Meeting of Cape York Mayors not totally supportive of tough land clearing laws
Cape York Mayors and landowners are not totally convinced that proposed changes to vegetation management laws by the State Government will be in their best interests.
A meeting of the Mayors was called by independent Member for Cook Billy Gordon on Sunday in an attempt to gloss over changes to vegetation laws that indigenous leader Noel Pearson has labelled “extreme” that would force more poverty onto Cape York communities.
At least four mayors from within the Cook electorate did not attend.
No guarantee of general support was given by Mayors at the vegetation management forum in Cairns on Sunday. Richard Ross and Michael Ross
of the Olkola Corporation and Wujal Wujal Mayor Desmond Taylee believe more consultation is needed from government.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Environment Minister Stephen Miles presented their widely disliked Vegetation Management ( Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 to the invitation-only forum in Cairns.
Speaking after the forum, Cook Shire Deputy Mayor Allan Wilson said the amendments would prevent the council from sourcing gravel and water needed for maintenance of the shire’s 3000 klm of roads.
“Some roads are not on the correct alignment and if we clear to realign them we face large fines,” Cr Wilson said.
Development of the Cape was necessary provided it was a balanced approach and “there are pockets of land throughout the Cape that could be developed,” he said.
“I have feelings for these people with large areas of land but can’t do anything with it.
“Sure we need to keep wildlife corridors and stay away from rivers when developing.
“These laws do not give people a lot of confidence in the Cape.
“We are generally opposed to these new laws.”
Cr Wilson said he presented a 14 page submission from the Cape York Land Council to Ms Trad that “generally opposed the VMA.”
Chairman of the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation at Laura, Mike Ross did not entirely agree with the VMA amendments, believing they would stifle meaningful jobs, which he said were desperately needed on Cape York.
“The changes are a smaller version of Wild Rivers,” Mr Ross said.
“The present VMA still is a problem because it has not addressed the cultural values of our people, the same as the water Act or any other Act.”
He said the government should consult with communities to get an understanding of how traditional owners wanted to manage their land.
Olkola, one of the largest landholders on Cape York has plans to run cattle on 160,000 hectares of its Aboriginal Freehold properties, and would like to develop a part of this area for more intensive grazing.
Wujal Wujal Mayor Desmond Taylee said the new laws would affect their future land subdivisions and smaller agricultural enterprises on traditional land in Douglas but more so in Cook Shire.
“As I said in the forum we are already covered with layers of laws like World Heritage, Wet Tropics and national parks and now there is more legislation on top,” Cr Taylee said.
No buckets of money were offered by Ms Trad as incentives for the Mayors to support the new VMA, said Cr Taylee and Mike Ross, but when asked if they thought all parties would support the laws, Cr Taylee remarked, “probably not.”
With the help of Agforce holding a series of meetings throughout Cape York in April, more than 90 submissions against the new laws from indigenous land holders were sent to the Agriculture and Environment Committee which will hand down its recommendations to the government at the end of June.
The VMA bill should be debated in July. Katters Australian Party Members Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth have vowed to “stop the bill in every way possible” saying they expected the LNP Opposition to vote with them in Parliament.
The wild cards in the game are former ALP now independent Member for Cairns Rob Pyne and the Cook electorate’s very own Billy Gordon.
Mr Gordon has been asked for comment but at the time of going to press had not responded.