Angry Cape York leaders have threatened to ban outsiders from their land if the Queensland government doesn’t wind back its controversial wild rivers policy.
The threat came as prominent indigenous leader Noel Pearson announced he’ll step down from the welfare reform think-tank he established, the Cape York Institute, to join the fight.
Mr Pearson, who will hold a press conference on Thursday to explain his reasons, was not among a group of Cape York Land Council members who told reporters on Wednesday of their anger over the proposed law changes.
Council chairman Michael Ross said traditional owners had been misled by the Bligh government and communities would establish a “barricade” and stop working with non-indigenous Australians if the government wouldn’t work with them.
“At first they said one river, now there are 13 rivers – the whole Cape is under wild rivers, every stream, every lagoon, every spring is a wild river,” he said.
“When do we say back off, sit down and talk? If you don’t want to talk, get out of my country.”
Premier Anna Bligh on Friday announced the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart rivers had been gazetted as “wild rivers” – which precludes development within 1km of their banks to protect biodiversity.
The announcement, welcomed by environmental groups, brought the number of gazetted wild rivers in the region to nine.
Traditional owner Richie Ah Mat said the decision would stop economic development in Cape York and entrench welfare dependence for another generation of indigenous residents.
“Nobody has listened to the black fellas, we are the lowest common denominator in Cape York,” he said.
“A lot of the communities have aspirations, they want to build their own farms, they want to grow vegies.
“This restricts that. This restricts employment, business and economic development for Aboriginal people.”
Another indigenous elder Daniel de Busch labelled the policy “economic apartheid”.
“That’s what’s going to stop our younger generation from finding jobs in the near future, the economic apartheid system set up by the Bligh government,” he said.
He believed residents would defy the legislation if the government would not repeal it.
“We will use our rivers … nobody is going to stop us, we are the legal custodians of our land,” he said.