Sunday, September 12, 2010

wild rivers notes

The key issue on wild rivers is the choice between pristine wilderness for the benefit of urban greenies or managed development for the benefit of the indigenous australians. This basic difference in outlook is the main  thread which runs through the debate.

On what principles should the future of Cape York be based? Marcia Langton outlines the difference between the extreme environmentalist position and the managed development position:
In the context of Cape York, some conservationists argue that the only sustainable types of activity are those that preserve the ecological value of the region. This is an extreme interpretation of the concept of sustainability, which in the mainstream usually encompasses three tenets: environment, economy, and equity. These tenets are viewed along a continuum, where meeting the needs of the present does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (see Brundtland Report, UN, 1987).
- - Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
I have read a lot of Noel Pearson - particularly on the broad issue of the way forward for Australian aboriginal people. Do a search on this blog for "noel pearson" and you will find quite a few articles. I have heard him speak once and he is a brilliant and inspirational orator.

Recently, my assumption that noel pearson was progressive was challenged wrt his stance on the wild rivers issue.

Dave Kimble left this comment on my blog (link):
Your argument assumes that Noel Pearson has progressive views - he does not. He, like Abbott and Katter, wants to see indigenous land strip-mined for bauxite, instead of it being kept in its current pristine condition, which offers so much potential for "green development" - development that doesn't destroy the land.

The only developments that might be knocked back by Wild Rivers legislation are those that would damage the water catchment. Do you seriously think the local communities want to damage their sacred land?

Strip-mining is old-fashioned conservative thinking. Progressive thinking is very much in line with indigenous ways - loving the land and caring for it. That is why Greens have always supported Native Title and indigenous rights.
I'm not an expert on wild rivers or law or the details of Queensland politics and I live far away from Cape York but I am willing bit by bit to develop my understanding of these issues further. Based on my reading from afar here is my response to the points raised by Dave:

1) On the assertion that Noel Pearson supports destructive mining:
Asked about mining in the area, Mr Pearson said each case had to be assessed on its merits and there was potential, if strict environmental conditions were met, for mining to benefit local communities.

"We have to preserve the ability of these communities to develop economic enterprises in the future," he said.

"There is no road out of poverty without an economic base."
- Green group backs Wild Rivers review, January 14, 2010
I agree with Pearson here

The issue of mining is further complicated by the fact that the wild rivers legislation does not ban mining in the first place. There is a loop hole.
The tragedy of the whole situation is that current mines are exempt from Wild Rivers legislation.

So Rio Tinto, which takes 80 per cent of water from the Wenlock River can continue to do so, even when it is declared a wild river.

And there is no blanket ban on mining for the future.

Wild Rivers has a provision for mining "if it is of state significance".

A May 2009 newsletter from Tress Cox lawyers about the implications for mining and petroleum activities says mining activities which exist at the time of a declaration are not affected until they are renewed or amended, that the Aurukun and PNG Gas projects are exempted, and that amendments to the act in 2007 "opened the door for certain mining activities to proceed if the Minister provided consent"
- - Rivers of tears, September 19, 2009
As for bauxite mining which Dave is worried about it is going ahead anyway, the wild rivers legislation has exempted it, as pointed out by Noel Pearson to a Senate committee:
I pointed out that the vast areas around Weipa -- bauxite mining leases held by Rio Tinto and proposed to be given to Chinese government company Chalco -- were exempted from Wild Rivers laws precisely because the Queensland government would never have obtained Rio Tinto's agreement. Rio would never agree, so its area gets exempted from Wild Rivers.

Meanwhile, the state imposes Wild Rivers on the blackfellas. Which of the two kinds of landowners is actually doing anything that might affect the environmental health of rivers on western Cape York?
- Cape York Aborigines go into a divided wilderness, April 10, 2010
2) On the assertion that "The only developments that might be knocked back by Wild Rivers legislation are those that would damage the water catchment"

That isn't what I am reading.
Aboriginal traditional owners do not want large-scale environmental destruction in their river basin areas, such as dams, but the wild river gazettals are a terminal threat to their economic future and will deny them the right to the most basic improvements on their land. It is likely that they will not be allowed to build boat ramps
- Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
Points taken from another article which lists 23 complaints about the wild rivers legislation:
11. Wild Rivers places unreasonable restrictions and bans on economic opportunities including animal husbandry, agriculture and aquaculture in “high preservation zones”. There have been no studies of the possible economic impacts.

12. Government declared High Preservation Areas on Indigenous Lands without prior advice to the landholders and without consultation with landholders.

13. The burden of Wild Rivers falls much heavier on Indigenous land holders than non-Indigenous landholders. Most Cape York non indigenous landholders hold limited purpose leases such as for cattle grazing
- Why they’re wild about wild rivers by Michael Moore
Another article from the grass roots:
On the Department of Environment and Resource Management website and on that of the Wilderness Society, which proposed the Wild Rivers move, assurances are given that native title will not be affected, but Bruce says this is not so.

He joined his mother, and Aunty Martha Koowarta, the widow of the late John Koowarta, in Cairns on September 9 to hear Professor Greg McIntyre SC speak to JCU students about native title, and ask him about the effect of Wild Rivers on their rights.

Greg was the lawyer for the high profile Mabo case and that of the late John Koowarta versus the Bjelke-Petersen government.

He says there is a special provision for protection of native title rights in Wild Rivers legislation but that it is vague.

He believes Wild Rivers will have a severe impact on native title rights because it takes away indigenous people’s choice as to what they can do with their land.

"If an area is declared wilderness, the indigenous people won’t have the right to make decisions about the land," Greg says. "It also converts common law into a licence regulatory regime."
Any applications for development would have to be made through the Integrated Planning Act.
"There are processes of approval with local authorities and state-wide planning schemes," Greg says. "There’s a high level of complexity."

For Dorothy Pootchelunka, a Wild Rivers declaration, which has placed a blanket high preservation zone on her homeland and which she personally was not consulted about, means she may not be able to continue making baskets and selling them to galleries around the country.
A weaver, Dorothy has always made the baskets and other traditional accoutrements such as mats and feather flowers for traditional ceremonies.

She learned the art of weaving from her grandmother and she now teaches it to the young girls at the arts centre in Aurukun.

Dorothy is now afraid she won’t be able to gather the materials in the bush such as dyes and roots necessary for her trade.

"It would appear it would be a problem because there are stringent controls on the taking of vegetation for commercial purposes," Prof McIntyre says.

It’s not the only way Wild Rivers could affect Dorothy.

She currently lives in Aurukun but she would like to eventually return to Cape Keer Weer, where her family is from, to live out the rest of her days.

There she may want to build an outhouse, but the building of outhouses now has to be applied for under Wild Rivers legislation.

"Outhouses are areas where families could go and stay and have access to their traditional lands," Bruce says.

"They might put in a market garden so they could grow fruit and vegetables, very low impact stuff."
- Rivers of tears, September 19, 2009
There are some other issues here too

The ability of the Queensland government to get it right:
The gazettals will not deliver what the public expects: good management of the river basins and protection of biodiversity. On the contrary, these measures will leave these rivers unmanaged and at further risk of degradation. Just as detrimental to the marine and riparian biodiversity of the cape are the recreational fishermen, who are able to enter these vast areas fully equipped with large refrigerated trucks, use dynamite in the rivers, leave waste along the rivers, and who often leave fires alight that turn rapidly into bushfires that burn out thousands of hectares. The Wild Rivers Act and gazettals will do nothing to prevent this environmental destruction.

It has been the case for almost four decades that none of the conservation areas in the cape has been adequately managed by the Queensland government. The National Parks and Wildlife Service would have one or two rangers based at some of the national parks, but their ability to manage these vast areas is severely limited.
- Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
Who actually understands the area better, the aboriginal people or The Wilderness Society?
The Wilderness Society would have the Australian public believe that the cape is a wilderness where the Aboriginal population and local graziers are a threat to pristine environments. The photographs they use of the beautiful wetlands, riverways and coastlines are usually on Aboriginal land where Aboriginal rangers patrol to ensure that recreational fishermen, poachers, smugglers and drug dealers, and drug plantation operators do not establish camps and conduct their illegal activities. The rangers have been reporting the activities of such types to the authorities for more than 20 years. Most of these real-life situations on the cape are not part of the Wilderness Society story about the fantasy land they describe as a wilderness.

The Wilderness Society members do not live in the cape. Nor do they depend on the cape for their livelihood, lifestyles and traditions. And they never will. They are playing with thousands of people's lives by remote control.
- Bligh's callous land grab by Marcia Langton, April 11, 2009
another reference:
Red tape adds insult to injury by Peter Holmes a Court, who took the trouble to visit Cape York and inquire.

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