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Cape York leaders express concerns over World Heritage bid

Joseph Guenzler -

Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation executive director Gerhardt Pearson has criticised the drive to obtain Aboriginal consent for a World Heritage listing in North Queensland, deeming it offensive and hurried.

The Australian reports that Mr Pearson and other Traditional Owners and community leaders have voiced reservations about the joint state-federal government proposal to nominate large areas of the region for listing this year.

He noted that the current World Heritage-listed "Wet Tropics" site on Cape York, nominated without consulting the local Kuku Yalanji people by the Hawke government, has proven "disastrous" for nearby Indigenous communities.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and Queensland Premier Steven Miles, a former state environment minister, have been urged by Mr Pearson to "learn the lessons of the past" and engage in extensive consultations before considering any proposed nomination.

"We were initially told that this was going to be an Indigenous-led process and now we find it is being run by a rock star (Peter Garrett), the former head of the conservation foundation and a NSW bureaucrat – with the Black fellas sitting out on the wood heap," he told The Australian.

"It is offensive, an insult just a few months coming out of a referendum that both these governments said was about giving a voice to Indigenous Australians."

Mr Pearson noted that the proposed listing aligns with a rise in mining exploration permits granted across the peninsula by the state government.

"This is just a cynical exercise; it's linked to the expansion of exploration permits and leading up to the October state election there is a need for some sort of conservation offset for votes in Brisbane," he said.

On Wednesday it was revealed that Mr Garrett, the former federal environment minister, along with former Australian Conservation Foundation boss Don Henry, were recruited to facilitate meetings with traditional owners for their consent on the listing.

Lockhart River mayor Wayne Butcher told The Australian that in meetings with Ms Plibersek, state counterpart Leanne Linard, Mr Garrett and Mr Henry, he was only informed that the proposed listing would "start with national parks" on Cape York.

"There needs to be a lot more discussion, and open forums, about what value this is going to bring to Cape York and to Traditional Owners," he said.

Mr Pearson highlighted that the recent flooding around Cairns and southern Cape York underscored the potential disadvantages of a World Heritage listing, noting that the "Wet Tropics" World Heritage site, surrounding the community of Wujal Wujal, had imposed limitations.

"It is a shire of just 24km sq and because it is surrounded by the World Heritage site it can't expand, with all the new housing and infrastructure essentially built on top of each other in the path of the recent floods,'" he said.

Jack Wilkie-Jans, a Traditional Owner from Mapoon, told The Australian that the heritage listing might hinder economic development for Indigenous people.

"This policy is a dead horse, obsessively flogged by Garrett and Labor at almost every election, and yet again it's being proposed without any detail," he said.

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