The Cape York Institute was never allowed proper input into the Queensland Government’s Wild Rivers decision, something that is symptomatic of a wider problem with this Queensland Government.
One of the reasons why all of Cape York is now entirely green with wild rivers — a virtual National Park with a massive chunk around Weipa for a new Chinese mine taken out — is as a consequence of the power of lobbyists.
The Chinese mining company Chalco (and others) have preferential access to influence government decision making. No matter how many submissions we make through the democratic process, our submissions are not listened to. Our problem with Wild Rivers is just a symptom of the power of lobby groups in Brisbane.
There’s also a further problem — that outside lobby groups are now also installed in the bureaucratic apparatus.
I first met the person in charge of Wild Rivers in the Queensland Government 15 years ago when he was the president of the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society.
I said to him, “Adrian, the last time I saw you you were lobbying from outside of Government, but now here you are in Anna Bligh’s department — the chief decision maker that I now have to influence against putting 100% green blanket over the Cape. How can I convince you that what you’re doing will stifle Aboriginal development and prevent us from getting out of the welfare hole we’re in?”
Approval for the proposed Chalco mine is looming, but special legislation exempts the entire mining area from the Wild Rivers area, which contradicts the claim the Premier has made that she’s concerned about the protection of the rivers.
There is nothing that has ever occurred on Aboriginal reserve lands in northern Australia that has threatened the pristine nature of these rivers. The reason the rivers in northern Australia are pristine is because they’ve been part of Aboriginal reserves for nigh on a hundred years. The real threat faced by rivers in Cape York is this mine.
I want to be clear that we’re not suggesting impropriety or illegality. What we’re suggesting is a complete disequilibrium in power.
The indigenous community must have equal access to government — just because we can’t afford a former minister to be a lobbyist on behalf of our cause, should not put us at a disadvantage.
The current discussion about the putrid situation in Queensland somewhat misses the point. I don’t think paid donations are the problem, as long as they’re publicly declared. The key issue here is whether paid lobbyists ought to be slinking around corridors, opening doors like pimps at a Fortitude Valley brothel.
It’s paid lobbyists that’s the problem here. If you’re an Aboriginal or a non-Aboriginal member of the Queensland public, you have to go through the normal bureaucratic processes in order to get approval for something.
Why should certain large companies have access to better knowledge of the way Government operates, because of the relationship between the paid lobbyist and those who have decision making power?
Noel Pearson is director of the Cape York Institute. This is an edited version of comments he made on the ABC Insiders program yesterday.