The promise of northern development, heralded by the Federal Government as the saviour of the languishing agricultural and business sectors took a mortal blow last week as the Queensland Government contemplates withdrawing from a $220 million road project on Cape York Peninsula.
Central to unlocking the great potential and opportunities in the north is all weather road access, but moves by the Cape York Land Council to place an Indigenous Land Use Agreement over the Peninsula Development Road network have stalled the Mein Deviation upgrade north of the Archer River.
In spite of tenders being called three months ago, the successful tenderer for this project has not yet been announced and nearly two hundred jobs hang in the balance.
Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said his department was working through Native Title issues with the Cape York Land Council.
“The Palaszczuk Government is keen to create jobs and get this project up in the Cape once agreement can be reached,” Minister Bailey said.
“We will work closely with the CYLC, Traditional Owners and Native Title applicants to deliver this important project for the Cape York community.
“Ultimately both parties are working towards an outcome that will be in everybody’s interests.”
CYLC Chairman Mr Richie Ahmat said he had not been following the ILUA negotiations because of his involvement in the campaign to include indigenous people in the Commonwealth Constitution.
Spokesman for the Land Council Peter Callaghan was unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott said he was unaware of any result with the negotiations and feared other road works in Cook Shire could be impacted as a result of the demands made by the CYLC.
“There could be an agreement on doing only priority works or maybe compulsory resumptions of land necessary to start the road program,” Cr Scott said.
“If this project does not go ahead contractors will lose a lot of money and worst of all we all lose credibility with any investors who want to start projects in the north.
“The Premier wants to have a conference to attract investors to the north but if we lose the (Federal) funding for this project, then it will be hard to get anyone interested in northern development.”
Musgrave Roadhouse operator and a member of Cape York Sustainable Futures, John McDowall said he was “horrified” at the prospect of the CYLC registering an ILUA over the PDR.
“We are worried that if the Land Council gets total control of the road they could charge tourists and trucks to go up the Peninsula,” Mr McDowall said.
“This would keep tourists away and the only reason they are coming in such big numbers this year is because most gravel sections are in good condition.
“Until the end of June, the traffic counter showed that 20,400 vehicles had passed the roadhouse and this looks like being one of the biggest years ever.
“Local communities want a bitumen road because the cost of freight and the cost of living will come right down if fresh food like milk can get through quickly and without truck breakdowns.
“We have heard the Main Roads Department might walk away from this road job and that will be a bad result for the future of businesses on the Peninsula.”
Traditional Owner and spokesman for the Yadaikana Tribal Group of Elders at Injinoo, Meun Lifu said he did not agree with an ILUA being placed over the northern section of the Peninsula Development Road or the Telegraph Road.
“This is not good for development and it should be stopped,” Mr Lifu said.
“We want the road upgraded and a bridge over the Jardine River, otherwise we will look for another access to go around the river.
“We have had no say and nobody has asked us about the Land Council taking control of the main road.”
A Coen businessman has labelled the move to control the PDR as “a greedy grab for total control of the Cape.”
Publican Barry Mulley said the local business community could not afford to lose the Main Roads Department project.
“My business will be stuffed and I would never be able to sell it if they close off the Peninsula,” he said.
“Its time the government stood up to the Land Council and their greedy demands.”
The member for Leichardt Warren Entsch is touring the electorate and unavailable for comment.