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Cape York development plan threatens world heritage bid

Cape York's pristine coastline and Indigenous cultural significance is under threat from development, conservationists say. Photograph: Queensland Tourism/AAP Image

A Queensland government plan to open up Cape York to development is "insane" and risks destroying landscapes that are currently being considered for world heritage listing, environmentalists claim.

The Cape York Statutory Regional Plan aims to "ensure the long-term viability" of the region through agriculture, mining and tourism.

The Queensland government said that plan, to be released next year, will balance environmental protection with opportunities for development.

However, the Wilderness Society has claimed the plan is a thinly veiled bid to scrap Wild Rivers legislation, which protects some of the state's river systems from development.

The environmental group said eight mines were planned for Cape York, at a time when the vast peninsula has been nominated for world heritage listing. Queensland's deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, has said he has "no interest" in the world heritage nomination in relation to the economic development plan.

"It's been made quite clear by Jeff Seeney that this process has nothing to do with proper consultation and everything to do with winding back environmental protection," said Gavan McFadzean, northern Australia campaigner at the Wilderness Society.

"The world heritage process has been an extensive one, which has involved consulting with traditional owners for four years. To come over the top of that with this statutory plan that would open up areas for mining within the proposed world heritage boundary is extraordinary.

"The government should wait until the listing is made and look at development outside the world heritage boundaries. Cape York is special, it has around half of Australia's bird species, a third of its mammal species and a quarter of its frogs and amphibians.

"On top of that, it has special Indigenous cultural values and a pristine coastline. These plans threaten to undermine the scale of the world heritage nomination."

In a statement sent to Guardian Australia, Seeney said: "The Newman government is setting a course to open the region to economic diversity and opportunities, while balancing the protection of the Cape's unique environment.

"We will encourage development that will provide an economic future for the people in the Cape.

"While we seek to create land use certainty in areas suitable for appropriate agricultural, tourism and resources extraction activities, we also want to protect areas of high-value agricultural land use and communities from encroachment from inappropriate resource activities.

"Any future proposals for development in the Cape will be subject to the same rigorous approvals as other projects across the rest of Queensland."

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