The Australian Rainforest Foundation (ARF) has recently distributed an explanation of its position and the work it has been tasked to do, particularly where it applies to the rainforest areas between the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation.
Much of what it describes as ‘always controversial’ is all too frequently rationalised against a series of subdivisions that were registered by the Queensland Government in the early eighties. What is rarely offered, by way of qualification, is that this decision was made in favour of competing interests that sought substantive removal of rainforest for sugar-cane cropping, on lands that had been held under freehold title for much of the preceding century. With a full disclosure of historical fact, the decision to oppose the expansion of sugar-cane was remarkably enlightened in its protection of an extraordinary rainforest habitat.
Not that the significant number of residential properties, with existing-use-rights, was without concern; indeed, if all twelve-hundred properties were developed to capacity, there would have been significant habitat losses. In recognition of these concerns, $23million was allocated in the mid-nineties for voluntary acquisition and conversion to National Park.
For resolution of outstanding concerns at the conclusion of this program, the Daintree Futures Study was undertaken and submitted to the Wet Tropics Ministerial Council. Three spheres of government were to sign a Memorandum Of Agreement to endorse its recommendations, including the package of financial contributions from Commonwealth and Queensland Governments and the Douglas Shire Council.
The Queensland Government was to allocate $16.1million to Ergon to supply grid electricity, but the Queensland Minister for Mines and Energy effectively circumvented the requirement by authorising an amended policy that prohibited the supply of electricity using a network and excised the Daintree region from Ergon’s distribution area.
The Douglas Shire Council was to collect an extra $1million from the Daintree River ferry over five years, but its specific purpose tourism/conservation levy was ultimately ruled illegal by the Queensland Supreme Court.
The Commonwealth government was to underwrite a $10million Daintree Land Trust, however, the Ministerial Council rather agreed to fund $300,000 each from Commonwealth and Queensland governments and an additional $400,000 outstanding from the previous $23million, to establish a $1million seeding grant for the ARF, as described in the above-mentioned explanation.
Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into ‘Daintree Conservation’ over the years, with changing names on title, covenants, property boundaries being reconfigured and development rights expropriated. There is little debate that this area of outstanding conservation value should be protected and to the greatest possible extent. To this end, its resident community has been regulated into a conservation land-use function, but what it requires, more than anything else, is an appropriate economy and one that is not contingent upon development. So far, none of the ‘rescue programs’ have managed to provide this requirement.
As a relatively recent land-holder, the ARF is grappling with the same conservation challenges as all landholders within the Daintree; its application for compensation for loss of development rights is an expression of an economic lack of choice.