10 May 2023

Mayors stand up to Irwin family on road closure proposal

| Matt Nicholls
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Council leaders from Cape York, the Torres Strait and Gulf gathered in Cooktown last week for the Torres and Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance meeting.

THE Torres and Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance has stood firm against the Irwin family, which is lobbying to have a key loop road closed in Cape York.

At last week’s TCICA meeting in Cooktown, mayors and senior staff from the councils in the Cape, Torres Strait and Gulf gathered over two days to discuss regional matters of importance.

Cook Shire Council briefed leaders on a move by Australia Zoo and Terri Irwin to seek the closure of the gazetted Bertiehaugh Road which traverses through part of the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve.

The Irwin family and the zoo want to close the road to prevent people trespassing on the reserve.

Weipa residents have lobbied for years to open the road and last year a group of residents pushed a track through using GPS.

It has already been a hit with four-wheel drivers and provided tourism opportunities for the Cape.

The move had the backing of the Western Cape Chamber of Commerce, which had worked closely with Cook Shire Council to get signs erected about the “do’s and don’ts” while traversing on the Bertiehaugh Road.

Those signs are expected to be put up soon.

A draft version of the sign being erected at both ends of Bertiehaugh Road.

“This has been an ongoing matter for TCICA, with the alliance resolving in 2018 and 2020 to keep the road reserve open,” a TCICA spokesperson said.

“The road is an important historical link between Mapoon and New Mapoon and cuts around 360 kilometres off the return journey for people travelling between these two communities.

“Leaders noted concerns about the lack of Australia Zoo’s engagement with Traditional Owners and that not one local Indigenous person was employed on the wildlife reserve.

“Further, when mayors met with Australia Zoo in Mapoon in 2020 they indicated their strong willingness to work with Australia Zoo to ensure that responsibility for the appropriate protection, interpretation and maintenance aspects of Bertiehaugh Road would be shared.

“This was to address Australia Zoo’s concerns about people trespassing on the wildlife reserve, fires and habitat loss, and increased management costs, yet Australia Zoo has failed to engage in any constructive discussion.”

The council representatives had a busy agenda in Cooktown.

Mayor Peter Scott said the TCICA gatherings were a highlight on the calendar.

“There’s a real collegiate-type feeling at the TCICA gatherings and a lot of the councils are sharing the same issues,” he said.

“There is a lot of respect around that table.”

  • TCICA is working on a range of key projects to deliver on its strategic intent of enabling cooperation and coordination, supporting regional growth, and advocating on regionally significant issues.

One focus is regional resilience.

“TCICA continues to focus on regional resilience building and will soon submit a final application to the Queensland Reconstruction Authority to fund coordinated regional resilience activities for the next two years, aligned to the soon-to-be-completed Regional Resilience Strategy,” the TCICA spokesperson said.

  • Alex Ung of UNGANCO presented to leaders the $4.4 million federally-funded Cape Resilience Project which will see world-leading cloud-based asset management systems implemented in nine member councils to address asset risk management and renewal.

Aligned with TCICA’s regional resilience objectives, the project will support councils better prepare for disaster events through planned maintenance scheduling and help councils drive business efficiencies by giving them the tools to optimise asset performance.

Up to eight part time staff will be embedded in councils for on-the-ground project support throughout the life of the project.

  • Connor Clarke and Greg McLean of Plastics Pirate and Kenny Reid of Cooktown’s Auswaste Environmental Services, spoke to TCICA about their plastics waste to energy project which will be piloted in Cape York.

“Together they are working to establish a hub at the Lakeland Transfer Station to process waste plastic from the agricultural sector and from the Cape and Torres Strait, to generate usable fuels including diesel, and eventually produce products such as lumber or materials from certain types of plastic waste,” the TCICA spokesperson said.

Using the power of pyrolysis to turn plastic into treasure, Plastics Pirate is first to market in Australia with mobile plastic pyrolysis plants.

“Their point of difference is they produce usable fuels on-site and straight from the plant,” TCICA’s spokesperson said.

  • Mayors spoke of the need to reinvigorate Community Justice Groups, which play an important role in communities to address justice-related issues using cultural leadership.

Leaders felt that the role of CJGs had diminished over time and that group representatives were not provided with a clear understanding of the activities and services of CJGs, especially as foundational group members and community Elders have passed on.

  • Andrew Clarkson and Cameron Woolla from Glencore briefed TCICA on the progress of the Aurukun bauxite project, which is expected to generate hundreds of jobs in the region.

Glencore is currently advancing the development of a partnership agreement with Traditional Owners, informed by family consultation.

The company is awaiting the review of its draft Environmental Impact Statement by the coordinator-general, with other key approval and agreement requirements in focus throughout 2022.

More than 250 parties have expressed interest in participating in building and construction works and Glencore has commenced pre-employment training for the development of a strong local workforce.

  • TCICA’s next meeting is scheduled for July 12 and 13 in Cairns.

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