Since 1990 the Cape York Land Council has operated true to the guiding vision of its founding Elders to represent and support the Aboriginal peoples of Cape York to regain rights to land and sea, so that culture is preserved and to assist people to make their own decisions to achieve a better future.

Peter Callaghan, Chief Exeuctive Officer
Peter Callaghan
Chief Executive Officer

CYLC continues to deliver on this guiding vision by performing a broad range of functions as a Land Council, including in our role as the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for Cape York. CYLC is currently recognised by the Australian Government as the Cape York NTRB until 30 June 2018 and in this role CYLC is responsible for fulfilling statutory functions under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). These functions include facilitating and assisting the progress of native title claims and Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) and receiving and distributing Future Act Notices about activities that may affect the interests of native title parties.

CYLC is based on a corporate structure consisting of a Board of Directors, a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and operational staff. The Board of Directors determine CYLC’s strategic direction and as CEO I then direct operational staff to achieve outcomes identified by the Board. Board members have been the backbone of CYLC since its inception and we have been privileged to have had some of the most dedicated people from across Cape York on our Board over the years.

The term of the previous Board expired in December 2015 so over October and November 2015 elections were held throughout Cape York to elect a new Board. I would like to take this opportunity to give my sincere thanks to the outgoing Directors for the contribution they have made to the achievements of CYLC over the previous four years, welcome the newly elected Directors to the Board and thank the re-elected Directors for their ongoing commitment to guiding the direction of CYLC. We have a big four years ahead of us that we anticipate will be amongst the most significant in CYLC’s history, so our new Board will be involved in the making of a new and positive chapter in the story of Cape York.

Sadly 2016 began with the passing of a senior elder and the Cooktown Board representative. The loss of Mr Ron Harrigan has been felt across the Cape and his wealth of experience and knowledge will be missed at each of our Cape York regional organisations’ events.

CYLC’s NTRB efforts over 2015-16 were very much about building a comprehensive platform of native title rights for Cape York’s Aboriginal people for the future. We continued to progress the Cape York United Number 1 Claim that was registered on 6 February 2015. This is one of the largest of the current claims in Australia and the first where a NTRB has claimed all of the unclaimed land and internal waters within its representative area. This claim remains on track to be determined according to the timetable set by the Federal Court. CYLC also continues to progress the Ankamuthi People, Ankamuthi People #2 and the Gudang Yadhaykenu People native title claims. Looking forward, over 2016-17 CYLC aims to commence claims over the remaining unclaimed sea areas in our representative area.

To assist native title claims and to assist informed engagement with Cape York’s Traditional Owners for other matters, CYLC continues to develop a master genealogical database for Cape York. When completed the genealogical database will provide comprehensive information regarding the Traditional Owners for areas of country and will greatly assist engagement with the right people in native title and other processes.

CYLC was involved in the negotiation and registration of three ILUAs over 2015-16. One of these was the Mapoon Township Community Development ILUA. This ILUA is the first of its type because it proactively anticipates the likely future acts associated with development in the town area, including home ownership, and provides simplified processes and compensation formulas for native title consent for those acts. Development in Mapoon will now be easier, quicker and less expensive for all parties as a result of the ILUA and Traditional Owners will be involved every step of the way, so it is a big step forward for the Mapoon community. CYLC will continue to encourage the State to support the negotiation of a Town ILUA for every Aboriginal community across the Cape so that traditional owners have a say and seat at the table and development is made easier everywhere.

CYLC is currently involved in the negotiation of several other ILUAs across Cape York which are anticipated to be completed over 2016-17. Prominent amongst these is the ILUA for the upgrade of the Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR). CYLC is using this ILUA process to negotiate significant opportunities for Cape York Aboriginal companies to be contracted to provide services for the road upgrade and to ensure that other contracted companies employ significant numbers of Cape York Aboriginal people. We expect PDR upgrade work will result in the contracting of Cape York Aboriginal companies and the employment of Cape York Aboriginal people for several years into the future and this to be the first of many benefits for Cape York Aboriginal people as a result of our proactive and constructive approach.

As a result of previous native title determinations, the Cape York United Number 1 Claim and other claims, all activities on Cape York must now comply with the requirements of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). This includes that a Future Act Notice (FAN) must be provided to the Traditional Owners of that country for all activities that may impact on native title rights and interests. CYLC receives these notices from government on behalf of development proponents and then distributes them to the appropriate people. CYLC dealt with 305 FANs over 2015-16 and although our FAN work has increased as a result of the determinations and claims we’re happy with this extra work because it means we’re able to involve more Traditional Owners in having a say about what activities occur on their traditional lands.

CYLC strongly believes that our role is not finished upon determination of native title and the establishment of a Registered Native Title Body Corporate (RNTBC / PBC). CYLC continues to deliver support to RNTBCs through our PBC Support Unit so that they are able to fulfil their corporate responsibilities and provide ongoing benefits to the native title parties they represent. The PBC Support Unit offers a suite of tools aimed at strengthening the capacity of PBC Directors to capably manage the challenges of operating their PBC, including corporate governance, financial management, strategic planning and statutory compliance. Our ultimate aim is to have as many of our PBC’s and Traditional Owner groups as possible become self-governing, economically viable and self-sufficient.

From 1–3 June 2016, I attended the National Native Title Conference in Darwin where CYLC representatives showcased the great work of CYLC and the outcomes we are achieving in native title determinations and the negotiation of ILUAs. I believe we are setting an example of a proactive and pragmatic approach to native title issues and how native title rights and interests can be used to leverage benefits for Traditional Owners, and the rest of Australia is starting to pay attention to how we are doing business.

CYLC representatives returned to Darwin from 20–22 June 2016 to participate in the Developing Northern Australia Conference. The Developing Northern Australia agenda could potentially provide good opportunities for Indigenous people but we are yet to be convinced that development will be pursued in a way that is in the best interests of Indigenous people. However, CYLC continues to demonstrate how development may proceed in ways that respect and elevate the interests of Indigenous people and we promote the principle that Indigenous people must be integral to development of the north and not simply an obstacle to be overcome and sidelined.

In addition to achieving native title outcomes, CYLC is also committed to securing Aboriginal freehold and other land rights for Cape York’s Aboriginal people. To achieve this CYLC shares legal expertise and other resources in a partnership with Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation to assist in State Lands Dealings (SLD) processes. On 6 April 2016 I attended the Sandstone East Aggregate ILUA signing to enable the transfer of 54,510 hectares of land as Aboriginal freehold to the ownership of its Traditional Owners. Some of this Aboriginal freehold land will be declared as a jointly managed National Park and the remainder will be available for economic uses such as grazing, tourism and other uses as Traditional Owners see fit.

Further SLD negotiations are ongoing and I expect that over 2016–17 many thousands of hectares of land will be transferred to Aboriginal freehold tenure and the ownership of Traditional Owners. As a result of CYLC’s efforts and through partnerships with Balkanu and our Traditional Owners, Cape York’s Aboriginal people hold native title and Aboriginal freehold land rights over increasingly large areas of the Cape and this provides them with the greatest possible range of rights, interests and opportunities.

CYLC shares many objectives in common with other organisations and we recognise that working in partnerships, sharing resources and developing common positions is often the most effective way of achieving progress. Over 2015-16 CYLC worked with other Queensland Native Title Representative Bodies / Service Providers (NTRB/SPs), Cape York Regional Organisations (CYROs), government agencies and others to advance our objectives.

Along with other Queensland NTRB/SPs CYLC is a member of the Queensland Representative Body Alliance (QRBA). Under this alliance NTRB/SP Chairs, CEOs, PLOs and relevant staff meet to share information and discuss issues of common interest, such as proposed amendments to legislation. I attended QRBA meetings on 7 October 2015 and 30 June 2016 and QRBA representatives later met with State Government Ministers and bureaucrats to discuss points of concern. The QRBA approach gives us a strong and united voice in our dealings with government.

Ongoing delivery of CYLC’s broad ranging functions depends upon good governance, human resource management and financial accountability. CYLC strives to excel in these areas so that service delivery is optimal. Over 2015-16 CYLC staff remained committed to achieving our ambitious objectives and continued to work hard to achieve outcomes despite diminishing resourcing, the ongoing challenges of working in remote areas and dealing with competing interests that don’t always respect the interests of Aboriginal people. CYLC’s financial management continues to be transparent and accountable and for the ninth successive year an unqualified audit report was received.

CYLC receives support from external partners such as Jawun who provide secondees from such entities as Westpac, QBE, KPMG and the Australian Government. We also receive support from Aurora secondees who provide good support to our legal and anthropological staff.

I consider that the future of CYLC primarily lies in the following areas:

  1. Creating and maintaining genealogical records for the CYLC representative area;
  2. Supporting PBCs and Traditional Owner groups to progress their aspirations and desire to be self-governing and economically independent; and
  3. Ensuring all Traditional Owners engage in and receive the full benefits to which they are entitled from Future Acts that occur on their country.

With the support of the CYLC Board of Directors and operational staff we will continue to develop our capacities and deliver these services to Cape York Traditional Owner groups.

Finally, but certainly not least, I want to thank the Cape York Elders, Traditional Owners, Chairman Richie Ah Mat and other members of the Board, and the Aboriginal people of Cape York for their cooperative spirit, their respect for all those who have been before them and their desire to work towards a better day for all those who will come after them.

Peter Callaghan, Chief Executive Officer
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