Wild rivers, intervention and liberal hypocrisy

Wild Rivers signI got an email last week from a friend about some comments Nigel Scullion has been making. The comments were regarding the Wild Rivers legislation, and Tony Abbott’s private member’s bill in particular. As Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Scullion spoke about the lack of informed consent in regards to the way the Wild Rivers legislation was written and implemented. A point that, if true, is a valid criticism and one that means the Wild Rivers legislation needs further work to become law. I’m not going to get into that here though, it’s too big for my limited lack of legal matters to get my head around and I feel that there have already been some good writings about it that can be found online.

The point of my friend’s email was the hypocrisy of the Coalition running this line. This statement about the lack of informed consent was coming from a man who, in the early days of the Intervention, told a Yolgnu man that they didn’t have anyone’s consent (as seen in Our Generation).

Now maybe it’s just cynical of me to think this. For all I know, Scullion may have had issues with the way in which the Intervention was first rolled out, he may himself not have been informed or consulted about the legislation before he had to go and inform people across his electorate. Given the rushed nature of the NTER legislation, that isn’t impossible. Possibly he – and the rest of the Coalition – may have changed their minds about fundamental principles when it comes to Aboriginal policy in Australia – they are now bracketing informed consent, after all.

This may be the case. Maybe.

I just can’t say. Only those in the room and the politicians involved can know that.

Whatever the case, to my friend here in Alice, there seems to be a hypocrisy around a party that can rush legislation without any consultation whatsoever – legislation that overrides and suspends the Racial Discrimination Act, that vilifies and demonises Aboriginal people living in selected areas – yet now has issues with a lack of informed consent. Which they then use as grounds to repeal legislation that doesn’t fit with their neoliberal agenda. This looks a lot like hypocrisy about when and where informed consent matters.

Scott Foyster

Scott Foyster lives in Mpartnwe/Alice Springs where he writes and collects stories to share. He is one of the editors of Wai, an independent quarterly national newspaper on social jusice and environmental issues around the country/region, and is also one half of Black Kite Press, an independent press that is currently working on it's first publication.

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  1. It’s not just your friend in Alice who has suspicions about Liberal motives re: Wild Rivers; I know quite a few people in Queensland are just as skeptical but have also said similar things about lack of informed consent.

  2. Interesting discussion.
    I don’t subscribe to the theory that the move to overturn wild rivers is a conspiracy between big business, noel pearson and tony abbott. It is simply abbott playing clever wedge politics. This is going to be successful because the left is divided on whether there should be real consent or not.
    I was astonished to see an NT anti-intervention group issue a statement on wild rivers that failed to even mention cape york t.o.s or what there opinions are. While t.o. consent is important for policy measures in the NT it doesn’t even rate a mention on wild rivers.
    I don’t believe in a biblical good v evil analysis of this issue. Noel Pearson is not the great satan and nor is TWS. In fact one great tragedy in this issue is the damage suffered to the TWS brand on the cape as clearly they have been an overwhelmingly positive force for land rights on the cape in recent decades. That being said errors have been made and there is genuine concern amongst cape t.o.s about wild rivers. people have not consented and there is a great number unhappy with the process. A negotiated outcome is needed. the alternative being an ongoing head to head blood match between the cape york orgs and TWS… one that is unlikely to end well

    1. Tim,

      good points. when two sides are going at a blood bath often nothing will result and the middle voices and people will be cut out. as its in the realm of big politics at the moment that desire to step out, reflect and negotiate might be a little way off yet.

      be interesting to see where the debate will go this week in Canberra.

      also agree that there needs to be a focus on genuine consent and that any side of politics as to take this approach for evey situation. which probably means a slower process but one that potentially will not result in as many problems.

  3. Tim,

    Some valid points, but important to remember that there have been a number of negotiated outcomes re Wild Rivers, including the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007, which Pearson completed backflipped on. Much of the concern from TOs on the Cape re Wild Rivers is founded on the false premise that the legislation takes away land rights, stops fishing, access, building infrastructure, etc.

    Read our submission into the Senate Inquiry on Wild Rivers for the details of what has transpired:


    Certainly the negotiation process for Wild Rivers needs to improve, but this should be primarily with Traditional Owner groups on the ground, rather than the standard response to go and negotiate solely with Pearson and his empire of regional organisations. This model continually employed by Feds and States just perpetuates the marginalisation of voices others than Pearson’s.

  4. Oh Glen, I just can’t for the life of me understand why everyone thinks you hate Aborigines when you don’t. You just hate them having fully blown property rights!
    Why are they so blind???

  5. glenn,

    thanks for your link to the piece. some interesting points. i remember seeing Noel Pearson on lateline last year. Tony Jones asked him whether there was any specific projects that had been rejected or stopped under the Wild Rivers Legislation. He said not yet but the potential was there and that was the concern.

    I agree that its problematic constantly going to just the Pearson’s (remember his brother is becoming outspoken too) for the reasons you mentioned. I guess that’s the quick fix solution that in the world of politics goes, its alsoo i think one of Pearsons strength. He knows well how to rattle the cage.

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