Aborigines will be able to put their struggle for land rights behind them with the creation of a historic land use agreement for Queensland’s Cape York, activist Noel Pearson says.
The Cape York Peninsula Heritage Bill, introduced to state parliament on Thursday, ends almost two decades of squabbling between indigenous communities, conservationists and the mining and pastoral industries.
The laws will give indigenous people joint management of national parks and will allow some developments, such as aquaculture, grazing and agriculture, on Aboriginal land.
The bill protects sensitive environmental areas by designating “areas of international conservation significance”.
For the pastoral industry, it provides an ability for lessees to access rural lease terms of up to 75 years if they take action to protect world heritage values and enter into an indigenous land use agreement.
Mr Pearson, from the Cape York Land Council, said stakeholders had endured a long fight to reach a resolution.
“This is a day of very, very turbulent feelings, because it comes 17 years after we first embarked on this crusade,” he said.
“I really do feel that land rights is going to be put behind us … and we can get onto the social agenda of development and welfare reform and social recovery.”
Premier Peter Beattie described the bill as one of the significant land management initiatives in Queensland’s history.
He admitted it had been a “rocky road” to reaching an agreement.
“It provides for sensible economic opportunities for indigenous people in Cape York, while at the same time protecting the environment,” Mr Beattie said.
“It also acknowledges the rights of pastoralists. This has got the balance right.”
AgForce Queensland president Peter Kenny said the laws gave the pastoral industry security to go forward.
“In the future, if we take into consideration what we’ve been told about climate change, there’ll be more and more necessity for the pastoral industry … to head north where the rain will be,” he said.
Wilderness Society spokesman Lyndon Schneider said the laws would offer the long-term protection of the Cape, while Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said it would allow the industry to offer better economic opportunities to indigenous communities.
Mr Beattie said the laws amended the controversial Wild River legislation, which indigenous groups have argued deny Aborigines employment because they prevent mining, farming and tourism development in the Cape York.