Cape native title 'crusade' won
Tony Koch
8th June 2007

THE 17-year native title fight for land in Cape York was finally won yesterday, prompting Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson to declare indigenous welfare and social reform the new battleground.

Mr Pearson was speaking as the Queensland Government tabled legislation that enabled the handing over of all Cape York land including national parks that had been claimed by Aboriginal traditional owners.

The laws will give indigenous people joint management of national parks and will allow some developments, such as aquaculture, grazing and agriculture, on Aboriginal land.

"This is a day of very, very turbulent feelings, because it comes 17 years after we first embarked on this crusade," said Mr Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.

"I really do feel that land rights is going to be put behind us ... and we can get on to the social agenda of development and welfare reform and social recovery."

Premier Peter Beattie, who introduced the Cape York Heritage Bill, said the legislation "provided for the identification of the significant natural and cultural values of Cape York Peninsula, and co-operative and ecologically sustainable management of the cape".

Mr Beattie told parliament that the bill provided for all stakeholders on the cape: the indigenous communities, pastoralists and environmental groups.

It also spelt out specific land use arrangements, which effectively watered down the recently introduced Wild Rivers Act interpreted by Mr Pearson and other indigenous leaders as hindering the establishment of businesses.

Mr Beattie said the new legislation would amend the Wild Rivers Act "to recognise prior native title rights and ensure allocations made as part of a wild rivers declaration included a reserve of water for future use by indigenous communities for sustainable development".

"For conservation interests, the bill identifies areas of potential world heritage significance and removes current impediments to the declaration of national parks by establishing joint management arrangements with indigenous land owners," the Premier said.

"And for the pastoral industry, it rewards graziers who choose to protect world heritage values on their properties and provides for the consideration of the impact on the Cape York grazing industry of any decision to transfer ownership or covert a lease to another tenure."

At a joint press conference with the Premier, Mr Pearson acknowledged the role played by the late Rick Farley, a fighter for reconciliation, in achieving the agreement.

Pastoralist leader Peter Kenny said his organisation, Agforce, would work with indigenous people who wanted to establish cattle grazing properties. Cape York once ran hundreds of thousands of cattle, but the numbers now are a mere fraction of that herd.

Mr Beattie said $15 million had been allocated in this week's budget to implement the Cape York initiatives, including funding to employ 20 rangers to oversee the national parks.

Wilderness Society spokesman Lyndon Schneider said the laws would offer the long-term protection of the cape, while Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said it would allow the industry to offer better economic opportunities to indigenous communities.