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Council calls for boundary change to stop “huge issues” of managing Cape York icons

[by Kerrie Hall]

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Pajinka sign at the tip of Cape York. Image: supplied

Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (“NPARC”) and the Traditional Owners of some of Cape York’s most iconic destinations are calling for an urgent rethink of local government boundaries they say have no regard for communities who call the northernmost part of Australia home.

 

Currently, the land north of the Jardine River is managed by three local government areas – NPARC, Cook Shire Council and Torres Shire Council, with the latter responsible for well-known destinations Pajinka, Punsand Bay and the vital Bamaga Airport, despite the locations being on the mainland.

 

NPARC Mayor Patricia Yusia said Council had been attempting to seek a review of external council boundaries in the area for more than a decade, but that their concerns had been falling on deaf ears.

 

“This is causing huge issues in our community, but the Queensland government and Torres Shire Council are refusing to provide the support required to resolve the boundary problem,” Mayor Yusia said.

 

“For example, Council is unable to secure funding for the airport, because it’s not our asset, despite us operating it as a critical service for the NPA region.

 

“Further, Council is currently undertaking maintenance of roads and verges in other local government areas and is unable to manage or patrol hazards on the foreshore, such as illegal camps and helicopters landing, while Traditional Owners can’t close the road to prevent damage to country at Pajinka.

 

“We believe a boundary realignment makes sense, and that it will continue to make sense if the change commission takes a look at it, but government just won’t use common sense and make the referral required.”

 

Under existing legislation, reviews of external boundaries are undertaken by the Local Government Change Commission, but only after a change proposal is submitted to the local government minister for consideration.

 

Change proposal has been on NPARC’s agenda since 2012, with Council ramping up its advocacy over the past four years. Mayor Yusia urged Minister for Local Government Steven Miles to engage with stakeholders about changing boundaries in the NPA to ensure that the intent of legislation to “reflect local communities” and acknowledge the “linkages between local communities” was met.

 

“The Local Government Regulation 2012 is absolutely clear that ‘the external boundaries of a local government area should be drawn in a way that has regard to communities of interest’ and that ‘do not divide local neighbourhoods’ with common interests,”

 

Mayor Yusia explained. “The fact that we have three local governments responsible for the northern extremity of Cape York, including one that isn’t even on the mainland, demonstrates that it’s time for the councils involved and the Minister to go back to the drawing board with boundaries, because what we have simply doesn’t reflect the attitudes of the NPA community, and is most certainly causing division and confusion to our local neighbourhoods up here.”

 

The sentiment was echoed by Traditional Owners of the region, with Apudthama Land Trust Chair Ugari Nona arguing the lack of a single local government point of contact was causing frustration for the organisation, which holds the Aboriginal Freehold Land in the region on behalf of the Apudthama people.

 

“At the moment, there is no coordination or support for Traditional Owners to ensure we can properly manage and protect our country,” Ms Nona explained.

 

“As the landowners, we need to be adequately listened to and our interests respected in this process. “It makes no sense that we have to liaise with three councils, including one that isn’t even on the mainland, when we are residents and constituents of NPARC.

 

“We vote for the Councillors and Mayor for NPARC, so they should be the ones who are providing our local government services across our land.”

 

The board of directors of Ipima Ikaya Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, which represents the native title interests of Traditional Owners of Northern Cape York, said they strongly felt that a boundary change was the only way to ensure the planning, development and operation of Apudthama country could be guaranteed.

 

“The added complexities surrounding native title, with the land tenures, makes it challenging for the Traditional Owners to progress their aspirations, because they are dealing with three entities,” a spokesperson for Ipima Ikaya Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC said. “Traditional Owners are wanting to return to country and develop their homelands.

 

“They have no influence in the planning schemes developed by Cook Shire or Torres Shire, as they are not constituents of those local government areas, whereas, with NPARC, we are residents and have direct input into the future planning of our regions.”

 

Mayor Yusia said Council would continue to advocate for a review of local government boundaries across what “everyone already considers to be the NPA” for the betterment of the community.

 

“It’s disappointing one of our neighbouring councils and government won’t come to the table to discuss this issue seriously, because the problems the existing boundary alignment is causing on a daily basis are the result of poor decision making and a lack of foresight when the local government areas were drawn up,” Mayor Yusia added.

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