Symposium highlights unique opportunities for Western Cape York future development

The future of the Western Cape York region was the focus of a recent symposium in Weipa which attracted around 200 people attended across 2.5 days.

To date much of the focus on Northern Australia has been on larger population centers and or agriculture opportunities. Yet regions such as Western Cape York which has less than 5000 people but already contributes $2 billion to Australia’s national economy provide unique opportunities for future development.

The Western Cape region consists of the communities of Weipa, Napranum, Mapoon & Aurukun, culturally rich communities with a deep connection to country. The region is in a state of flux as the dominate industry mining will scale back operations. While the process has started, the time frames are unknown and it could be anywhere between 5 to 30 years. The region, however, has many more assets than bauxite. They include a skilled workforce, a vibrant community and abundant natural resources.

The region is being proactive about securing the future, which is why nine partner organisations Western Cape Chamber of Commerce, Aurukun Shire Council, Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council, Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council, the Weipa Town Authority, James Cook University, the Torres and Cape Indigenous Council Alliance, Western Cape Communities Trust and Rio Tinto, joined together to hold the Western Cape Futures Symposium (WCFS) between the 23-25th March. The priority of the symposium was to create a shared vision for a sustainable and diverse economy, based on the aspirations of the people who call the Western Cape home.

Professor Allan Dale of JCU said ‘We are very pleased to be a partner organisation for the symposium. The Western Cape acts as a service hub for all of Cape York and its future has significant implications for Northern Australia.  Through deep levels of collaboration this symposium brought together over 45 speakers, to focus on the opportunities and threats to the region.’

The TNQ Drought Hub also provided significant support for the symposium and TNQ Drought Hub Director Dr David Phelps said

‘The Western Cape has good opportunities in terms of agriculture, native foods and fisheries. The Western Cape already experiences long dry periods, and the future could hold longer periods of drought. It is very important that the TNQ Drought Hub supports existing and emerging industries in Cape York to help strengthen already resilience communities and to bring together organisations, individuals and partners that can showcase opportunities and technologies that may help strengthen future outcomes.’

The region’s growing tourism industry meant that half a day of the Symposium focused on tourism and included an expert panel of

  • Michael Healy – Assistant Minister for Tourism Industry
  • Fraser Nai – Straight Business
  • Mark Olsen – CEO Tourism Tropical North Queensland
  • Dr Tammie Matson – Matson/Ridley
  • Bill Ferguson – Australia Zoo
  • Sonja Johnson – CEO Regional Development Australia, Tropical North

The forum discussed how tourist numbers are not necessarily the issue for the region as Cape York has always been an attractive destination, but the demands on limited infrastructure by tourist was not sustainable. This led to a number of ideas being raised including user pays ideas like a Cape York ‘Toll’. 

Jaime Gane the Symposium Chair said that ‘The caliber of speakers was amazing.’ She jokingly said that “We had everyone from people wanting to help bury you (Tender Australia) to people wanting to launch you into space (Space Centre Australia).’

Presentations ranged from a focus on business supports, energy and new technologies, social and community enterprises, access to finance and agricultural opportunities.  Allan Dale led and developed the session on Land Use Planning. He said that Traditional Owners will determine the future of the region for the first time in history.  This was echoed by Jim Turnour the CEO of Wuthanthi Aboriginal Corporation who said, ‘You need to put Traditional Owners front and centre with whatever you are doing, and you need to give them time and space. Your ambitions may not be shared.’

The importance of the region on the geo-political scale was probably summed up best by Dr John Coyne. Dr Coyne from the Northern Australia Strategic Policy Centre who gave a presentation in the Defense and Bio-Security session said that the region acted as both “the bridge and the moat to Asia.”

But perhaps the importance of the WCFS was best demonstrated by Ernest Madua, junior. Ernest an Alngith Traditional Owner who closed the symposium by saying ‘

‘I’m excited to take all these opportunities back to my community. The whole symposium was overwhelming, just thinking of how my community can grow when it comes to employment opportunities and creating your own business. When you are around people who are inspired you can’t help but feel to be a part of it, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our people can thrive being out on country. There are opportunities for a future that can be there for the long term and for generations to come. There is so much that would have happened if the symposium was help in Weipa 10 15 years ago. We definitely need to have another symposium.’

Learn more about the Symposium.

Images courtesy of Cape York Weekly and the TNQ Hub.