21 Water governance in Queensland 223 Unsurprisingly, this panel reported that the natural assets identified through this process were ‘nearly identical to the Wild Rivers values’ previously identified (Western Rivers Advisory Panel 2013). The majority of the panel largely reinforced earlier strong messages that natural flows in the Channel Country must not be reduced, or interfered with, and must be protected from activities such as irrigation, overland flow capture for any purpose, and mining, petroleum and gas operations (Western Rivers Advisory Panel 2013). About a third of the recommendations related to mining including: prohibition on floodplains of major rivers, major tributaries and lakes no powers by the state Coordinator-General to override protective strategies and the prevention of contamination of surface and groundwater systems by petroleum and gas operations. The report presented views from five sectors resources (e.g. mining), natural resource management, local government, Agforce and science with no record of an Aboriginal view. One of the panel’s Aboriginal members issued a media statement soon after the publication of the report to the effect that Aboriginal people in the Channel Country had not been fully consulted, and that all Aboriginal people had strong views on the protection of natural river systems and supported the Wild Rivers declarations (Lloyd 2013). Because of the gap in recording an Aboriginal view opposing the abolishment of wild rivers protection of the Western Rivers, an Aboriginal forum was organised in November 2013. Attended by over 30 Aboriginal community people, including a large contingent from the Channel Country of the Lake Eyre Basin, Traditional Owners in Queensland expressed the view that their voices are often not captured in reports to relevant ministers (see Chapter 8). As custodians of the land for centuries, they have the longest term human stake in this country (Queensland Aboriginal Forum 2013). They recognise values in the country that are not apparent to many others, and these values are antithetical to those whose interests are mainly commercial. The 2013 forum strongly endorsed the 2011 Tibooburra declaration (Table 21.1 see Chapter 8) and called on the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, the Honourable Andrew Cripps, to retain Wild Rivers declarations over the Western Rivers. High-level collaborative protection of Lake Eyre Basin rivers required It was reasonable to assume that the Queensland Liberal National Government (2012–15) would be open to Aboriginal views from the Channel Country, when their 2012’s election promise to abolish the Wild Rivers declarations was based on the opposition from some of Cape York Aboriginal leaders to those declarations. Some Aboriginal leaders in Cape York applied to the Federal Court to annul Wild Rivers declarations over three of the four wild rivers in the Cape: the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart Rivers. In 2014, the Federal Court ruled that these three declarations were invalid on the grounds that the Minister for the Environment, the Honourable Steven Robertson, had to satisfy the statutory preconditions to the exercise of power, as required under the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Koowarta v State of Queensland (2014)). Under section 13 of the Wild Rivers Act 2005, matters that were mandatory for consideration before ministerial exercise of power included the results of community consultation and all properly made submissions. There was evidence that the Minister did not sight the required material accompanying the ministerial brief on the declarations, until after he had made a decision to declare these three rivers (Koowarta v State
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