A secret agreement that triggered decade of division and anger has revealed clearing and development of protected bushland was approved on Stradbroke Island.
A secret agreement that triggered decade of division and anger has revealed clearing and development of protected bushland was approved on Stradbroke Island.

Bulldozers, resorts and hunting: Secret island deal shock

A secret agreement which has split an indigenous community has been uncovered after a decade, revealing approved clearing and development of protected bushland on one of Queensland's pristine islands.

For the first time since 2011 the confidential contents of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement - a blueprint for North Stradbroke Island's management.

The significant document has split the community, with traditional owners left in the dark about the secret deal between the government and select members of the powerful Quandamooka indigenous group.

The preferential treatment has triggered a decade of division and anger over unexplained land clearing and development.

The Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) and Indigenous Management Agreement (IMA) has been at the centre of North Stradbroke Island's management for the past decade, yet the contents have only now been uncovered.

The agreement, seen by The Courier-Mail, allows traditional owners to bulldoze trees and build houses in national park.

It reveals the ability for traditional owners to hunt endangered wildlife and access millions of dollars of taxpayer cash.

 

North Stradbroke Island is one of Queensland’s most pristine. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland
North Stradbroke Island is one of Queensland’s most pristine. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland

 

There is little information about how the government enforces the agreement, which has raised concerns among high-profile politicians and the community.

Shadow Attorney-General Tim Nicholls, whose family has travelled to North Stradbroke since the early 1980s, this week questioned why the land use agreement had remained secret.

"It is not as if there are any other commercial competitors for this agreement. There is only the state and QYAC," he said.

"In each case, both are, or are supposed to be, elected representatives for their constituencies, yet both refuse to tell those constituencies what is in the documents."

Mr Nicholls, who declared his support for native title, said there remained an "enormous amount of community disquiet" among island residents, traditional owners and nonresidents.

"Questions abound about allegations of land clearing, closure of parts of the island, restrictions on access and approvals, disquiet about the Whale on the Hill project at Point Lookout and, importantly, accountability to traditional owners and transparency about the expenditure of taxpayer funds," he said.

 

Quandamooka man Mark Jones said traditional owners had been fighting for a decade to discover the details contained in the agreement. Photo Lachie Millard
Quandamooka man Mark Jones said traditional owners had been fighting for a decade to discover the details contained in the agreement. Photo Lachie Millard

 

"On Minjerribah success about joint management is still a hotly-contested question."

The land use agreement reveals the far-reaching powers traditional owners have been granted, including the ability to hunt rare wildlife such as dugong and koala, use firearms, clear land and build houses in sections of national park.

Some residents blamed this lack of transparency for fueling tension among locals on the island located 30km from Brisbane in Moreton Bay.

For the past decade unexplained land clearing, secret agendas and lack of transparency have left many of Straddie's inhabitants fearing the island's future could be jeopardised.

The agreement between the Quandamooka people, Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) and the State of Queensland was signed in June 2011.

Its specific details have since remained secret, with successive governments refusing to release its contents.

Several island incidents, including the decimation of pristine Point Lookout bushland, unexplained housing construction and snap closure of popular campgrounds, have resulted from rules outlined in the agreement.

QYAC, which manages more than 71,488 hectares of native title land and sea, will this year celebrate 10 years as the island's body corporate.

It declined to comment on the agreement, while a Department of Environment and Science spokesman said it was required to "maintain confidentiality" following a Federal Court of determination.

 

Cleared land at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island. Picture Supplied
Cleared land at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island. Picture Supplied

 

This confidentiality has been maintained by various governments since 2011 as required by the agreement.

For the first time, the organisation's financial windfall from the sale of North Stradbroke Island land and mining royalties can be revealed.

Under the land use agreement, QYAC receives 50 per cent of proceeds from the sale of state land in the Point Lookout, Dunwich and Amity Point Town Expansion Areas.

The State Government agreed to pay the organisation $840,000 each year in mining royalties - as well as "reasonable financial assistance" for the development of signs, symbols and cultural information, according to the 2011 document.

The land use agreement also gives traditional owners permission to hunt endangered or rare wildlife following consultation with the State - which may include the development of "a system for the sustainable harvest or use" of the listed animals.

It also provides the ability for firearms to be used across the island for pest control, or with approval from the Department's chief executive.

Under the agreement, State Government officials are not permitted to enter an exclusive QYAC area without its consent, however, traditional owners can access state land for "inspection" after providing five days' notice.

QYAC must provide written consent for the State to undertake any "significant activities" - including building infrastructure, fire management and granting permits - within indigenous areas.

 

Straddie locals at the Headland Park site of proposed Whale Centre, Quandamooka Truth Embassy Stradbroke Island - Photo Supplied Stuart Quinn
Straddie locals at the Headland Park site of proposed Whale Centre, Quandamooka Truth Embassy Stradbroke Island - Photo Supplied Stuart Quinn

 

However, any breach of the Land Use Agreement does not give either party the right to terminate it.

Quandamooka man Mark Jones said traditional owners had been fighting for a decade to discover the details contained in the agreement.

"It deems us powerless," he said.

"We were supposed to see that agreement before the decision was made way back in 2011."

Mr Jones said QYAC had kept the agreement confidential while simultaneously occupying the land.

"In those agreements, some people have been privy to designated areas of land and they've gone and cleared it already," he said.

Dale Ruska, one of the original native title claimants, said the secrecy of the agreement had allowed a limited number of people to claim and occupy land across the island without explanation.

Mr Ruska said land at Point Lookout and Amity Point - outside of allocated development areas - had been cleared by QYAC associates.

"It's exceeding the million dollars in value," he said.

"They're using land which belongs to the traditional owners."

Mr Ruska said additional land in the designated Quandamooka Land Aspiration zone - which was set to be carved up and allocated to traditional owner families - had already been claimed without consultation.

 

North Stadbroke Island.
North Stadbroke Island.

 

It comes as the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations completes its audit of QYAC, finding the organisation's corporate governance and financial management was sound.

QYAC chair Valerie Cooms said the probe showed the organisation had fulfilled its management requirements over a decade.

"Through good governance practices and careful investment our business has gone from strength to strength, providing jobs, training and cultural opportunities to our members, traditional owners and the wider community," she said.

It comes as QYAC appoints Mike Fordham as its interim CEO following the departure of Cameron Costello in December.

Mr Fordham is a former Chief of Staff to Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Acting chief of the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations.

Dr Cooms said Mr Fordham would work "on a range of special projects to further strengthen the operations and sustainability of QYAC".

QYAC has more than 800 Quandamooka members out of a total island population of just over 2000 people, making it one of the largest Prescribed Body Corporations in Australia.

 

Originally published as Bulldozers, resorts and hunting: Secret Stradbroke Island deal bombshell