Protecting Cape York Peninsula

Protecting Cape York Peninsula’s environment and ensuring a conservation and cultural economy flourishes has long term benefits for Cape York communities.

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After making an election promise in 2012 to protect Cape York Peninsula, the Queensland government released a draft Cape York Regional Plan in November 2013, which fails to provide any meaningful protection to the Cape and opens up over half of the region to invasive development like mining, logging and intensive agriculture.

The Queensland government invited the public to make submissions on the draft plan. ACF and CAFNEC made a submission, along with 5,275 ACF supporters and a number of other organisations. In total the Queensland government received a total of over 6000 submissions.

On 15 May 2014 Queensland's Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney announced a turnaround on his plans to open up over half of Cape York Peninsula to invasive development.

Acknowledging that he had “heard the message”, Mr Seeney noted that, "We received more than 6,000 submissions to the draft Cape York Plan representing a wide range of views and we will continue to engage with Cape residents to ensure our plan reflects their wishes.”

A huge portion of those submissions came from ACF supporters. Their voice was heard loud and clear.

As a result, the pristine rivers of the Cape that were threatened by the draft regional plan — the Wenlock, Lockhart, Archer and Stewart River basins — will remain protected, becoming part of the new Strategic Environmental Areas in the region that include the Steve Irwin Reserve.

The Queensland government has recognised that greater protection for the Cape’s unique natural and cultural values is something many of the region's Traditional Owners want and will hold extensive consultation with the Cape’s Traditional Owner groups.

And the timeline for the Cape York Regional Plan will be extended long past June and be dependent on ongoing consultations and considerations made annually by the Cape York Regional Planning Committee and Cape York’s Traditional Owners.

This is a huge win for people power — for the Traditional Owners and residents of the Cape and for all those who want to see it protected.

ACF will continue to closely monitor the delivery of the Queensland government’s new commitments and ensure the final Cape York Regional Plan adequately protects the natural and cultural values of the region.

Cape York — conservation and cultural economy

Cape York faces increasing development pressure and conservation risk, and Indigenous communities remain significantly disadvantaged. Its unique environmental and cultural values need to be protected and managed by its community.

A conservation and cultural economy values land and culture, and in doing so provides long-term economic opportunities for the region. 

We actively support Indigenous communities through land tenure processes, application for World Heritage listing, and provide assistance to Indigenous community partners on conservation and cultural issues.

Cape York — returning land to rightful owners

The Cape York land tenure reform process is overseeing the return of land to Traditional Owners. It seeks to correct the historical wrong of dispossession of country, returning it to its rightful owners for joint management.

So far over 1,500,716 hectares of land has been returned to Traditional Owners. It is an important first step toward securing long term economic and environmental sustainability on Cape York, providing a foundation for economic initiatives.

Read about the Cape York land tenure process. 

So far over 1,500,716 hectares of land has been returned to Traditional Owners. It is an important first step toward securing long term economic and environmental sustainability on Cape York, providing a foundation for economic initiatives

Cape York Peninsula — World Heritage listing

We are committed to nominating appropriate areas of Cape York Peninsula for World Heritage listing with the consent of Traditional Owners. We believe with proper investment in culturally and environmentally appropriate economic enterprises, Cape York’s communities can fully benefit from a World Heritage listing.

We are committed to advocating for a Cape York World Heritage economic package to assist communities on the Cape. This should include:

• Resources for the operations of land and sea centres
• Investment in natural and cultural heritage management
• Indigenous-driven national park and World Heritage administration
• Employment and economic strategies in conservation sector jobs
• Training, education and skill capacity building initiatives

With suitable foundations such as these in place, World Heritage listing has the potential to then will provide Cape York Peninsula with long term conservation and cultural protection, and bring tangible socio-economic opportunities to the region.

Read about the incredible natural and cultural features of Cape York that are worthy of World Heritage listing.

Indigenous partnerships

Wuthathi people

Since the 1980s we have enjoyed a strong partnership with the Wuthathi people from Shelbourne Bay, on the north east coast of Cape York. Our alliance with The Wuthathi was formed to prevent sand mining at Shelburne Bay.

The Wuthathi are gaining tenure and exclusive rights to almost all of their traditional homelands through the land tenure reform process and the Commonwealth’s Native Title process. One of the most significant parcels of land to be returned to Wuthathi ownership has been the 80,000 hectare Shelburne pastoral lease.

Read about the Wuthathi Cultural Regeneration Project and how we are working towards building a culture and conservation economy in Cape York Peninsula.

Kuku Yalanji people

ACF has worked with the Kuku Yalanji people, from Mossman to Cooktown on the southern east coast of Cape York, to produce the Yalanji Warranga Kaban Yalanji People of the Rainforest Fire Management Book.

We are currently assisting Kuku Yalanji in their investigations into an Indigenous Protected Area community planning project with the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation.

Click here to read more about the Indigenous Protected Area planning project.

The Queensland Government's Cape York Regional Plan

The Queensland Government promised to protect Cape York during the last election in 2012 but their draft Cape York Regional Plan fails to provide any meaningful protection and leaves most of Cape York vulnerable to mining and other forms of development.

The centrepiece of the Queensland Government’s Cape York Regional Plan is a three-tiered zoning map that identifies national parks, what it calls ‘strategic environmental areas’ and 'general use zones'.

In summary, over 50% of Cape York has been zoned as 'general use' where, according to the draft plan, economic development will be prioritised over biodiversity.

The strategic environmental areas which include iconic landscapes such as Shelburne Bay only receive non-statutory protection.  Extensive savanna, vast wetlands, rich plateau forests and river corridors and a diversity of other rich tropical habitats are still vulnerable to mining and development. While there is a proposed ban on open cut and strip mining, there is no definition and this can be changed at the discretion of ministers.

ACF’s recommendations to the Queensland Government are to:

  • Increase the extent of the strategic environmental areas
  • Provide statutory protection of the these areas to ensure mining is prohibited
  • Provide better  protection to biodiversity throughout the region

Read an update

Read ACF and CAFNEC's summary and key asks on the Cape York Regional Plan.

Read ACF and CAFNEC's full submission to the Cape York Regional Plan.

Read ACF's Cape York Regional Plan background briefing.