Noel Pearson is accusing the Queensland government of deceiving indigenous people after Premier Anna Bligh banned development around three Cape York rivers.
Ms Bligh has announced the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart rivers in far north Queensland had been gazetted as “wild rivers” – which precludes development within 1km of their banks – to protect biodiversity.
The announcement, which has been welcomed by environmental groups, brings the number of gazetted wild rivers in the region to nine.
However, Cape York Institute director Mr Pearson attacked the decision and questioned why the plans weren’t raised during the election campaign.
“It seems to me that (the premier’s) gone through a campaign not disclosing to the people of Queensland that she was going to make these gazettals in the way she has,” he told AAP.
Mr Pearson said the decision would prevent economic development in indigenous communities by stopping industries like tourism or agriculture taking off.
He accused Labor of selling the Cape York communities out to secure preferences from the Greens in the state’s southeast.
“All of that (economic growth) is precluded because the premier has made sleazy political deals in the course of the recent political campaign,” Mr Pearson said.
“It’s an absolute kick in the guts to us.”
Several indigenous elders told AAP many in their communities would have changed their votes at the last election had the decisions been announced earlier.
Labor’s Jason O’Brien holds the seat by less than three per cent.
A significant drop in support in Aboriginal communities, where Labor routinely secures more than 80 per cent of the vote, would have seen the seat swing to the LNP.
Wilderness Society Queensland campaigner Glenn Walker said the move would protect biodiversity by restricting mining, development and agricultural activity.
“What it means for these very important river systems – which includes the Aurukun wetlands that are five times the size of the Kakadu wetlands – is in major tributaries and wetlands in-stream mining, big dams and large irrigation schemes will be prevented,” he said.
He said the protection of the rivers would help boost tourism and result in indigenous people gaining employment as rangers.