Daintree development - why won’t governments solve the problem?

The struggle to save the Daintree Lowland Rainforest from the threat of development has been ongoing since the early 1980s. There have been many campaigns against development so the question must be asked - why won’t governments solve the problem?

Seeking government intervention has always been seen as part of the solution to development in the Daintree Lowland Rainforest however political expediency has seen governments support both the pro-development and conservation position.

While development pressure is driven by commercial interests, governments have been a big part of the problem and at times also an obstacle to a resolution. Some politicians in Far North Queensland support development in the Daintree Rainforest and business interests lobby these politicians to obtain support. 

For forty years governments have been unwilling to put an end to development so the campaign to save the Daintree continues.

The Bloomfield Track.

The Daintree Lowland Rainforest came to national and international attention following the Daintree Blockade, a direct action campaign by activists to prevent the construction of the Bloomfield Track. In 1983 and again in 1984 people traveled from all over Australia to support the protests. The Bloomfield Track was built and Daintree was on the map. 

Increased access.

There is ongoing pressure to increase access to the Daintree Lowland Rainforest and for decades business interests have called for a bridge across the Daintree River to replace the existing vehicle ferry. In 2020 we supported the successful campaign against the bridge.

Electricity.

There is ongoing pressure to provide mains electricity in the Daintree Lowland Rainforest. For decades business interests have called for reticulated electricity. We oppose this as it will support further development.

Subdivision and development for housing.

In 1982 the Queensland Government approved a rural residential subdivision of 1,137 properties in the Daintree Lowland Rainforest and two-thirds of the lowland rainforest (between the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation) was excluded from protection in the Daintree National Park and Wet Tropics World Heritage Area that was declared in 1988.

In Australia freehold, privately held land is considered the most absolute form of land ownership and subject to complying with applicable laws in each State and Territory landowners can also determine what occurs on their land. Australians strongly defend the right to own freehold property. Owners of Daintree Rainforest properties have maintained their right to ownership and governments have been reluctant to remove those rights. Compulsory acquisition of land in the Daintree Lowland Rainforest is unpopular with politicians. 

What have governments done to stop development?

  • In 1988 the Australian Government used its powers to override objections from the Queensland Government to create the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. At this time the Daintree National Park was expanded.
  • In the early 1990s, the Queensland Government introduced a policy preventing the extension of mains electricity north of the Daintree River.
  • In 1993 the Australian and Queensland governments funded the Daintree Rescue Program providing $23 million. $11 million was used to purchase 83 properties totalling 1,640ha for their natural values. The remaining funds were used for management purposes such as visitor facilities.
  • In the 1990s and 2000s, the Douglas Shire Council, Queensland Government, and Australian Government all contributed financially to the purchase or ‘buyback’ of freehold land aimed at preventing further development and winding back the impacts of the subdivision.
  • In the mid-2000s the Douglas Shire Council placed a levy on the Daintree River Ferry and used the funds for the purchase of 11 properties before objections saw the levy removed.
  • In the mid-2000s the Australian and Queensland governments provided a total of $6m in funding to the Australian Rainforest Foundation for the acquisition of Daintree Rainforest properties.
  • In 2004 the Douglas Shire Council placed a moratorium on development while a new planning scheme was developed. This ultimately placed limits on development in specified areas north of Alexandra Range and removed development rights from 350 freehold properties. Between 2006-2008 the Queensland State Government created the Daintree Buyback Scheme to purchase land impacted by the Douglas Shire Council planning scheme. Landholders were given the option to sell to the state government or be compensated for the loss of development rights. The Queensland government provided $15 million and 330 properties were acquired for the Daintree National Park estate.

Kelvin Davies and sign for the Daintree Rescue Program

Can they do more?

Governments, especially the Queensland and Australian government can and should do more to save the Daintree from the threat of development. They spend billions on other issues however there doesn't seem to be enough votes in Daintree Rainforest conservation to justify investment in the buyback of additional land for conservation.   

The Australian Government has significantly cut funding for environmental programs since coming to power. An analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation found that funding for biodiversity protection (threatened species and ecosystems) had fallen 28% since the Coalition was elected in 2013. This 2021 Australian budget forecasted that spending on biodiversity is to fall over the next three years until it is less than half what it was in 2013. The 2021 budget has $29.3m for changes to the national environment laws, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, but the bulk will go to increasing the speed at which development proposals are assessed and approved (source The Guardian). 

The Australian Government announced an investment of $19.2 million for development in the Daintree Lowland Rainforest in the 2021/22 Australian Budget. We are concerned that this will result in further clearing and damage to the world's oldest rainforest. In a statement released by the government, it said "The Morrison Government is backing the construction of a renewable energy microgrid in the Daintree community to shore up the supply of reliable and affordable energy for locals, reduce emissions, and create jobs..."
We most certainly support the supply of renewable energy if it does not harm the world heritage values of the Daintree Lowland Rainforest, however, we are very concerned that there is no corresponding investment in the buyback of high conservation value land to prevent a likely surge in development for housing.

In 2020 we have identified 207 undeveloped freehold properties in the Daintree Lowland Rainforest that should be purchased for conservation. Because the land in question is freehold, privately held land, the best and most direct resolution is to purchase and protect these lands for conservation and to expand Daintree National Park.

We maintain a dialogue with the Douglas Shire Council, Queensland Government, and Australian Government and seek their support for further buyback of land. The last financial contribution to buyback was by the Queensland Government in 2006-2008, but there has been nothing since. We met with Warren Entsch MP who is the Member for Leichhardt, the electorate that includes the Daintree Lowland Rainforest in April 2021 to discuss issues concerning local residents, businesses and the conservation of the world’s oldest rainforest.

Kelvin Davies, Warren Entsche MP, and Richard Christqain in April 2021. 

We believe that every individual person has the ability to demonstrate leadership and that when the people lead, governments will follow. We continue to request support from all three levels of government and while doing so we demonstrate the desire of the Australian people to save the Daintree Rainforest through our community-funded buyback program. 

Since 1992 non-profit organisations have acquired 75 properties for conservation. 

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Please donate now and help us buy back land in the Daintree Rainforest.

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  • Kelvin Davies
    published this page in Latest News 2021-02-23 17:29:40 +1100