Aboriginal freehold land and jointly managed parks on Cape York Peninsula

    Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program

    The Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program returns ownership and management of identified lands on Cape York Peninsula to local Aboriginal Traditional Owners. This ground-breaking Program ensures Cape York Peninsula’s iconic natural assets are protected while nurturing the rich and diverse cultural values of First Nations groups across this vast and unique region.

    Through this Program, the State is changing the tenure of identified Cape York properties to Aboriginal freehold land, which enables Traditional Owners to live on country, and grow self-determining opportunities through land management, grazing and private tourism, carbon projects and other ventures. Land and inland waters which have outstanding environmental values are being dedicated as jointly managed national parks. With support from Traditional Owners, the State is also converting existing national parks, to jointly managed national parks (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land) – CYPAL, with Aboriginal freehold as the underlying tenure.

    As of 30 September 2022, tenure resolution has been completed for 22 State land dealings and 24 existing parks, resulting in:

    • the transfer of land to 29 Aboriginal land holding entities (holding over 4.22 million hectares of land)
    • the transfer of over 1.57 million hectares of Aboriginal freehold land (without a national park (CYPAL))
    • the conversion of 24 existing national parks to jointly managed national park (CYPAL) – almost 1.8 million hectares
    • the creation of 10 new national parks (CYPAL) – over 799,000 hectares
    • the creation of 20 nature refuges on Aboriginal freehold – over 303,500 hectares.

    These outcomes are outstanding, with meaningful partnerships between Traditional Owners and the State Government through this Program leaving an enduring legacy. This work continues across other parts of Cape York Peninsula, returning land to the rightful traditional custodians.

    Most recently a land handback ceremony held at Injinoo Lookout celebrated the return of more than 362,000 hectares of land to Gudang/ Yadhaykenu, Atambaya and Angkamuthi (Seven Rivers) peoples.

    This resulted in the creation of Apudthama National Park (CYPAL), an area of 319,231 hectares, and Yamarrinh Wachangan Islands (Denham Group) National Park (CYPAL), an area of 69.9 hectares. Aboriginal freehold land was also returned as part of this land negotiation. This is another great example of the productive partnerships between the State and Traditional Owners. Protecting the abundant natural gifts of Cape York Peninsula through partnership agreements also enshrine the cultural values and metaphysical connection Traditional Owners have with their sacred lands. These positive actions are important steps in the State’s Path to Treaty, where land justice paves the way for all people in Queensland to flourish and prosper together.

    Other key achievements of the Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program include:

    • working cooperatively with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Northern Region to support joint management of national parks and associated Aboriginal ranger employment and land management projects such as fencing, cattle management, cultural and natural values protection.
    • working with Aboriginal landowners to establish third party grazing and gravel extraction arrangements
    • supporting the delivery of State and Commonwealth Indigenous funding opportunities to provide Aboriginal employment in land management
    • Supporting Aboriginal landowners of Mary Valley and Kalinga, Waarnthuurr-iin, Binthi, Batavia, Cape Melville, Flinders and Howick Islands, Bromley, and Wuthathi lands to develop plans for sustainable livelihoods and economic development opportunities and to review existing plans to achieve evolving aspirations.
    • supporting land holding entities established under this program (Aboriginal corporations and land trusts) to:
      • become independent highly functioning land managers
      • meet governance and land management obligations
      • create networks and pursue economic development opportunities.

    The evolution of joint management of Cape York Peninsula national parks

    On 2 November 2007 a new move towards joint management of national parks on Cape York Peninsula took effect through the proclamation of the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 (the Act).

    Under the Act, amendments to the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA) allow for the creation of a new class of protected area called national park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal land) (CYPAL). This class allows for existing and proposed national parks to become Aboriginal land and also be dedicated and managed as a national park (CYPAL). Importantly it allows for joint management of national park land by Traditional Owners (represented by an Aboriginal corporation or land trust) and the department.

    Traditional Owners are granted ownership of their Country as an Aboriginal freehold title and protect this area by jointly managing as national park (CYPAL) under the NCA.

    What lands can become national park (CYPAL)?

    Existing national parks, Aboriginal land, unallocated State land, land purchased through the department’s acquisition efforts or land bequeathed to the State in the Cape York Peninsula Region can all become national park (CYPAL). The Cape York Peninsula Region covers the mainland and islands, however excludes land or waters below the high tide. A map of the Cape York Peninsula Region is available on the Queensland Government site.

    How will a national park (CYPAL) be jointly managed?

    Joint management arrangements for a national park (CYPAL) are established through the development of an Indigenous Management Agreement (IMA) and a park management statement or management plan.

    The IMA provides the framework for the ongoing relationship between the department and the Aboriginal corporation or land trust for the management of the national park (CYPAL). The IMA sets the responsibilities of the State and the Indigenous landholding entity (an Aboriginal corporation or land trust) in managing the national park (CYPAL). The department and landholding entity also work together to develop management statements or management plans for each national park (CYPAL). The management statement or management plan under the NCA will be more specific in outlining resource and visitor management requirements.

    To what extent will Traditional Owners be involved in management?

    Park management responsibilities are negotiated between the department and the Traditional Owners (represented by an Aboriginal corporation or land trust) and vary from park to park.

    As joint managers of the land, Traditional Owners are involved in many facets of park management. Traditional Owners and the department work together to develop resource and visitor management policies, and operational procedures for the day-to-day management of the parks including pest animal and pest plant control, fire management, permits, presentation and facilities.

    As joint managers of the land, economic benefits flow to Traditional Owners from contract work, commercial tourism and Indigenous ranger employment.

    Will committees be established to oversee the management of national parks (CYPAL)?

    Regional and sub-regional committees comprised of representatives of Indigenous people, including representatives from the Aboriginal corporations and land trusts, may be established to continue the co-operative relationship between the department and Traditional Owners.

    Sub-regional committee membership may be drawn from Indigenous people that have an interest in the area for which the committee is established and allows Traditional Owners to speak on national park management issues. Sub-regional committees represent an individual national park or groups of national parks in the Cape York Region.

    A Regional Protected Area Management Committee (RPAMC) has been established with representation from sub-regional committees in the Cape York Peninsula Region, as well as the department.

    The role of the RPAMC is to advise the Minister responsible for the NCA, about matters relating to the protected area estate in Cape York Peninsula including:

    • park management plans
    • employment opportunities to increase Indigenous representation in the national park workforce
    • provision of resources for management of the protected areas.