With concerns coming to our office regarding the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project (CGWEP), a project between the QLD State Government, a private company CABN and the Kabi Kabi peoples, and the many often confusing processes involved including Native Title claims, below is a summary which we will continue adding to in the coming weeks.

Relevant resources:

To gain a better understanding of the complexities, the CGWEP project involves a Federal Native Land claim, Indigenous Land Use Agreements, several State departments, two state electorates, Noosa and Gympie Council, First Nations people and local community groups. The process to bring all the elements together is complex and ongoing.

There are also frameworks that must be adhered to. These include that all projects must be delivered in accordance with the Department of Environment and Science’s (DES) Ecotourism Facilities on National Parks Implementation Framework and Best Practice Ecotourism Development Guidelines as well as abiding by the Nature Conservation Act that states a National Park is to be managed to provide opportunities for ecotourism in a way that is consistent with the area’s natural and cultural resources and values.

As can be seen from above, ecotourism facilities and commercial activities are not new to QLD National Parks, nor to Noosa with one example being Elanda Point that has been utilised for commercial activity for over 40 years.

What is the difference between Native Title and Indigenous Land Rights?

There are fundamental differences between Native Title and Indigenous Land Rights. Land rights created by the Australian, state or territory governments, usually comprise a grant of freehold or perpetual lease title to Indigenous Australians.  By contrast, Native Title arises as a result of the recognition, under Australian common law, of pre-existing Indigenous rights and interests according to traditional laws and customs. Native title is not a grant or right created by governments and is usually recognised through a determination made by the Federal Court of Australia under the Native Title Act 1993.  Native title usually exists alongside, and subject to the, the rights of other people in the same area. Native title is understood more typically as a bundle of rights, rather than a title to land.

What is an Indigenous Land Use Agreement?

An Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) is a voluntary agreement between native title parties and other people or organisations about the use and management of areas of land and/or waters, regardless of whether a Native Title claim has been made or not. While registered, ILUAs bind all native title holders to the terms of the agreement. ILUAs also operate as a contract between the parties. An ILUA can be about any native title matter agreed by the parties, including settlement or exercise of native title rights and interests, surrender of native title to governments, land management, future development, mining, cultural heritage, coexistence of native title rights with other rights, access to an area, and compensation for loss or impairment of native title.

What is the process for a Native Title claim?

Australian law recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have rights and interests in the land and waters under their traditional laws and customs.

Native title is defined as the rights and interests that are possessed under the traditional laws acknowledged and the traditional customs observed, by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Those laws and customs have a connection with the land or waters and are recognised by common law of Australia. Native title rights and interests may include rights to:

  • Camp and live on the land,
  • access the area for traditional purposes such as conducting ceremonies,
  • visit cultural places and sites to maintain and protect,
  • hunt, fish and gather food or traditional resources such as water, wood and ochre, and
  • teach traditional law and customs on country.

For a native title claim group to have their native title rights and interest recognised by the common law of Australia, a native title determination application is made to the Federal Court of Australia under the Native Title Act. A native title determination application must be made by or on behalf of a claim group and pass the registration test which was introduced in 2007 for new applications to be accepted and entered on the Register of Native Title Claims. The registration test consists of 12 conditions.  If all of the conditions are met, the claim is registered on the Register of Native Title Claims. In other words, it becomes a ‘registered claim’. Once a claim is registered, the native title claim group gains certain rights, including the right to negotiate and the right to oppose non-claimant applications in the area covered by their application. The native title claim group gains these rights as soon as a claim is registered, which is important because it can take a long time for a claim to be determined by the Federal Court.

The purpose of the registration test is to ensure only claims that meet certain requirements are registered, and only native title claim groups which have a satisfactory basis for their claim will gain those rights.

If a claim does not meet the requirements for registration, even after any review sought, it will not be registered on the Register of Native Title Claims. The Federal Court will consider whether the application should be finalised, such as through dismissal, or may proceed to make a determination of the claim.

The Registrar must notify certain people and organisations when an application is made, including any registered native title claimants and registered native title bodies corporate in the area of the application; any relevant representative Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies; any proprietary interest holders in the area covered by the application; any relevant local government authorities; the Commonwealth Attorney General; and any person whose interests may be affected by a determination or decision in relation to the application, if the Registrar considers it to be appropriate to give such notice.

The Registrar must also notify the general public in the determined way, which is through the Koori Mail and a local newspaper for the area of the application.  A copy of the notice must also be given to the Federal Court and the relevant state or territory Minister.

For more information, please head to http://www.nntt.gov.au/

The Federal Court of Australia or High Court of Australia determines the validity of the claim for native title by hearing evidence presented in the application, which is gathered and compiled by the claimants. A decision is made based on this evidence and is called a Native Title Determination. Where native title has been determined to exist, the determined Native Title Holder may be granted the same or different rights as landowners depending on whether the determination confers ‘exclusive’ or ‘nonexclusive’ native title rights and interests.

What is the difference between exclusive and non-exclusive?

Exclusive native title is the right to possess, occupy and use an area to the exclusion of all others. In other words, it allows native title holders to control access to lands. Non-exclusive native title is the rights to co-exist alongside other property rights, which means native title holders don’t control access to lands.

How long can it take for a Native Title to be processed?

This is a lengthy process. According to The National Native Title Tribunal ‘National Report: Native Title’ in February 2012, the average time taken to reach a consent determination was six years and three months. The average time for a determination after litigation was seven years.

How does the Native Title Act and ILUA’s relate to the CGWEP and Noosa?

Australian Indigenous places are a vital and precious part of the heritage of the whole community. They are of immense cultural, scientific, educational and historic importance. Indigenous heritage places provide our First Nations people with an important link to their culture and their past.

On the 11 December 2018, the Kabi Kabi First Nation Traditional Owners Native Title Claim Group lodged a Land Title claim (Tribunal File Number QC2018/007, Federal Court File number QUD20/2019) which was entered onto the registration on 8 February 2019 and covers 11690.6950 sq km including Gympie and surrounding area, south to Caboolture and north to Howard across 8 local council areas. (Click here for a map of the claim area and more information).  No determination of native title has been made for this application yet.  However, Native Title Registration provides the right to negotiate and subsequently the Queensland Government and CABN are currently negotiating with Kabi Kabi on the Indigenous Land Use agreement (ILUA) and Cultural Heritage Management Agreement (CHMA) for the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project, which incorporates the Great Sandy National Park and Cooloola Great Walk covering both Noosa and Gympie Councils, with most of the Cooloola Great Walk within the Gympie boundaries for both local and state governments.  Click here for a map of the project.


The Kabi Kabi people, according to government responses, have engaged with the Department of Environment and Science (DES) on more than 35 occasions since the partnership was first developed in 2018.  The DES is currently in final negotiations with the Kabi Kabi Native Title claimants on the Indigenous Land Use Agreement and Cultural Heritage Management Agreement for the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project.

In a meeting in late December 2021, and follow up meeting in February 2022, in-principle endorsement was provided by the Native Title Claimant Group on the terms proposed by the State in the ILUA.

The Native Title Claimant group is currently undertaking consultation within the broader Kabi Kabi community on whether to support the Project and accept the conditions of the ILUA, which commenced with three community information sessions held in Kilkivan, Nambour and Petrie from 25-27 March 2022.

A Kabi Kabi vote on the Project ILUA is expected to occur in early July 2022.

Over this time, there have been numerous engagements and consultation events with other stakeholders and community groups. The consultation events have been published and promoted on social media channels, the National Parks website, through direct emails, meetings with Council, State government and stakeholder groups, pop-up stalls providing information, and targeted one-on-one discussions with key stakeholders. More information we have obtained regarding consultation in response to concerns was posted to  https://www.sandybolton.com/cooloola-great-walk-update-4/

To provide further detail on the information in this update:

  • The 2019 community survey was advertised in local print media and radio, the Government’s ‘Get Involved’ website, and boosting on social media throughout all the local areas.
  • The survey generated over 4,100 views, 37 online comments and seven written submissions.
  • Since June 2021, there has been an ancestor visit that saw 20 Kabi Kabi camping on country and exploring the sites, three more meetings and three community briefing events for the broader community in March 2022.
  • DES engaged a Noosa based consultancy, The Social Deck, to coordinate the consultation process and facilitate community engagement activities.
  • DES and the Social Deck invited directly over 130 local conservation, tourism industry and local and State Government stakeholders to take part in consultation events held across the region throughout the consultation period, and offered one-on-one briefings to key local and Statewide conservation groups such as Cooloola Coast Care (CCC), Sunshine Coast Environment Council (SCEC), Wide Bay Burnett Environment Council (WBBEC), Noosa Parks Association (NPA), Noosa Integrated Catchment Association (NICA) and National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ).
  • The Office of Ms Sandy Bolton MP, was notified of the upcoming consultation events on several occasions by phone and email.
  • Public community consultation events were also advertised on DES’ website, and on social media, specifically Facebook pages belonging to the Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation, Tourism Noosa, DTIS’ Queensland Ecotourism Trails program, The Social Deck and Rainbow Beach Cooloola Coast Community News).
  • DES and the Social Deck held four registered public consultation/information sessions, which each comprised a presentation from DES and Kabi Kabi, followed by an audience question and answer session which ranged from 1-2 hours in length.
  • DES also set up stalls at two all day community events (the Noosa Come Together Festival and the Rainbow Beach Community Markets) to provide information and answer questions from the general public regarding the project.
  • All but one community consultation event was attended by Mr Brian Warner, a Native Title Claimant and spokesperson for Native Title Claimant Group.
  • DES also provided six one-on-one briefings to conservation and local government stakeholders during this period, specifically SCEC, WBBEC, NICA, NPAQ, and representatives of Gympie Regional and Noosa Shire councils.
  • During all consultation events DES advised all attendees of the limited time period for comment on the EPBC referral, but advised that its consultation with the community on the Project will be ongoing, and it would continue to accept and consider submission from the public on the Project for the foreseeable future.
  • In total 12 consultation events were held during this process, including targeted one-on-one discussions with key stakeholders, community consultation events, and community pop-up stalls. In total 154 participants were engaged across all meetings and events.
  • Since the completion of the public consultation event in June 2021, DES has received and responded to over 60 submissions from the public and conservation groups on the Project.
  • DES has also accepted requests from local conservation groups such as CCC, SCEC and WBBEC to discuss the outstanding concerns these organisations have regarding the Cooloola Project, and will continue to do so upon request.
  • The views expressed at formal consultation events and in submissions to DES on the Project will be considered as part of DES’ ongoing assessment of impacts, refinement of project design, development of appropriate environmental, cultural and visitor management programs, and will be considered as part of the Chief Executive of DES’ decision-making on the project approvals under the NCA.
  • DES does not have any formal broader community consultation events planned for the immediate future, as the Project has not significantly advanced since consultation in June 2021 due to delays in ILUA negotiations between the State and Kabi Kabi People.

The Department of Environment and Science have advised us in response to our concerns they may also provide additional opportunities for public consultation as part of its ongoing assessment of the project. Information on any upcoming consultation we will post to Facebook and may also be found on the Department of Environment and Science website

Who are the stakeholders?

Within all consultations, ‘key’ stakeholders are identified to meet with in the early parts of any project/proposal, and these can be relevant organisations and community representatives, Departmental staff and registered claimants. Along the journey, added are those who conduct businesses in the area, local residents, visitors, and users of areas.

Due to the confidential nature of Native Title claims, negotiations come under the same requirements as ‘commercial in confidence’, where private meetings with key stakeholders is undertaken.  This is not intended to exclude anyone, and should not be conceived as a hidden agenda, as it is the nature of the legal process.

Additional Miscellaneous Consultation

In addition to the direct consultation regarding the CGWEP, other consultations have taken place in relation but not directly to, but form part of.  At the end of 2021 Department of Environmental Services (DES) conducted a targeted survey and Sustainable Visitor Capacity study for the Cooloola Recreation Area.  This was sent to previous camping permit holders, vehicle access permit holders, local business, tourism operators and people who live in the community, First Nations and community organisations such as tourism and recreation groups, university, environment, wildlife and conservation groups. This information is currently being analysed by a consultant, Earthcheck, on behalf of the DES, and the report for the Cooloola area is expected to be provided to the Minister in June 2022 with recommendations for consideration.

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services and Partnerships (QPWSP), under the Department of Environment and Science (DES), is involved in the overall strategic management of National Parks. These National Parks have in place a number of management plans that are consulted on. The Noosa Area Draft Management Plan is utilised to set strategic management direction for Noosa National Park, Noosa Conservation Park, Weyba Creek Conservation Park, Keyser Island Conservation and Noosa Resources Reserve (areas within Noosa but not the CGWEP area).  These Management Plans are reviewed every ten years, when consultation is undertaken. Consultation on the draft plan closed in July 2021, responses are being considered and we have requested the department for an updated regarding when the final plan is due for release.

The Great Sandy Region Management Plan is utilised for the Great Sandy region from Burnett Heads to Noosa North Shore including Fraser Island and the Great Sandy National Park.  It was first released in 1994, and a mid-term review was conducted from 2001-2004 with an updated plan released in September 2005 with a noted review proposed for 2010 with the intention to establish the plan as a rolling strategic plan to guide the management of the Great Sandy Region beyond the year 2010. A draft Management Plan has been prepared, in partnership with the Kabi Kabi First Nations People for the Cooloola Recreation Area and incorporates Cooloola (Noosa River) Resources Reserve, Great Sandy Resources Reserve, Double Island Point Conservation Park, Sheep Island Conservation Park, Womalah Resources Reserve and the Cooloola Section of Great Sandy National Park. The Cooloola Recreation Area Draft Management Plan is expected to be released for public consultation later in 2022.

Where to from here?

Currently, the CGWEP is in ‘draft’ stage, which means nothing has been set in concrete! Inputs from the consultations process, plus advocacies from our office in response to any concerns, will help shape the final outcome.

A critical component of this project has been the indigenous knowledge of the Kabi Kabi that has been utilised in the project development, on-ground surveys, site selection, and preservation of Indigenous Cultural Heritage. An aspect that has been instrumental is the development of Kabi Kabi business to enable those displaced to Cherbourg over 100 years ago, to return home to employment.

In summary, this project is complex and quite unlike what has been experienced before. It may take many months, potentially years, before a final outcome, whatever that may be, is realised. During that time, it is important to keep bringing any concerns forward, debating respectfully, and uniting on common ground which for indigenous and non-indigenous, is to care for the land we share, as well each other.

Queensland South Native Title Services (QNTS) can provide assistance to Traditional Owners in relation to Native Title claims, if requested to do so. More information can be found at https://qsnts.com.au/ or phone 07 3224 1200. To read their ‘Policies and Procedures Relating to Performance Functions’ document, visit https://qsnts.com.au/pdf/Part11Div3NativeTitleAct-ExplanatoryDocument.pdf