Mr. Gerhardt Pearson (Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation CEO), Professsor Tim Flannery (2007 Australian of the Year) and Ms. Tania Major (2007 Young Australian of the Year) introduced the Cape York Conservation Agenda at a public seminar yesterday, at the Shangri La Hotel in Cairns.
The Cape York Heads of Agreement, signed off on the fifth day of February 1996 between the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) and the Peninsula Regional Council of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) (representing traditional Aboriginal owners on Cape York Peninsula), the Cattlemen’s Union of Australia Inc (CU) (representing pastoralists on Cape York Peninsula), and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and The Wilderness Society (TWS) (representing environmental interests in land use on Cape York Peninsula), was of central importance.
As I understood the essence of the seminar, it was not so much that the negotiated resolution of historic conflict was being celebrated, but rather that the agreement had been effectively abandoned, leaving Cape York as the only region in Australia without an appropriate NRM Board.
I thought it was a shameful indictment on Australia (and particularly its self-proclaimed conservation sector) that indigenous representation of Cape York needed to introduce a conservation agenda at all. Indeed, the division of representative interest in the agreement reeks of racial arrogance. The ACF and TWS are merely representative of the popularist environmental lobby. Their environmental bona fides, compared with Cape York’s indigenous record, is hysterical. And yet, the division of representative interest is inscribed within the agreement.
A traditional owner took the opportunity to announce that his people’s consent for the declaration of substantial increases in National Parks was taken under duress, by processing requirements that rendered Native Title contingent upon the relinquishment of vast tracts of tribal lands to the state (with the open arms of the conservation sector).
Professor Flannery described Australia’s indigenous people as ‘professors of fire’ and encouraged them to pursue scientific knowhow, particularly in dealing with a landscape overrun with feral weeds and animals. He encouraged the economic potential of carbon sequestration and expressed a hope for indigenous Ph.D’s.
The very impressive Young Australian of the Year, Tania Major, spoke eloquently about the linkages between recovering from a generation of welfare bondage and entry to the real economy, in terms of cultural obligation and the necessary removal of perverse regulatory obstructions.
Gerhardt Pearson led the audience along a challenging pathway of historical wrongdoing and contemporary betrayal and yet he was still able to enunciate the generosity of a people who recognise the need for mutually respectful cooperation and co-existence.