The Noel Pearson-Tania Major anti-Wild Rivers campaign on Cape York has just reached new depths, but at least the tactics and motivations are becoming more transparent.

Yesterday The Wilderness Society was sent the flyer below, being distributed throughout the communities of Cape York by the Pearson-Major campaign. It makes the highly deceptive and ridiculous claim that the Wild Rivers legislation will lead to the banning of traditional hunting and fishing, and is akin to national parks:

So that we are all clear on the Wild Rivers Act, it does not prevent most economic activities or development opportunities. What it does aim to prevent is destructive development, such as mega-dams, strip mining, and intensive irrigation, in sensitive riverine and wetland areas. Native title rights are protected under the legislation, and unlike national parks, tourism lodges, other buildings, grazing and other activities can still occur.

Submerged in all the recent disinformation and distortions, is the clear fact that there appears to be little disagreement on the Cape itself about the desirability of protecting the region’s rivers and world heritage values. Noel Pearson’s ‘reverse precautionary principle’ that there are no development plans now but there may be in decades to come, so we’d better not protect the rivers, is positively bizarre!

Meanwhile, Gerhard Pearson actually joined The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation, in seeking support for World Heritage policy and funding commitments from the Queensland Government earlier this year. Even Tania Major had to admit Traditional Owner support for river protection in a recent Cairns Post interview, although this has not prevented her from seeking to derail various conservation initiatives on Cape York.

So what is this “debate” really about? Greased with an apparent obsession with “latte consumption by urban greenies”, it is now quite apparent that this is an old-fashioned ideological battle run by conservative, anti-green, pro-big business and right wing political interests against the socially progressive environment movement.

Noel Pearson’s social justice and land rights activist days have long been replaced by deeply conservative views on social welfare, education and personal morality, and his alignment with the Howard Government and the Liberal Party is abundantly clear. Let’s not forget he was the only Indigenous person consulted on the NT Intervention, and has pushed through contentious welfare programs in Queensland without seeking consent from the affected communities. He also recently formed an alliance with the deeply conservative politics and anti-environment lobby group Property Rights Australia.

The Pearson-Major anti-Wild Rivers “fear and smear” campaign is only designed to scare Cape York communities into opposing Wild Rivers protection, and smear The Wilderness Society and other environmentalists in the process.

However, attempts to paint resistance to conservation initiatives on Cape York as a “green vs black” contest will fail because we know of many Traditional Owners from Cape York and other spectators — Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike — who understand the need to protect the extraordinary natural and cultural values of the region at the same time as providing sustainable indigenous economic and employment opportunities.

Peter Fray

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