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Cape York Plan

The draft Cape York Regional Plan so far fails to properly protect the region’s natural and cultural values write Andrew Picone and Angelika Ziehrl Cape York Peninsula

Late last year, Premier Campbell Newman surprised us all with a ‘declaration’ that the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve on Cape York Peninsula was protected.

“Protected for all time” said the Premier with Terri and Bindi Irwin on each side, kissing him on the cheek.

While praising former Prime Minister John Howard’s foresight in acquiring the land (notably without Traditional Owner consent) in tribute to the late and great Steve Irwin, Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell stated in parliament on the day that the previous Labor Government failed to provide full legal protection for the area and other landscapes across Cape York.

Presently, the Newman Government fails on this benchmark as well. Claimed protection is nothing but rhetoric lacking any form of robust legislative framework.

Under the draft Cape York Regional Plan and the associated Regional Planning Interests Bill the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve along with other iconic landscapes of the Cape will be a ‘Strategic Environmental Area’ (SEA). Under the plan these areas could still be mined, logged and grazed. Native forestry and grazing have a ‘tick’ in SEAs and mining (other than open cut/strip) is clearly identified in the plan as a “compatible use subject to regional criteria”. Other compatible uses ‘subject to regional criteria’ for SEAs include intensive horticulture, intensive animal husbandry and industrial development. These environmental areas are described in the draft plan itself, as supporting or likely to support “high ecological values through colocation of multiple biodiversity features”. There is nothing to give the Steve Irwin Reserve any real protection in perpetuity.

Further, current proposals and assessment mechanisms of ministerial discretion, at its worst, mean that senior government officials could take a view that a development, such as an open-cut mine should go ahead.

To make matters worse, it has recently been revealed that the SEAs, proposed under the Cape York Regional Plan are under review. This startling admission was made during a public forum in Cairns and recently confirmed at a meeting with Minister Powell.

The underlying premise of the draft regional plan is to balance two state interests; economic development and the environment. However, the two are not mutually exclusive and a strong and prosperous economy relies on a healthy environment.

In an attempt to reconcile LNP election promises of protecting Cape York and to support economic development, the Queensland Government has divided up the region into three zones: general use, environmental and national park.

The direction of the draft regional plan seems to suggest that the balance of environmental values can be maintained within the existing national park estate (15%) and the proposed provisions regulating another 32% of the region as ‘strategic environmental areas’ – SEAs.

53% of the region, General Use Areas, is left to environmental regulation and assessment processes that have undergone considerable change since 2012, including for self-assessable codes, new exemptions for vegetation clearing and removal of protection for riparian vegetation under the Water Act 2000.  In these areas, the state is prioritising state interests “that will facilitate economic growth over biodiversity…”

When the LNP went to the polls in 2012, it claimed it would protect Cape York’s iconic natural areas. First we were presented with a bioregional management plan, this was then subsumed into the regional planning process. Now we are being presented with a plan that provides statutory protection for development but falls well short on the environment.

Knowing that there are many approaches to conservation on Cape York, the Queensland Government does have an opportunity to make a difference in on-ground outcomes and meet both its stated objectives around environmental protection and economic opportunity.

In many instances, from the Mitchel River Delta to Shelburne Bay, Traditional Owners want to see their country protected from a range of threats, whether that be feral pigs or mining operations.  Their stake is their culture and future economic pathways centred on conservation and tourism economies, or just the plain fact that the land, well managed and intact, is already an important community food bowl.

Unless there is substantive improvement on the legislative framework of the regional planning process and an overall improvement in the environmental outcomes, the Cape York Regional Plan will achieve nothing to address land use conflicts and economic disadvantage.

Statutory legal protection with Traditional Owner consent for environmental and cultural areas across Cape York will go some way in delivering the Newman Government’s election promises. This includes a World Heritage nomination of, to quote Minister Powell, “the best of the best.”

Useful Links:

Cape York Regional Planning page: http://www.dsdip.qld.gov.au/regional-planning/cape-york-regional-plan.html

Draft Cape York Regional Plan:  http://www.dsdip.qld.gov.au/resources/plan/cape-york/draft-cape-york-regional-plan.pdf

Draft Cape York Zoning Map: http://www.dsdip.qld.gov.au/resources/map/cape-york/cy-regional-land-use-priorities.pdf

Have Your Say: http://www.dsdip.qld.gov.au/regional-planning/have-your-say-on-the-draft-cape-york-regional-plan.html


Write a submission:

  • Submissions must be received by midnight, 25 March 2014.
  • Please title your submission “Draft Cape York Regional Plan submission”
  • Email: CYRegionalPlan@nulldsdip.qld.gov.au
  • Fax: +61 7 3237 1812