The fate of a $210 million road construction project near Weipa remains in limbo while protracted negotiations between the Cape York Land Council and the State Government continue behind closed doors.
In spite of tenders being called more than three months ago no contractor has been announced with time running out to complete the Mein Deviation bitumen sealing before the wet season begins.
The Land Council has demanded that an Indigenous Land Use Agreement be registered over a part of the Peninsula Development Road network giving it control of all future road works.
Included in the list of demands is a 1000 per cent increase in royalties paid to indigenous groups for gravel taken from ‘borrow pits’ along the road.
The holding up of road works by the Land Council has not been supported across Cape York Peninsula by some alienated indigenous groups and Traditional Owners who have been left out of initial negotiations.
Cape York Sustainable Futures Deputy Chairman Jack Wilkie-Jans launched a scathing attack against the Land Council claiming it is “divisive and all about segregation.”
Mr Wilkie-Jans is a Traditional Owner from Mapoon on the Western Cape who says “enough is enough.”
“The Land Council is just introducing a tax not a royalty scheme which is an abuse of their position on the PDR that will not benefit Traditional Owners,” Mr Wilkie Jans said.
“I am extremely disappointed in the way the government has laid down and let this (road) project be stopped.
“The Land Council wants to grab control of the PDR because they have filed an ambit claim with nine claimants over all of Cape York not already claimed or decided.
“There would be many more than nine and there is no cultural precedent to surrender governance to different groups.”
He said he could not understand how Noel Pearson( founder of Cape York Partnership) had a monopoly on the only voice heard by government.
“The Member for Leichardt Warren Entsch and Member for Cook Billy Gordon should have a position on the PDR but their silence is inexcusable, damaging and very telling.”
Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey remains hopeful a solution can be found after a closed meeting of indigenous stakeholders to discuss the impasse was rescheduled by the Land Council from July 15 to July 28 and 29 to be held at the Colonial Club Resort in Cairns.
“Indigenous employment, training and business engagement are critical components of the project and we will continue to work closely with the land council, traditional owners and native title applicants to deliver this important project,” Mr Bailey said.
“We hope to announce a tenderer soon for the Mein Deviation, which will upgrade and seal a 29km section of the Peninsula Development Road, north of Coen.”
Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott said he had been advised the new ILUA map released by the Land Council had dropped all Cook Shire-controlled roads, with the disputed section now beginning at Laura and terminating at Weipa.
“We have made our position pretty clear and we have been too hard to deal with,” Cr Scott said.
“I spoke to Fiona Simpson (Shadow Main Roads Minister) who said she would take the matter up with the Premier.
“Giving control of this section of the PDR to the Land Council will be a landmine roadblock for northern development,” Cr Scott said.
Shadow Minister Fiona Simpson has expressed dismay that the road works have not yet started.
“The government has put this into the ‘too hard basket’ because it should not be too hard to fix,” she said.
“There are legal mechanisms to deal with native title and there is only a short window of opportunity to deal with it before the wet season.
If the project was not resolved in the near future Ms Simpson said there could be opportunities at the Budget Estimates hearings in August to question the Minister.
The CYLC and Member for Cook Billy Gordon have not responded to requests for comment.
by Robert J Lee
Four wheel drive enthusiasts, pastoralists, transport companies and tourists may soon have to pay a toll to drive on the Peninsula Development Road after the Cape York Land Council this week indicated it would pursue an Indigenous Land Use Agreement over the entire Peninsula Development Road and the Telegraph Track.
Not only has the land council laid down the gauntlet to all Australians, but its move has jeopardised the construction of a $220 million bitumen road upgrade near Weipa.
The Main Roads Department has been struggling for five weeks to deal with an intransigent land council and its representatives, who have demanded extravagant royalties for gravel and prohibited the taking of any water from permanent rivers, dams or springs.
The legality of the road network grab, according to land council sources comes via an ambit land claim (see illustration) placed over the entire Peninsula in December, covering 146,390 square kilometres.
It is the largest single land claim ever lodged in Australian history
When coupled with the 53,990 square kms already determined on the Cape, all land and inland waters of Cape York will be either determined as native title, or under claim.
Cairns News in 2003 was given a copy of a map of the Peninsula that shows a proposed Aboriginal state taking in all land north of the 16th Parallel.
This ambit claim was lodged in December, with nine token claimants, Mike Ross, Silva Blanco, Wayne Butcher (Mayor of Lockhart River), James Creek, Clarry Flinders, Jonathan Korkaktain, Philip Port, Hogan Shortjoe and Reginald Williams.
And when added to the vast areas transferred to Aboriginal ownership under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (QLD), all significant activity on the Cape will require the consent of the Traditional Owners.
This includes mining and other major projects.
“This means the Traditional Owners of the Cape will be the real masters of development and use of their lands,” said Riche Ah Mat, Chairman of the Cape York Land Council.
Richie Ahmat, Chairman of the Cape York Land Council and unofficial mouthpiece for Noel Pearson
“Traditional Owners can now reconnect with country, and also ensure we can use our lands so our futures are bright with economic opportunity, not blighted by continued welfare dependence.”
Meanwhile northern pastoralists, development associations, tourist bodies and other affected groups are sharpening their swords to engage the CYLC head on.
This story will be regularly updated – editor