Indigenous Australians 'taking power back' from government in Queensland

Indigenous Australians ‘taking power back’ from government in Queensland

The newly-appointed CEO of a peak body fighting for indigenous communities in north Queensland said the Cape York Land Council wants to “take the power back from government” and flip the current funding model on its head.

Speaking to, Fiona Jose who recently took over Cape York Partnership said instead of being told what they need, indigenous voices deeply embedded in the community must be setting the agenda for economic development in the area.

“We have sent a really clear message that we are ready for this responsibility,” Jose said from the Cape York Agenda 2.0 summit in Palm Cove on Tuesday.

“We have been working on our capability to do this over the last ten years and we are prepared.

“[The summits] are about being empowered, having our communities prosper and enabling economic development so we can bring a brighter future to our grandchildren and their children.”

More than 400 traditional landowners from different generations and regions all over north Queensland gathered for the summit on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a new direction for the CYLC.

The government-funded body previously fought to reinstate land rights and titles for indigenous communities in the region. But now, almost 28 years after the Council’s founding summit, that vision is within reach and the group must refocus.

Jose said there was a sense of “energy and hope”, with leaders of each subregion coming into their own after being afforded the autonomy to decide exactly what they need.

“Today we were asked to take personal responsibility to stand united going forward, to ensure grassroots members here on the ground can make the right decisions for our people,” Ms Jose told

“For so long we have been fighting for our rights but now we need to be talking about how we get this land ready so our people can use it.”

The call comes only weeks after founding CYLC member and indigenous rights activist Noel Pearson criticised the Turnbull government for abandoning a proposal for a constitutionally enshrined indigenous advisory body, which would have “the right to be consulted on legislation and policies that related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney-General George Brandis and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said they feared the Voice to Parliament would become a “third chamber”.

“A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle,” the government’s statement said.

Pearson said Turnbull had backed the proposal on numerous occasions dating back to 2015.

Ms Jose said the CYLC would now be looking to hold the government accountable for funding promises and ensuring local people can spearhead fuelling economic progress in the area.

“Every region is going to have a different priority and that is the beauty of this right now. For so long it has been the government telling us one agenda for all communities and that just doesn’t work.”

Minister Scullion told the summit he still strongly supported the council’s evolution toward supporting the community through land development, job growth and home ownership.

“I was asked in the Parliament about whether I understood the need for locally driven solutions instead of more of the same old approaches that were not delivering changes for Indigenous people,” he said via video.

“Well, my answer was clear. I do understand the need for local solutions. But more importantly, I was able to say that I was responding to the ideas put to me by the people of Cape York.

“It wasn’t my voice. It wasn’t my ideas, or government’s ideas.

“It was the voice, and the drive of you – the people of Cape York.”

Jose commended Scullion for not “crowding” the space or pushing the council toward any one goal.

“They’ve acknowledged we know our community, we put them together and now we are going to be telling you what we need

“We are not expecting you to do it for us. We just want you to play the role you currently play in every Australians’ life.”

Jose said determining how to harness the land’s economic value would be a complex task, particularly considering each different community’s needs.

But throughout the summit it was clear each person’s overall priority was bringing employment to the area.

“We need to unlock the land to ensure we create jobs for our people to stay on country and prosper.”

Building new housing in the area will not only improve the living standards of some members, it will provide ongoing jobs for the entire region.

Ms Jose said elders in the community who stood toe-to-toe with John Howard at Lockhart River and demanded back their land in 1990 were moved seeing a younger cohort carry on the legacy started decades ago.

“Our elders now see it is not just them fighting,” Ms Jose said.

“There is a new generation of leadership, not just standing beside or behind them, showing that there are fresh legs forging ahead who, with their guidance, can take the piece of work they fought so hard for to the next level.

The 400 representatives present at yesterday’s summit will now return to their respective sub-regions and consult with the community to determine their needs.

They will come together in six months to discuss their goals with the Queensland government to work out how it can best support their decision.


Scroll to Top