are talking from the shire council’s point of view. Let’s talk about shire councils, since you are here. How many shire councils or communities support wild rivers? Does Doomadgee support wild rivers?

Mr Accoom —I cannot speak for them; I just speak for my community.

Senator BOSWELL —Yes. So you are not aware of any of the others that support it or do not support it.

Mr Accoom —No.

Senator BOSWELL —What about traditional owners?

Mr Accoom —Traditional owners?

Senator BOSWELL —Not supporting it?

Mr Accoom —No.

Senator BOSWELL —I think this needs further development, Mr Acting Chair. We have been given a list of eight applications and my understanding is that they went through with the support of the shire councils. But, when we have asked a direct question of the mayor, he has said that he has never passed any.

CHAIR —Senator Boswell, do you want to identify the document you have?

Senator BOSWELL —It is a document that has been given to us by the Queensland state government. It says, ‘Location: Cape York Gulf.’ Then it says, ‘Applications were processed by DERM.’

CHAIR —Would you be happy to table that, Senator Boswell?

Senator SIEWERT —It has been tabled already.

CHAIR —Thank you. The one that you are referring to was tabled earlier.

Senator BOSWELL —Yes.

CHAIR —Very good. Thank you very much, Senator Boswell. Do you have anything further, Senator Boswell?

Senator BOSWELL —I could go on forever, but—

CHAIR —No, that is fine; we will not. We will go to Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you. I was slightly confused by that last series of questions around the quarry. The quarry was not what was applied for—is that correct—and the quarry has been closed down?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Why was the quarry closed down?

Mr Accoom —Because there is a little creek running into the Lockhart River and—

Senator BOSWELL —Now we are hitting a bit of pay dirt here.

Mr Accoom —the government officers that work here with wild rivers had a meeting with the traditional owners up in Lockhart; everyone got wild about it. Council was always getting gravel out of that quarry—and, as soon as they heard about it, they closed it down.

Senator SIEWERT —Did they do that in writing?

Mr Accoom —No, not in writing; but they told us that, if they catch anyone driving through that road with gravel on the back, they will get fired.

Senator SIEWERT —Was the quarry an official or unofficial one?

Mr Accoom —Council has been using that quarry for the last 20 to 30 years.

Senator SIEWERT —You said before that you were not allowed to put in ecotourism or clear vegetation et cetera. The Queensland government sat where you are sitting four or five hours ago and said that you can clear vegetation for necessary infrastructure and you could put in ecotourism and a range of other things.

Mr Accoom —Is it in writing?

Senator SIEWERT —It is on Hansard.

Senator FEENEY —Effectively.

Senator SIEWERT —The issue here is that we have been told two completely different things, something by the government and then something different by other witnesses. You have been told that you cannot do things; have you tested that with government?

Mr Accoom —Like you said, the government official was sitting here saying that we can do this and that on our land. If they give it to us in writing, I will show that to our people and we can go out and do something on our land. At the moment we cannot even cut down a tree.

Senator SIEWERT —Is that your belief because you have been told it or because you have had it in writing? How do you come by that understanding?

Mr Accoom —As for that understanding, if you are working with the main roads and the EPA mob comes in and catches you dropping trees down or pushing gravel, you will cop it. That is how I learned.

Senator SIEWERT —Was that prior to the wild rivers legislation?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —So that was the Vegetation Management Act that you were talking about?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —So it is not necessarily the Wild Rivers Act.

Mr Accoom —No. It is in with the Wild Rivers Act.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, because they work in tandem.

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —I am trying to develop an understanding of how the legislation interacts and how people have been informed about it. Has there been wide spread notification of, say, local councils? Is there documentation that the government sends out saying, ‘You can and cannot do this; this is how you make an application’? How do they develop a relationship with the community in terms of implementing the act?

Mr Accoom —A lot of letters were sent to the council telling council that this is what we can do and we cannot do, and we explained that to our public at our public meeting. That is it.

Senator SIEWERT —Was that at the very beginning, when the legislation first came in?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —My final question is around the biodiesel proposal. How long ago was that?

Mr Accoom —I think the bloke came into Lockhart in 2006 and started talking with the traditional owners about getting something done up in Lockhart, saying there would be jobs for—

Senator HEFFERNAN —I know all about that.

Mr Accoom —men and women in Lockhart and saying that they could leave—

Senator SIEWERT —I was not asking you.

Mr Accoom —working for the dole, and everyone was happy about it. Then, as soon as wild rivers and they heard about it, bang, straight into Lockhart. They put that bloke on hold. He has been flying to Brisbane a few times and has got nowhere.

Senator SIEWERT —How long ago did it fall over?

Mr Accoom —About three years?

Senator HEFFERNAN —That was a fantastic economic opportunity.

Senator BARNETT —Thank you. Mr Accoom, thank you very much for your evidence today; it is much appreciated. Business, small business, small ventures that create jobs growth and development in your community are obviously very important to your community. I want to get a little more clarity about those two projects. Firstly, the quarry that was closed down because of this Wild Rivers Act: can you just describe in your own words the business proposal in terms of the quarry. What was planned?

Mr Accoom —With the quarry, that is where council used the gravel to build houses, to do cement. Now that the quarry has closed, our trucks have to go about 130 kilometres out from Lockhart to bring gravel in—and that is when the road is open. At the moment we cannot even bring it in; the road is closed.

Senator BARNETT —Because of the wet season?

Mr Accoom —The wet season.

Senator BARNETT —Just before we get on to the consequences: in terms of the quarry, how many trucks were you using there? How many people worked at the quarry, roughly?

Mr Accoom —We had about five blokes.

Senator BARNETT —And five trucks?

Mr Accoom —No.

Senator BARNETT —How many trucks?

Mr Accoom —Two trucks. We had two blokes on each truck and one on the loader.

Senator BARNETT —So you would have a loader and a couple of trucks. They would go in and get the gravel and then take it to where it needed to go.

Mr Accoom —They would just bring it back into town, Lockhart.

Senator BARNETT —How far away was that, roughly?

Mr Accoom —They would have to travel about 16 kilometres.

Senator BARNETT —So they had to travel 16 kilometres. How long was this quarry going for?

Mr Accoom —Like I said, it has been going for the last 20 to 30 years and, just a few years ago, it stopped.

Senator BARNETT —How close is it to the river?

Mr Accoom —About six kilometres from the river.

Senator BARNETT —You are saying that the government’s legislation or regulations have made it impossible for it to keep going. Is that right?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BARNETT —What did they say to you?

Mr Accoom —They said that we cannot get gravel out of the quarry any more; it has to be closed down.

Senator BARNETT —Because?

Mr Accoom —Because of the wild rivers.

Senator BARNETT —So now you have to go—and whether you can go depends on whether it is a wet or dry season—what did you say, 140 kilometres?

Mr Accoom —No; 130.

Senator BARNETT —So are you using the same vehicles, or do you have other vehicles?

Mr Accoom —We have the same vehicles; they are starting to get crippled up though.

Senator BARNETT —It is costing the council more money, so it is costing more to build homes and it is making it harder. In addition, in the wet season it is impossible to get your gravel.

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BARNETT —Just going back to your other business with the diesel, can you describe for us in a little more detail what was involved in that?

Mr Accoom —The diesel was going to bring more jobs into the community for the people and A lot of my people would have benefited from it. At the moment there is—

Senator BARNETT —There is nothing.

Mr Accoom —nothing.

Senator BARNETT —Can you remember how many jobs, roughly, they were going to have?

Mr Accoom —First of all, he was going to start with 200 people and later the trees would have built up. Also, wild trees are growing there with the same seed that he was going to make the diesel out of. The bloke saw those trees with those seeds and said, ‘Look, people can start carting these seeds here while the other ones are growing up.’ Everyone was happy about that. As soon as wild rivers heard about it, bang.

Senator BOSWELL —With wild rivers, did the state government say, ‘You will not be able to do that project’? Did they close the project down?

Mr Accoom —It is not closed; it’s—

Senator BOSWELL —They just told you, ‘You can’t pump water out of the river’?

Mr Accoom —Yes, you just cannot pump water. So the blokes that were doing it said, ‘Oh well, if we can’t pump water, we can’t go out and plant the trees.’

Senator BARNETT —How many people do you think would have been working on that, once it got going?

Mr Accoom —The bloke was saying it would be 400 to 600 people once it got going. There would be a job for everyone, including the young ones leaving school.

Senator BARNETT —A lot of jobs.

Mr Accoom —A lot of jobs.

Senator BARNETT —And it would go on for a long time, would it, because they would keep growing the trees?

Mr Accoom —Yes. Even my kids would have been in there, and their kids after them.

Senator BARNETT —So you would be feeling pretty disappointed and upset by that.

Mr Accoom —Yes.

Senator BARNETT —Thank you very much for that. That is appreciated.

Mr Accoom —Can I go back to some things said here this morning that I was not really happy about? They were about Mr David Claudie.

Senator BARNETT —You fire away. Away you go. What would you like to say?

Mr Accoom —He was talking about the land that he is living and working on and got funding for. That is not right. That is not his land; that is my mother’s land. He was saying that he is from the top end and he is not; he is from the bottom end. I would like to get this straight out. He never works in with the elders. He never even went around and said, ‘Oh, we’re having a Wenlock meeting to talk about the wild rivers’—nothing. So I would like to get this clear that something has to get to this bloke for him to come out and tell you people the truth about where he is from. It is no good telling you people lies. I was going to stand up when he was talking to a senator, but I said to myself, ‘No, I’d better not.’

CHAIR —You have put your views to us now, so that is useful. Can I ask you a question about your submission? You put to us that the lack of resourcing associated with the additional obligations is not consistent with Looking After Country Together strategic policy. I guess the Looking After Country Together policy is a Queensland government policy. Is that right?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

CHAIR —So are you putting to us that what is missing here is a lack of information and a lack of resources to operate under the Wild Rivers Act?

Mr Accoom —Yes.

CHAIR —So that is part of the problem: there has not been enough information—

Mr Accoom —No.

CHAIR —from the Queensland government about how this act operates and what you can and cannot do under it; and there has been a lack of resources given to traditional owners or organisations to exist under this legislation.

Mr Accoom —All these government officers have been coming into Lockhart and talking about wild rivers, telling the people what they cannot do on the land; they did not tell the people what they can do.

CHAIR —So it is difficult.

Mr Accoom —Yes.

CHAIR —Senator McLucas, do you have a question?

Senator McLUCAS —No, I do not. But thank you, Mr Accoom, for coming down and thanks for your submission.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I have a question.

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, how could I forget you? Off you go, Senator Heffernan.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Just for the Senate’s information, the tragic Lockhart River plane accident: on that plane were people who were up there looking at the soft entry point into Australia for foot-and-mouth disease—part of which is the Cape York Peninsula and the unoccupied nature of a lot of it. Are the current witness and the Lockhart Aboriginal Shire aware of the dangers that an incursion—through a soft entry point—of foot-and-mouth disease poses for the entire Australian beef industry?

CHAIR —Mr Accoom, could you hear that?

Mr Accoom —No.

CHAIR —Have another go, Senator Heffernan. It is a bit unclear down here.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Sorry. Is the witness who represents the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire aware of the dangers posed to the entire Australian cattle industry by an intrusion, through what is known as a soft entry point—which, as I say, some of those tragically killed in the Lockhart River plane accident were up there investigating—of foot-and-mouth disease? I am saying that the country is locked up and left to be by World Heritage. I understand that in World Heritage country you cannot go in and have 1080 poisoning of feral pigs for a start, but I am speaking of the dangers to Australia’s cattle industry posed by an incursion of foot-and-mouth disease.

CHAIR —I do not think we understand what you are asking, Senator Heffernan.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What I am asking is: under the wild rivers legislation, there are serious restrictions to what can happen in country that is involved in that legislation, and one of the things—

Senator McLUCAS —That is an assertion.

Senator HEFFERNAN —that will be prevented will be the 1080 poisoning of feral pigs, as I understand it. Given that the Cape York Peninsula, as well as some other country in the north, is a soft entry point for foot-and-mouth disease into Australia, is the witness aware of the dangers that represents to the entire Australian cattle industry? I mean, if he is not, he can just say no.

Senator FEENEY —The witness is indicating no.

Senator McLUCAS —Can I assist with that?

CHAIR —If you want to, but Mr Accoom is shaking his head no—and I do not think we can work out the connection, Senator Heffernan. Perhaps I can make a suggestion. Why don’t you put your question in writing and through the secretariat, and we could send it to Mr Accoom.

Senator HEFFERNAN —As Senator Ian Macdonald would understand—who in a former life was Chairman of the Northern Development Taskforce—certain issues have not been addressed and are being ignored through things like the wild rivers legislation. So, yes, I will deal with that later when the committee’s actually—

CHAIR —That would be useful. Mr Accoom, I thank you very much for your submission and for appearing before the committee. I do appreciate that it is very late and I thank you for staying so late this evening to be with us.

Mr Accoom —Thank you. Once again, I apologise for being late.

CHAIR —That was fine. We just swapped witnesses around, so it was okay. I think the people before you were happy to go and get away early. I know that it has been a very long day, probably one of the longest days I have had with Senate committee hearings. I want to thank all of the witnesses who have given evidence today. All of the people who have come to listen and provide support or comment and who have shown interest in the Senate committee hearing: thank you for being here today. Also, thank you very much to DPS and Hansard—this would test your skills immensely, no doubt—and to all of my colleagues.

Committee adjourned at 7.33 pm