In Committee - Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011
Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory—Deputy Leader of The Nationals) (09:32): The Wild Rivers debate has been going on for some time now. I have already informed Senators Xenophon and Fielding and those opposite about our intentions with regard to the legislation today. The fundamental aim of this legislation is to create some equity and consistency in the approach of the Queensland government with regard to the provision of conservation, particularly on Aboriginal land of all types. One of the most celebrated conservation outcomes in North Queensland has been the creation of quite large national parks under Premier Bligh. Many of those areas contain some particularly fantastic biodiversity and the creation of those parks was something to celebrate. Aboriginal people sat down for a very long time and discussed how they would conduct joint management of the parks.
It was similar to what happened with Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, where I come from. An agreement was reached for joint management of the park. The landowners, the Aboriginal people, would sit down as a board and have joint management of the park and Aboriginal people would be able to advise the park managers, who at that stage knew lots about conservation but little about cultural heritage or about the way that Aboriginal people interacted with their land. Then, at a later stage, as they became more confident, the Aboriginal people in the area gradually took a greater role in the bureaucracy and board. I think that Kakadu park is in fact emblematic of how it should be done.
Two examples in Queensland, in the area around Coen, are celebrated because of their now excellent conservation practices. The particular element to be excited about is not so much that it represents some of the greatest biodiversity in the world; it is the fact that Aboriginal people provided their consent. If you are creating a national park in Queensland and you are changing fundamentally all of the ways of doing business, you need to understand that consent is absolutely fundamental to that process. Sadly, the Wild Rivers process in Queensland was approached differently by the Queensland government.
The region of Coen, after going through a very long process that took a couple of years, ended up with a celebrated result that protected biodiversity and ensured that all of those people involved had complete ownership of it. That deal involved joint management. All of the issues—including how many rangers were going to be involved, how the management process would work, how access would occur, how Aboriginal people would continue to conduct cultural activities, how they would interact with tourism and how they would grow in stature in terms of being able to manage the park—were resolved, setting the ground work for the future.
This is, of course, in stark contrast to the Queensland Wild Rivers process. As a piece of legislation, Wild Rivers is not particularly different to any other conservation legislation, but the principles still apply. We believe it is an area of unique biodiversity and so we aim to apply protections that specifically protect that biodiversity. Wild Rivers relates specifically to particular areas of biodiversity that have been identified. It is just like a national park. I commend the act in its treatment of most of the areas it covers in Queensland. I think that it is a good act and that some of the measures in it will be excellent.
The reason that the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management Bill) 2011—my private members bill—has been brought forward is that there is one stark difference between a national park in Queensland, which provides good conservation outcomes, and the Wild Rivers declaration in Queensland, which also provides good environmental outcomes: one is provided with the consent and ownership of the owners of the land—the Aboriginal people of the land—and one is not. That is the only difference, and, whilst it seems like a small difference, it is obviously a very important difference, particularly to the people of Cape York.
One of the reasons the Wild Rivers legislation is of interest to the people of Cape York is that they are in fact the holders of land which without argument has some of the most wonderful and complex biodiversity in the world. That is why it remains a tourist attraction, and that is why the world's eyes are on places like Cape York—it is emblematic of the remnant perfect biodiversity. It has been maintained in that state by the Aboriginal owners. The principal form of title there is native title, and the reason Cape York is in that state is that they have had a connection with that country for so long. They are the reason that the biodiversity is so excellent; they are the reason that this country has been looked after so well. That is why a joint management agreement, which in a sense says 'this is something that we can gather and this is something that we can ensure will be a fundamental building block of how we continue to look after the biodiversity', would be so appropriate for Cape York.
Why would you ignore the single group of people who have protected this iconic biodiversity since time immemorial? In the national parks we do not; in the national parks in Queensland we have a system that completely acknowledges the role of the Aboriginal people who built those levels of protection. But, sadly, in the Wild Rivers declarations there is no such acknowledgment of their attachment to and association with the land. It should be no surprise and no wonder to anyone that the entirety of the Aboriginal people of the cape apart from a very small handful—I have not met more than I can count on one hand—find the Queensland Wild Rivers legislation odious, since their consent is not required. This is not conservation by consent, as it is with those very successful and celebrated national parks, but conservation by diktat—'something you will have!'—and I do not think that anyone in Australia is in any doubt that given the circumstances we should be supporting a change to the Wild Rivers legislation in Queensland that puts into effect the very same mechanisms that they have in, for example, national parks.
I have approached the Queensland government, as have many, because it is not the normal way for the Commonwealth to do business to intervene in a state. I can tell you that, coming from the Territory, I find it particularly odious that we should do so. This is a circumstance that is so very important that we have made many calls on the Queensland government to change the Wild Rivers legislation. I ask myself: 'Where is the mischief?' Premier Bligh is a fine woman, and I'm sure she means well.'
Senator Ian Macdonald: Don't go over the top.
Senator SCULLION: But I am sure she means well because I have read her media reports about the celebrated deals that were done with the national park in Queensland. Isn't it fantastic that we have Aboriginal people on their land working for conservation outcomes side by side? I know Premier Bligh celebrates that, but neither she nor anyone else in Queensland has been able to answer me when I ask: 'Why is it that we would have this inconsistency? Why the difference in the Wild Rivers legislation, under which we simply make a declaration over that land and there is no consent required?' Instead, there is silence. Some as cynical as and more cynical than me would say, 'After all, the Premier is a politician.'
Senator Ian Macdonald: It's called Green preferences.
Senator SCULLION: We have heard about the Greens deals. Greens preferences are important.
Senator Brandis: It was at a West End coffee shop before the last Queensland election.
Senator SCULLION: It has been alleged to have coffee involved. Those of us who are a little bit cynical have accepted that there are special arrangements concerning the Wild Rivers legislation. But why would you have special arrangements? We already have arrangements in place that work: empowerment; working next to Aboriginal people who know how to look after the land because they looked after the land well before white people stood on this land. The only reason could be that they have simply done a deal.
We know about the Wilderness Society and those associated with it—they have produced some very good outcomes and are trying to protect the environment—but I think that we have lost touch with the balance. The balance for Premier Bligh was to say to the Greens: 'I need your preferences. What would you like in exchange?' Clearly the exchange from Premier Bligh was, 'We'll go and have Wild Rivers.' The question would then have been, 'What is Wild Rivers going to do?' and Premier Bligh's answer, 'It takes a little time to deliver national park-like mechanisms because we have to have the consent of people; we have to have people agree.' The response to that would have been, 'No, we can't have that in it.' So the legislation was passed with a lot of opposition—though not, obviously, with sufficient opposition—but without the inclusion of the notion of consent. The people of Cape York have not held this land for very long as a national park—in that sense it is still young land—yet this Wild Rivers legislation, only because of some grubby Greens preference, has a substantially different approach to how we go about a partnership approach for conservation to the approach found in other conservation legislation.
It is still not too late, Premier Bligh; it is still up to you. You can change your own legislation to make it consistent with your approach to national parks. You can still do this. All the people I have spoken to across the cape wish to embrace the opportunities for conservation. They want to do that. We have got examples all over the place of that. But there should be that simple respect of saying that we will require the consent of Aboriginal people. That is exactly what the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011 would ensure. It is simply to ensure that Aboriginal people are fully involved, that we can get the full benefits of the wisdom of the Aboriginal and that we get their consent—which is just about respect.
Those in the gallery and those in the chamber will recall that the President this morning rose and said that we would also like to acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngamberri people of the Canberra area. That is all about respecting the ownership of land. Sadly, in my view, the Queensland government, or elements of the Queensland government, have certainly been disrespectful in the way that they are treating Aboriginal people, who are the traditional owners of land and are owners of land in Queensland, in this matter.
That is the motive behind this bill. It is a very simple motive. Clearly, as I have indicated, I do not have the support today, because there are still some concerns with the bill. We will be speaking to a number of people to try to ensure that we have the amendments correctly, because this is such an important area of consideration. I understand, Senator Furner, that you had a great interest in this, mate. Look into your heart to see whether there are other appropriate amendments or whether you can ring the premier yourself. If you want to do some real good for the people of Cape York—and I know you do, mate—you need to reach into your heart and do the business of ensuring that the Queensland government does the right thing.