Traditional Owners are calling on the State and Federal Governments to show their hand amid concerns a proposed World Heritage listing for parts of Cape York would limit economic and social growth in remote communities.
The joint plan was revealed earlier this year, with the Queensland Government currently undertaking cultural heritage studies to determine the makeup of the tentative World Heritage list.
Once the list is approved by Federal Minister for Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek, it will be submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre for assessment.
While a World Heritage listing can take years to formalise, some Traditional Owners said they were concerned the Cape York World Heritage Taskforce was taking a “cloak and dagger” approach to groundwork for the tentative listing in a bid to rush it through.
One eastern Cape York Traditional Owner, who spoke to the Cape York Weekly on the condition of anonymity, said there was a lack of transparency and communication about the current process, despite government assertions Traditional Owners would be afforded “free, prior and informed consent” about the process.
“They’ve been saying this’ll all be above board, but none of us know what’s going on,” they explained.
“The [Cape York] Land Council’s (CYLC) working with them, but there’s more questions than information at the moment.
“We’ve been looking after our land a lot longer than there’s been [World Heritage] listing, so why do we need another set of rules telling us how to look after the land we know best?”
The CYLC has been engaged by the Queensland Government to provide legal and anthropological support to Traditional Owners as part of the current process.
Aboriginal affairs activist Jack Wilkie-Jans, who is originally from Mapoon, echoed concerns about the scope and transparency of consultation with Traditional Owner groups across Cape York.
“There have allegedly been several consultations [in late 2023] but I don’t believe that it’s transparent at all, especially because the approach the government is taking doesn’t include transparency on the limitations it will cause,” he explained.
“Should World Heritage listing go ahead, large parts of Cape York will be under the control of an international body.
“The mandate’s been clear to government that we don’t want World Heritage listing on Cape York.”
There is speculation the plan will focus on existing national parks on Cape York first, before potentially identifying other sites for nomination, however, neither the State nor Federal Government would clarify which locations were on the radar.
The Cape York Weekly put a number of questions to the State and Federal Governments about the World Heritage push, including whether it was hypocritical to seek World Heritage listing for parcels of land that have the potential to be adjacent to existing or emerging mining operations across Cape York.
Queensland Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leanne Linard said “a map is not yet available” for which areas would likely make it to the tentative list.
“The Miles and Albanese Governments are committed to World Heritage listing for Cape York.
“An application for listing will only proceed with the free, prior and informed consent of interested Traditional Owners.
“It is disappointing that some people are seeking to undermine the process.
“The Traditional Owners I engaged with personally on country last year were appreciative of the Government’s support.”
Commenting on behalf of Minister Plibersek, a spokesperson for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water said “the Cape York Land Council and Queensland Government are leading consultations with Traditional Owner groups about a potential tentative list submission for Cape York”.
The Traditional Owner the Cape York Weekly spoke to said they were yet to be convinced about the sincerity of the World Heritage plan, and that they believed it getting the green light would lead to overly prescriptive restrictions for communities.
“Me and my family are scared this will mean our communities can’t grow with more people and houses, and people wanting to start a business,” they said.
“Cape York’s already protected by the Traditional Owners.
“We don’t need more people telling us how to protect our country.”