Yesterday Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson announced his resignation as director of the Cape York Institute. Pearson cited the Queensland State Government’s decision to preserve three Cape York regions under the ‘wild rivers’ legislation as the reason behind his decision to quit, saying Premier Anna Bligh’s decision to protect the Cape areas will prevent Indigenous groups from engaging in small-scale development that is necessary to provide jobs and boost living standards.

Alex Mitchell argues Pearson’s resignation is a tragic loss:

Noel Pearson’s decision to resign as a director of the Cape York Institute in protest against the Bligh Government’s decision to lock up the area’s “wild rivers” is tragic.  The upside is that the articulate, intelligent and forceful Aboriginal leader will be making a very welcome return to grass roots politics. That’s where he does his best work.

Editor of The National Indigenous Times Chris Graham argues it’s the height of hypocrisy:

Pearson has a long, well-documented history of supporting “responsibility” over “rights”. He was the only Aboriginal person “consulted” by the Howard government prior to the intervention being announced. But in case you’ve missed it, Pearson doesn’t live in the Northern Territory. He never has. Probably never will. But he supported the legislation regardless, even though Brough did not consult with a single affected stakeholder.

Pearson is a tragic loss

Alex Mitchell writes:

Noel Pearson’s decision to resign as a director of the Cape York Institute in protest against the Bligh Government’s decision to lock up the area’s “wild rivers” is tragic.

The upside is that the articulate, intelligent and forceful Aboriginal leader will be making a very welcome return to grass roots politics. That’s where he does his best work.

Pearson is furious with Premier Anna Bligh’s arrogant decision to sign a piece of paper declaring three Cape York rivers — the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart — as “wild rivers” under the Wild Rivers Act 2005.

She did the deal with the Wilderness Society, a spin-off group from Bob Brown’s Greens, in the middle of the election campaign. Here’s the sequence of events:

March 12: Queensland Greens announced they would preference Labor in 14 seats, giving a significant boost to the ALP’s re-election chances.

“I want to stress that a large part of our decision was that we are expecting in the next few days some good environmental policy initiatives,” said Queensland Greens leader Drew Hutton.

March 15: A Wilderness Society press release was issued stating: “Leading conservation group, the Wilderness Society, today congratulated the Premier for her announcements on Cape York World Heritage, wild rivers protection and land clearing.

“At the same time, the Society condemned LNP leader for his lack of vision and commitment on the environment.”

It could have been written by Labor’s spin doctors!

March 23 (three days after Bligh’s win): “Leading conservation organization The Wilderness Society is celebrating a victory for the environment after Labor’s win at Saturday’s Queensland election. ‘We’ve been really pleased with the announcements made by Labor on Cape York, wild rivers, uranium mining and tree clearing’, said Queensland campaign manager Dr Tim Seelig.”

April 3: A Wilderness press release stated: “The Wilderness Society today welcomed a significant announcement by Premier Anna Bligh that the spectacular Archer, Stewart and Lockhart River Basins on Cape York Peninsula have now been formally declared under Queensland’s groundbreaking Wild Rivers Act 2005.”

It could have been written by the Premier’s Department!

April 6: An outraged Noel Pearson told Tony Koch of The Australian: “I have always tried to establish a balanced equation of rights and responsibilities. This declaration by the Bligh Government affects a large swathe of Wik country that I have spent 10 years fighting for.

“Now Bligh comes along and does an election deal with the environmental groups that takes away the dignity of the Wik and all other Aboriginal people.”

“How can I sustain a message of responsibility for indigenous people within this region when government is trashing their rights?”

Meanwhile, the aforesaid Wilderness Society has just settled its long-running legal battle with the Tasmanian paper mill operator Gunns. Under the settlement terms Gunns agreed to pay the society’s $350,000 costs.

In NSW, the Wilderness Society had such a warm relationship with former Premier Bob Carr and Environment Minister Bob Debus that it took them to a slap-up lunch at a top restaurant at the society’s expense. Yet under Carr and Debus, broad scale land clearing in NSW reached vandal proportions and little or nothing was done to prosecute the offenders.

When is the media going to take a closer interest in the Wilderness Society or is that off limits?

Pearson’s a hypocrite

Editor of The National Indigenous Times Chris Graham writes:

Pearson: “How can I sustain a message of responsibility for Indigenous people within this region when government is trashing their rights?”

Either Pearson — who supported the Northern Territory intervention, the greatest rights breaching legislation in living memory — has a nerve that a gallon of Novacaine couldn’t deaden, or his ego is totally out of control. Pearson has a long, well-documented history of supporting “responsibility” over “rights”.

He was the only Aboriginal person ‘consulted’ by the Howard government prior to the intervention being announced. But in case you’ve missed it, Pearson doesn’t live in the Northern Territory. He never has. Probably never will. But he supported the legislation regardless, even though Brough did not consult with a single affected stakeholder.

Altogether, Pearson has said some decidedly silly things in the past week, and The Australian has been only too keen to print them, and without a hint of irony.

“I thought the whole rights fight for Indigenous Australians was over. All that needed to be done was show them some decency — some respect for the rights that had been granted in the Mabo and Wik cases,” Pearson said yesterday.

The rights fight was over? Oh dear, Noel. You know that you don’t have to live under a rock anymore, right? The federal government will build you a house (provided you sign over your land for 40 years).

And here’s another silly Pearson-ism from yesterday: “We have been forced by government to a real juncture where serious consideration has to be given to whether we have to go back to the barricades.”

I presume Noel’s using “we” in the royal sense. Because after nearly a decade of supporting the Howard government in numerous black rights abuses, he’s about as popular as pork at a bah mitzvah.

But don’t just take my word for it. Yesterday, The Oz was reduced to wheeling out ‘Wild Bill’ to support the Caped Crusader: “Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, who chairs the Senate committee inquiring into food production, said yesterday the Bligh Government’s decision effectively stopped any economic development opportunities for indigenous people and was ‘totally irresponsible’.”

Totally irresponsible … from the man who brought you KirbyGate.

The Australian reports: “Mr Pearson said the wild rivers legislation took from the traditional owners of Cape York the right to develop and manage any protective regimes that affected their land and livelihood.”

There is, of course, a great deal more to the issue than News extremelyLimited has reported.

The legislation, enacted in 2005, allows for rivers with high conservation values to be declared “wild”. In crude terms, one kilometre each side of the bank is “highly protected”, and the broader basin that feeds the river is also “less highly protected”.

Contrary to claims, the legislation does not prevent economic development in gazetted areas. Grazing, fishing, eco-tourism, even mining, can all occur, albeit under strict environmental guidelines. Hardly a bad thing. Unless you’re anti-green.

I don’t think Pearson is. What seems to have most outraged Him is that his organisation — Balkanu — submitted a report to government opposing the wild rivers declarations. Pearson was even funded by Labor to do the report (some $60,000). But the government went ahead with it anyway.

Now, Pearson and The Australian — without any apparent proof — are claiming that the Bligh government stitched up a deal with the Wilderness Society prior to the election that would see the areas locked up, in exchange for Greens’ preferences.

Historically, the majority of Aboriginal people fall squarely on the side of preservation. That doesn’t mean they oppose economic development, but most want it done sensibly and the wild rivers legislation seeks to do that. Whatever the actual numbers, I have some sympathy for the theory that governments don’t properly consult with Aboriginal people, and that political deals get done without reference to Aboriginal aspirations. But I have no sympathy — and nor do the overwhelming majority of my colleagues in Indigenous affairs — for Pearson, or The Oz. Particularly not when they spouts rubbish like this.

Expect The Australian to die in a ditch on this issue; they’ll back Pearson to the hilt, and based on past experience, the facts will be the first casualty, followed by ever increasing levels of shrieking and bleating.

In the meantime, I intend to watch Noel “go back to the barricades”. I’ll be there too, Noel. You’ll recognise me as the white guy standing off to the side, counting the Aboriginal leaders (on one hand) who fall in behind you.

Peter Fray

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