Sunday, June 04, 2023

Locals outraged as popular outback tourist campsite closed to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage

Locals in a small Queensland outback town have slammed council’s decision to close a popular camping site that draws hordes of tourists every year, due to concerns the area’s Aboriginal heritage is being “trampled on”.

The popular Camooweal billabong camping site on the banks of the Georgina River, located about two hours west of Mt Isa close to the Northern Territory border, is a popular destination during the dry season from May to September.

But last week, Mt Isa City Council announced that public access to the area, including the banks of the Georgina River and Lakes Francis and Canellan, would be closed for six months — including for the rest of the 2023 tourist season.

The site has been managed by the Myuma Group through a sublease with the council since 2021. Myuma represents the traditional owners of the upper Georgina River region.

Mt Isa Deputy Mayor Phil Barwick told ABC Radio on Monday both council and Myuma wanted to protect the area’s environment and cultural heritage.

“We’ve been trying to work through that and while it’s going well, at the same time the area’s been quite trampled on, if you like, so we need to recognise that as well,” he said.

In its statement last week, the council said the decision to close the sites for camping was “to protect cultural heritage and was made following discussions held between Mount Isa City Council and representatives of the sites’ lessees and native title claimant holders”.

“Public access to the sites will remain open to all permanent Camooweal residents for the purpose of fishing and water activities, and for people who hold the appropriate permits under the Stock Route Management Act 2002,” council said.

“Appropriate signage will be installed at the entrances of the three sites — the Barkly Highway, Urandangi Road and Highlands Plains Road — advising of the temporary public access closure, with the lessees to install fencing and gates at the entrances.

“Other than rubbish bins, there are no other amenities in the camping areas. Council collects rubbish from the Georgina River site each week.”

In a statement, Mt Isa Mayor Danielle Slade said council appreciated the sites are popular with campers every tourist season, but the temporary closure was important in order for the cultural heritage sites to be assessed and processes put in place for their preservation.

“Council apologises for the inconvenience the temporary public access closure may cause and thanks people for their patience and understanding while this matter is assessed,” she said.

“Hopefully the temporary closure will have a positive effect on businesses in Camooweal, with campers and caravanners instead staying in the town’s caravan park.”

Yahoo News reports the decision has rocked the small town of just 236 residents, with local businesses fearing tourists will bypass Camooweal entirely.

“If they close it, yeah it’s going to affect us,” Camooweal Roadhouse manager Sandeep Kumar told the outlet on Monday.

Mr Kumar told Yahoo News he often sees travellers who come back year after year to stay at the camping grounds.

“They’re regularly coming here in the store and they’re buying fuel and groceries and stuff, so if that happens, nobody is going to stay here, you know,” he said. “That’s the favourite spot to stop here.”

One reader wrote, “Shows how much the Mayor knows of Camooweal. Absolutely zilch … If the river is not available to tourists — this town will be a ghost town. Well done Mount Isa City Council. Don’t bother funding the Drovers Festival — the attendees will have nowhere to stay. Why would you do this at the start of a tourist season? Why do it at all?”

Another said, “Now watch the town die! Who’s going to bother stopping when they can’t camp?”

Some locals have speculated similar closures will occur around the country with the introduction of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

In April, a popular Victorian campsite was also closed over Aboriginal heritage concerns.

Bear Gully Campground, located within the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park south of Melbourne, was closed by the state government’s peak body for the management of National Parks, Parks Victoria.

The sudden move came after advice that camping and recreational activities within the park may have impacted an Aboriginal place and its artefacts.

Overlooking Wilsons Promontory, the Bear Gully camping area is renowned for its unpatrolled surf beach suitable for “rockpooling, fishing, surfing and coastal walks”, according to the Parks Victoria website.


Infill housing might be our best hope of ameliorating the housing shortage

Put more housing in existing suburbs -- if councils and the NIMBYS will let you

It is a year for divisive debates – the kind that pit generations against one another and make people hateful and racist. While you’d think the Indigenous Voice to parliament might head that ticket, it comes a distant second to the urgency and ire in the housing debate.

Housing has become a culture war with a number of fronts: the first is intergenerational resentment, the second is population and the third is ideology.

Intergenerational conflict has been with us since teenagers were invented, so no surprises the generations are at loggerheads over shelter as well. The conflict is simple: the older generations as a whole (yes, I hear you, not necessarily individuals) own more stuff. That stuff includes houses – sometimes big ones and sometimes many of them. The younger generations don’t own a lot of stuff yet. So, they need to buy it, cajole it, or vote it off the older generations.

This is not a new conflict but it is exacerbated by the fact Australia’s economic sunshine has disappeared momentarily behind a cloud of inflation. Inflation has pushed up mortgages, rents and the cost of living more generally. The people doing best in this environment are those who own their home outright and benefit when interest returns on deposits are high – that is, generally, the oldies.

Recent data from Commonwealth Bank found that spending by over-55s has increased above the inflation rate and those over 75 are spending 13 per cent more than previously. And they’re doing it ostentatiously – Baby Boomers are spending 18 per cent more on eating out than last year, snaffling Wagyu and chocolate treasure chests, no doubt, at kitsch, made-for-Instagram, French-theme brasseries. Of course, these were also the people who had less to spend when rates were low for a very long time.

Still, appropriating Millennial culture by booking out the ’grammable restaurants is a direct affront to under-35s, who are cutting back on all the fun stuff. With reality getting all too real, no wonder BeReal, the “authenticity” app, is no longer popular.

Philip Lowe’s suggestion to get a flatmate to help manage costs has merit – I once got myself a boyfriend for the same reason, a long time ago, in a country far away – but the generational optics of a Boomer with a large house in an inner-cityish suburb telling young people to share bog roll was never going to be great. Now he’s got the people who haven’t managed to buy a house off side, as well as those who are dealing with rising mortgage rates that were predicted to stay low.

The precariousness of renting feels more acute as prices rise and immigration starts to bounce back post-COVID. The only thing more terrifying than rent rises is the idea that a wave of high-skilled workers with high-skilled incomes is about to arrive in Australia and outbid locals for the mould-free rentals. This is exacerbated by the fact that, though there is notionally full employment, some large companies have been laying off workers. In news that absolutely everybody but the die-hard work-from-home class saw coming, tech giant Atlassian “rebalanced” 500 people off its books in March.

Then Commonwealth Bank offshored 40 roles to India in April and rounded that up by another 200 in May. (I hear HR isn’t worried, though – those who remain have been given two days of paid bereavement leave when their pet dies, so internal staff satisfaction surveys should record a dead-cat bounce.)

Where low-income cohorts have historically been most affected by population policy, now it’s the educated classes who are feeling off-kilter. But you won’t get any points for suggesting to out-of-work coders that they should learn to clean.

If this seems like a mix of the serious and the silly, it’s because that is exactly what life’s most fraught issues are underpinned by. Existential angst is intertwined with status anxiety.

People who own houses fear anything that will devalue them. Building more stock and infilling suburbs would push down prices, according to Centre for Independent Studies economist Peter Tulip. While developments in desirable areas would fetch higher prices, higher-income people moving to live there would free up stock lower down the chain, as people upgrade to suit their circumstances.

And Tulip argues that “if we put more money into construction, then the value of the housing stock will fall”. This would make housing more affordable for those who want to buy, but of course it would decrease the value of existing housing. He believes this is one of two reasons why increasing supply is so politically difficult. The other is simply fear of change. “It’s the same mentality that opposed decimal currency or daylight saving,” he says.

But Sydney University economist Cameron Murray reckons the current feeling of crisis is driven by the anxious educated classes. He calls them “the forgotten elite” – people in their 30s and 40s “who thought they’d be living in the inner city but now feel they can’t”.

“It’s the same half a dozen suburbs we always hear about needing more housing,” Murray says. “In the US, in California, where this culture war over housing has been imported from, it’s always about Berkeley, as though you can’t live anywhere else.”

Tulip is a YIMBY – Yes In My Back Yard – and believes the world needs more YIMBYs to embrace medium-density infill accompanied with well-planned infrastructure. Murray says YIMBYism is just another status play.

In the current circumstances, making YIMBYs cool seems like a win-win solution to me, whether it’s for silly or serious reasons. Concentrate on good town planning to build up thriving cities and let the rest take care of itself.


Penalizing obstructive political "protests": Reforms to South Australia's Summary Offences Act

After more than 14 hours of overnight debate, mainly due to the filibustering efforts of the upper house crossbench MPs and the unwillingness of the major parties to adjourn, the reforms passed just before 7am on Wednesday with three minor amendments.

It means the maximum fine for obstructing a public place jumps to $50,000 and three months jail.

The government — and opposition for that matter — say it will give the courts the discretion to impose harsher penalties than they could under the existing regime.

The trigger for the changes was two days of disruption on Adelaide's streets earlier this month by climate change protesters amid an oil and gas industry conference.

They were floated by the Liberal opposition, quickly adopted by the government with minimal internal or external consultation and shunted through the lower house of parliament in less than half an hour with bi-partisan support.

Between debate in the two houses, there was backlash from human rights groups, the Law Society of South Australia and the union movement, which helped get Labor elected in 2022.

The state government has argued the changes are not anti-protest laws.

When he spoke in parliament on May 18 as the changes were introduced, Premier Peter Malinauskas said the government considered protest and speaking up as "an integral part of our vibrant democracy".

"The government does not seek to prevent members of the community from having their say," he told the house.

Earlier in the speech, he said:

"Irrespective of the causes that protests are aimed at, the way that the protests are increasingly conducted puts the safety of the public at risk."

A press release issued by the premier's office shortly after the rapid passage of the bill in the House of Assembly was titled "Tough new penalties for dangerous and obstructionist protesters".

"We have swiftly introduced legislation that increases the penalties for those who do not seek to comply with appropriate arrangements when it comes to protesting peacefully," he told reporters at the time.

Mr Malinauskas has repeatedly pointed out it's the Public Assemblies Act that governs organised protests, a piece of legislation itself that makes no mention of the word protest or protesters.

"There is nothing changing to that. Not one word. Not one comma. Not one full stop," he said.

Others have seen the impact of the Summary Offences Act changes on protesting in South Australia differently, including allies of the government.

"This bill fundamentally threatens our ability to take action like this, in the interests of our members and the South Australian community."

They are the words of Leah Watkins, secretary of the Ambulance Employees Association, as she addressed a crowd on Tuesday morning rallying against the bill as Labor MPs met at parliament.

As a senior figure in the paramedics union, in recent years she has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Malinauskas and Labor MPs to push for better resourcing for the state's ambulance service.

"The fact that we are facing these laws without any community consultation, without any engagement with the community whatsoever, is outrageous," said the president of SA Unions Dale Beasley to the same rally.

He went on to add he was "really worried" about what these laws were going to mean for workers who take action in and outside their workplace.

"This is a very serious piece of legislation that deserves time and consideration and that's not something that we've had," he said.

Steph Key, a former Rann Labor government minister, told hundreds of people gathered on Festival Plaza there was "no excuse" for the way the legislation was handled.

"By ramming through that legislation, there's no excuse for it, and I don't support it at all," she said.

"We really do need to make it clear that protesting is a right that we should have."

The government's decision to make its move so quickly could be seen to have some echoes of the Rann-era so-called "announce and defend" style of leadership — an approach his successor Jay Weatherill tried to distance himself from.

Or maybe the Malinauskas-led administration just wanted to move quickly so the issue didn't drag on, nor give the opposition the upper hand.

When asked whether this was his government's Land Tax moment — a reform that fired up regular Liberal Party supporters last term – Mr Malinauskas said that issue didn't get resolved by the parliament for "almost a year" while Summary Offences reforms were sorted "relatively quickly".

But, whatever the reason, tensions have been publicly inflamed with traditional friends of the Labor parliamentary party for the second time in little more than a year, following the back and forth over changes to the state's Return to Work scheme.

After the bill passed, Mr Malinauskas said it wasn't a question about people's ability to protest.

"It's a question of every other citizen in the state that wants to be able to move through the city safely and with confidence that it's happened in an ordered way," he said.

As things stand, though, the Malinauskas government's relations with some key unions — the people who pay the bills at election time — have been hit.

It has left some on the left side of politics wondering whether that fight could and should have been avoided.


Just 3pc of tech graduates are job-ready, Australian Information Industry Association survey finds

Only 3 per cent of Australian tech companies believe graduates are job-ready after finishing university, with many taking up to 12 months of training to reach required productivity levels.

The lack of readiness is tightening the overall jobs market, forcing smaller firms that can’t afford to train staff without experience to fork out hefty sums while competing against major companies for highly-skilled workers.

The state of the market amid Australia’s current skills and labour shortage is severely limiting the ability for Australian tech start-ups and small firms to be innovative, Australian Information Industry Association chief executive Simon Bush said.

“Feedback from our members is that on average it takes between six to 12 months to train a graduate and while larger companies can take on that overhead and the cost of training, for smaller companies it is a real handbrake on productivity,” he said.

The 3 per cent job-ready rate, which arrived from the AIIA’s fourth Digital State of the Nation survey, had fallen from 5 per cent in the previous year.

Across the nation, cybersecurity positions are the most in demand in the tech space followed by artificial intelligence roles.

To meet demand, many tech companies had moved away from hiring people university degrees and were actively hiring workers who had recently completed micro-courses and vocational training courses, the AIIA found.

Some of the training provided in short courses was similar to on-the-job learning, and easing the pressures on companies to train staff, Mr Bush said.

“We’re finding that our members really are looking to hire people from non-traditional areas, in other words, non-ICT areas in order to meet demand,” he said. “And in relation to cyber security, micro courses are the what the market wants.”

The local tech market will not be as active as previous years over the next 12 months, with 26 per cent of companies unsure if they would actively hire this year, the survey found.

The pulling back on expanding staff headcounts may drive some pressure down on graduate salaries, which The Australian revealed last year had been as high as $147,000 to $350,000 at the top-paying firms.

“What’s happening with consumers, and cost of living, inflation and interest rates there, companies are not looking to grow their business as much as they perhaps were going to last year in terms of hiring people,” Mr Bush said.

The roles which demand a premium are cybersecurity and AI, with senior staff in those fields in more demand than ever before. “If you are an AI expert in a technology company, right now you are a rock star,” Mr Bush said.

Of those looking to hire, the intention to bring on local workers had grown to 69 per cent, up 5 per cent from the previous years when borders were closed.

The major factor driving companies toward hiring overseas staff was the skills shortage. Labour costs were another factor, cited by 17 per cent of staff, down from 50 per cent the previous year.




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