Pearson postures over ‘wild rivers’

Noel Pearson has resigned as Director of the Cape York Institute (CYI), with much fanfare from his legion of supporters at The Australian.
Pearson resigned after the Queensland state government, along with the Wilderness Society, announced that three waterways in the Cape York region of North Queensland would be placed under special protective legislation.
The Archer, Stewart and Lockhart waterways will be called “wild rivers”.
Pearson has tried to argue that the legislation is an attack “on the rights of traditional owners”.
“The rest of the country are saying… ‘we’re not going to allow you to develop any economic base’”.
But contrary to Pearson’s claims, the “wild rivers” legislation does not prevent economic development in gazetted areas. Grazing, fishing, eco-tourism and (controversially) mining can all continue.
The legislation will introduce strict environmental guidelines for sustainable economic projects, to be developed by the majority of Aboriginal stakeholders.
It is these conditions that anger Pearson, limiting his ability to negotiate destructive, multi-million dollar projects with major capitalists. Pearson and the CYI have long positioned unfettered commercial expansion in the region as the “solution” to Aboriginal economic disadvantage.
North Queensland Indigenous leader, Murrandoo Yannner, says Pearson is “letting a few Aboriginal people financially benefit at the expense of the rest of us being left in a dust bowl”.
Wik Indigenous leader Gina Castelain says, “We want to protect our environment and our rivers. We are working hard to develop and maintain economic activity which does not harm our waterways.” Ms Castelain said commercial fishing in the Archer River was undermining efforts to develop ventures such as recreational fishing and ecotourism.
Pearson’s criticism of the “wild rivers” legislation must be viewed in the context of his high profile backing of the broad scale winding back of Aboriginal rights.
Despite his posturing about “returning to the barricades to fight for land rights” Pearson’s resignation is a disingenuous attempt to protect the interests of a few at the expense of genuine community-led development.
These communities are already reeling from attacks that Pearson and the CYI supported. The CYI signed the deal to introduce the punitive Family Responsibilities Commission bill before holding any “community consultations”.
The FRC bill introduces welfare-quarantine measures similar to those in the NT and has suspended the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act.
By Lauren Mellor


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  1. Having read hundreds of pages of Pearson I’m mystified by your assertion of him “backing… the broad scale winding back of Aboriginal rights”. His thesis is a dialectic between responsibility and rights. The tone of his writing is complementary rather than dismissive of rights.

    I suspect too that you use hyperbole again when you say Pearson wants “unfettered” economic expansion. Again the tone of his work is that he is intentionally not prescriptive of what economics are ideal for the Australian people, simply that it will provide work and income for Aboriginals.

    I am curious as to why a number of writers on this website use dismissive rhetoric about Pearson rather than just a critical analysis of his actual words.

  2. @Nathan Here’s a delightful quotable from Noel Pearson:
    “Self-interest is the engine that drives the vehicle of social and economic progress.”
    Clearly he believes unrestrained individualism [read Capitalism] is the best way to advance society.
    What’s your analysis of this remark in relation to the tone of Lauren’s article?
    Do you believe the best way to advance an oppressed people is for everyone to pursue selfish ends or do you agree with Lauren?


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