MINING and gas activity appears to have overtaken irrigation exploitation fears as the main concern of people upset at last week’s repeal of the Wild Rivers Act by the state government.
All areas previously declared under the Wild Rivers Act are now Strategic Environment Areas under the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014, which came into effect in June.
According to deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, this will mean important rivers on Cape York and in the Gulf and Channel Country will be protected from inappropriate development going forward.
“In the Channel Country our government is regulating land use across a far greater area of riverine channels and flood plains than Wild Rivers legislation ever did,” he said.
“The Channel Country Protection Area created through the comprehensive Western Rivers Advisory Process is now mapped as a Strategic Environmental Area where the community will decide appropriate land uses.
“Our strong plan for this important part of Queensland balances protection of the environment with the need to provide economic development opportunities for these remote communities.”
Longreach grazier John te Kloot said he was pleased the Act was gone as it was too restrictive for the grazing sector.
“I think people are responsible – they just want a fair go to be more efficient and competitive.
“We have to accept responsibility now to maintain the integrity of the system and see that water gets to Lake Eyre, but there are measures in place to look after it.”
He argued that the region couldn’t be put in a time warp and said that mining brought infrastructure advances in a way that sheep and cattle could never do.
However Bill Scott, based at Thylungra west of Quilpie, didn’t believe landholders had long-term certainty.
“Governments of all persuasions are drunk on royalties. They would drain every waterhole if there was a buck in it.”
He acknowledged there was a groundswell of people in the region who opposed Wild Rivers but said he thought it had been better than nothing.
“I just don’t have confidence in any government to stand up to the resources sector.”
While Mr Seeney said the new legislation allowed for the protection of areas that traditional owners and indigenous communities believed were worthy of protection and gave opportunities for other areas to be developed with a high level of input from the local community, Channel Country indigenous spokesman Scott Gorringe was scathing of what it meant for people in his area.
He said the government only listened to Aboriginal people who thought like they did, such as Noel Pearson, and his people wanted to be afforded the same respect.
“The government is trying to replace cattle with mining and the gas industry,” the Mithaka spokesman said.
“Under Wild Rivers there was a 1km barrier to waterways – now we only have goodwill and passion.
“There’s no way they’re going to put protection of rivers ahead of mining.”
Quilpie mayor and Western Rivers Advisory Panel member Stuart Mackenzie said people feared what they didn’t know but he had first-hand knowledge of mining in the region and he wasn’t afraid of ill-effects in the Channel Country.
“We had the Treasurer here last Friday to look at mining in the Cooper Basin – this is the largest on-shore resources project in Australia.
“If we didn’t have mining here we’d be really struggling.”
Cr Mackenzie said mining had brought sealed roads, continuity to small towns, airstrips and daily flights, and mobile phone capability to some parts.
“If you look into the legislation, all the controls they had were already covered in existing Acts.
“Wild Rivers was all about the name.”
Property Rights Australia chair Joanne Rea agreed there was a long tradition of mining in the Lake Eyre Basin.
“Wild Rivers placed more restrictions on the efficient running of agricultural enterprises.
“The declarations of special environmental areas will do much more to protect the truly worthy environmental features without unnecessarily restricting the other enterprises in the region.”
The South Australian Premier is understood to be investigating how any changes in management to the Cooper, Diamantina and Georgina Rivers could impact his state.
Data and modelling has been received from the Queensland government and he said he would be in a better position to respond once that had been analysed.
“Our priority here remains the sustainable management of the Lake Eyre Basin, and ensuring that those South Australians who rely on the Basin are not left disadvantaged.”