Dear CAFNEC members and supporters,

2022 is shaping up to be another big year for CAFNEC, and as always, we have hit the ground running. It’s an honour to be taking on the role of presidency at a time of such growth and vibrancy for our organisation.

CAFNEC has flourished in recent years under the leadership and hard work of our Director, previous President Denis Walls and our Management Committee, and thanks to our highly dedicated staff making it all happen on the ground. I’m excited about working with the team to continue our important work empowering the community to fight for the environment in this beautiful part of the world that we are fortunate to call home. 

Having joined in mid-2020, I’m relatively new to the CAFNEC management committee. After moving to Cairns from the Northern Territory I was looking for opportunities to become more involved in the local community, and to learn about and contribute to local environmental causes. Becoming involved in CAFNEC certainly helped achieve those goals!

I have previously served on the management committees for the Environment Centre NT and AID/WATCH (campaigns on Australia’s aid, trade and debt policies and programs). Professionally, my work is focused on enabling Indigenous leadership in land and sea management, currently with a focus on water quality projects in the Great Barrier Reef and catchments. My background is in Environmental management, I’ve worked in marine protected area design; vegetation community mapping and conservation; sustainable natural resource-based livelihoods programs in eastern Indonesia; and my PhD research examined Indigenous community engagement in large-scale marine conservation programs in Indonesia, with a sustainable livelihood focus.

Having grown up in north Queensland I’m excited to be back and making meaningful contributions to the vibrancy and resilience of far north Queensland’s community and environment. What better way than to work ensuring that our peak environmental organisation is strong, resilient, and able to respond to emerging local issues.

However, taking on this role is no small task and I’d like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of my predecessor Denis Walls to CAFNEC and the environmental movement in far north Queensland. Denis has an irreplaceable wealth of knowledge and experience, and we look forward to fruitful collaboration going forward. Denis has been active in innumerable campaigns including the fights to stop the Nullinga Dam proposal southwest of Mareeba the Aquis Casino development at Yorkeys Knob. He has made significant contributions to campaigns for conservation and rehabilitation of important wetland environments, most notably at East Trinity over the last 30 years, and more recently by playing a key role in advocating for the Jack Barnes bicentennial mangrove boardwalk near the airport to be repaired and reopened rather than destroyed. He has also worked hard to maintain a wetland habitat on the Cairns Esplanade suitable for critically endangered, migratory shorebirds which depend on it as a food source on their return to Australia from the far northern Asiatic land mass.

Denis continues to contribute to CAFNEC’s campaign capacity by working to protect old and important trees critical for the protection of our biodiversity. He has also been collaborating with members and supporters to see for Taylor Point to be brought into public hands with active Traditional Owner engagement. Over the six years of his presidency, he worked closely with CAFNEC’s different directors to build our capacity and impact, leading to the strong organisation we have today.

Building on this strength, I look forward to working closely with our management committee and staff to keep up our great work and do our best to meet the expectations of our members, supporters and the broader community. The member survey held late last year gave us invaluable insights into our collective work, so that we can continue to understand our strengths and overcome our weaknesses. Findings of the survey helped inform our annual plan for 2022. We were encouraged by the overwhelming support for our more recent climate work and Member Group support. Reflecting on the emerging challenges and member feedback, we will be resourcing more work towards campaigning on water security and infrastructure issues.

Another key message was that members feel that staff are not always available to meet and discuss important and emerging issues with them. Despite our team growing significantly in the last 5 years, staff have a consistent challenge in responding to the diversity and number of ongoing environmental issues and campaigns in our region. In our annual planning session we workshopped ways to better respond to members’ needs and requests. This is a work in progress, and we welcome your feedback and suggestions as to how we can improve our work with members and supporters. CAFNEC is its members and volunteers. Our relationships with you and our networks are essential to achieving impact for our region and investment in these relationships is a core priority for CAFNEC.

Before signing off I would like to acknowledge the important contribution of our management committee members. We are all volunteers with busy lives, dedicated to ensuring CAFNEC continues to flourish. The new presidency hails a new chapter for the management of CAFNEC. We have received interest from prospective new management committee members and look forward to sharing the details with you once these positions are confirmed.

On behalf of CAFNEC, thank you for your continued support. Should you wish to get in touch with me directly for any reason, I’m always available via the email.


Pia Harkness