Traditional owners in Cape York have staged a protest rally against environmental laws they say prevent economic development in the impoverished region.

Dozens of residents of Aurukun and Coen held the protest to coincide with a visit by Queensland indigenous affairs minister Desley Boyle to Aurukun.

A Sydney-based protest on Monday night featured white people dressed as koala’s “whipping” Aboriginal children.

The protests are aimed at the Queensland government’s wild rivers legislation which limits development within 1km of 13 rivers and creeks in Cape York.

Cape York Land Council chairman Michael Ross said the legislation imposed on the rights of traditional owners in the region.

“Every community you go to, we don’t want wild rivers,” Mr Ross said.

It’s imposed on our rights to look after the rivers, to look after our country.”

He said residents wanted to preserve the rivers in the region but the laws would prevent economic development in impoverished communities.

“We have freehold land up here now, we want to work it like any other person who has got freehold, to make it pay for itself,” Mr Ross said.

“(Under the legislation) you can’t have agriculture, you can’t have horticulture you can’t do croc-farming, there’s too much red tape to do that stuff (and) it’s putting a dampener on our future.”

However, community leader Gina Castelain said she supported the legislation and believed many residents had been misinformed about the impact it would have on the area.

“I think people are being misled and the government needs to take its responsibility now and come to the community and tell people the facts,” she said.

“There’s nothing wrong with the government helping to protect our rivers.”

Ms Castelain, who runs a fishing and indigenous tourism venture on the Archer River, said the legislation would encourage environmentally sustainable development.

“I believe there are still many other opportunities we can look at, not just aquaculture and grazing,” she said.

READ: Brisbane Times