21 March 2024

Phone call causes further confusion over ‘secret squirrel’ World Heritage consultation

| Lyndon Keane
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While the Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef has criticised reporting on the current Cape York World Heritage push, Mountain View owner Joy Marriott says she has no new confidence in the process after receiving a “secret squirrel” telephone call from a senior Department of Environment and Science staffer. Photo: Lyndon Keane.

The owner of a freehold property at the centre of Cape York World Heritage confusion says a senior Queensland Government staffer admitted there had been an “oversight” with stakeholder consultation, despite the responsible minister stating it was never going to be considered for the tentative list.

The Cape York Weekly reported on 5 March, 2024 that about 30 per cent of Mountain View, a 12,300-acre freehold land parcel north of Lakeland, was displayed on maps currently being used to consult with Traditional Owners about endorsing the Quinkan Country National Heritage List area for World Heritage consideration.

Despite this, the owner of the property, Joy Marriott, had not been approached to gauge her views on potential World Heritage listing.

However, the Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leanne Linard has slammed this publication for the coverage, stating Mountain View was never on the table for World Heritage consideration, as her government was “only considering areas that are under Indigenous ownership, or already part of Queensland’s protected area estate”.

READ ALSO ‘Flawed’ World Heritage process leaves Cape York freehold owners in the dark

Ms Marriott said last week the minister’s comments did little to lessen her scepticism of the consultation process, adding they directly conflicted with those made by a Department of Environment and Science executive during a “secret squirrel” telephone conversation after the story was published.

“They were calling from Brisbane and asked me not to mention to anyone that I’ve had the call,” she told Cape York Weekly.

“This person said [not speaking to freehold owners] was an oversight, and that their riding instructions were to get Traditional Owner consent only in the first stages, and then the other stages would be consulting with other landholders.

“Essentially, that’s what they’ve admitted, and that’s what they were asked to do.”

Ms Marriott said she was angry the government, which is undertaking the process to provide the Federal Government with a tentative World Heritage list for parts of Cape York later this year, could not simply admit it made a mistake by leaving non-Traditional Owners out of discussions.

“It’s all ridiculous, all this secret squirrel stuff,” she said.

“Why make the call?

“How hard is it to admit the mistake?

“It’s not that big of a deal, instead of all this cloak-and-dagger stuff.

“It’s just confused it more because, like I said, I’m likely to be one of the most likely to want World Heritage over the area; because it’s on the national list, it warrants protection.”

READ ALSO Letter from the Editor: World Heritage journey leaves genuine stakeholders at a roadside stop

Ms Marriott urged Minister Linard to come and speak directly to her about her concerns, adding the mixed messaging between ministerial and departmental sources was eroding confidence in the veracity of the process.

“It doesn’t have any clarity, and when they say they’ll take [Mountain View] out and it will never be considered for it, so do we then get consulted as neighbours or potential neighbours?

“It just raises more questions.

“It still makes you have a lot of disquiet that you can’t have confidence in their processes.”

Critics have questioned the timing of the consultation process with the Queensland state election scheduled for October 2024 and a federal election due next year.

Ms Marriott said she believed there had been some missteps by the State Government in delivering the stakeholder consultation.

“It’s pretty easy to look up a tenure map,” she said.

“If it was so important to the State and Federal Government, wouldn’t they have been a bit more diligent with the first step of the process?

“If this is how they’re dealing with me, I can’t imagine how they’re dealing with the TOs [by] rushing it though.”

Despite being clearly identified in the Quinkan Country National Heritage List area map being used for stakeholder consultation, the State Government says part of the freehold Mountain View, shown in pink, was never on the table for World Heritage tentative listing because it is “only considering areas that are under Indigenous ownership or already part of Queensland’s protected area estate”. Photo: Supplied.

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