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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1705

Senator IAN MACDONALD (9:55 AM) —I also seek leave to incorporate an article by Mr Noel Pearson in the Australian of 19 March 2011, which I have referred to the other parties.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Hutchins)—I understand that you want to table that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —No, I want to incorporate it please.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

The Australian

Backroom deals bless their wildest dreams

Noel Pearson

From: The Australian

March 19, 2011 12:00AM

THE Labor chairman brazenly winks at environmentalists turning up at a federal parliamentary committee hearing in Brisbane.

Queensland bureaucrats, and the Wilderness Society work like a tag team, dumping forests of submissions before a second federal inquiry into Tony Abbott’s wild rivers bill by the House of Representatives economics committee, announced late last year as a stalling tactic by the government.

Strange decisions are taken about which submissions are accepted and allowed to be posted on the committee’s website, and which are not. Private hearings are held in remote locations, taking evidence only from witnesses sympathetic to the Queensland laws, without other traditional owners present.

From their opening submissions in Canberra, it becomes clear that the commonwealth bureaucrats are with the environmentalists and against Aboriginal landowners, They make outrageous assertions about how properly the Queensland government conducted itself in relation to its wild rivers scheme, knowledge that the commonwealth is simply not in a position to have.

I ask one senior bureaucrat: “Why is the commonwealth making assertions about facts that only the Queensland government can attest to?”

He blithely answers that if I disagree with anything, then we have every opportunity to point it out. I respond that while we understand it is up to us to refute misinformation that might be peddled by our opponents before the inquiry, surely when public servants make submissions, these should be relied on as impartial and factual.

I ask whether he understands the difference between staffers who work for politicians and the duties of members of the Australian Public Service. Despite these being pointed out, the commonwealth still has not corrected its misleading evidence. Needless to say, this inquiry is a pig circus.

Last week, at the other end of the continent, people such as former ABC Gardening Australia presenter Peter Cundall were getting a taste of the same shaft that TWS has stuck into hapless natives in Cape York Peninsula.

Except this time it was green v green, when federal Environment Minister Tony Burke approved the contentious Gunns paper mill with the connivance of key TWS operatives.

Sue Neales was left nauseous, writing in Hobart’s The Mercury last weekend: “But what was so sickening and saddening to observe this week was the slick and calculated feel of almost every public utterance, media release and altered nuance issued in relation to the [Bill] Kelty forest peace talks, forest protection plans and the Tamar Valley pulp mill.

“It was impossible not to watch all the dominoes magically line up within three days of each other, the linkages being made between the issues and positions critically shifted at the last minute, and not feel a sense of done deals sealed behind closed doors.”

Yes, Aboriginal landowners in Cape York know too well about done deals sealed behind closed doors. Neales writes: “The effect, yet again, was to make the majority of Tasmanians feel that they had been excluded from a cunningly manipulated decision-making process.”

Neales is scathing about the roles played by TWS national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders and Environment Tasmania’s Phill Pullinger “That was exactly the trade-off or in-bed-with-the-devil deal that so many Tasmanians, especially those agitating against the loathed pulp mill, had feared was in train.”

When supporters on the ground see they’re being sold out, Neales writes of the dissembling from the leaders: “The back-pedalling that followed from the environmental groups this week, as their phone lines clogged with diatribes from enraged members, was both masterful and, it must be said, hardly honest.

“On Wednesday, a press release signed by the three environmental groups involved in the Kelty statement of principles negotiations came out with a statement that suddenly seemed to withdraw their backing of the previous week for the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.

‘They called for federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to reject its approval, claiming it was now ‘totally unacceptable’.”

Neales points out that Gunns made its plantation-timber-only concession last year: “So for the Wilderness Society et al to claim in a press release on Wednesday that they were ‘rejecting’ the ‘current’ pulp mill proposal because it used native timber was disingenuous in the extreme, deceitful at best.”

Welcome to our world.

This is what happens when some green leaders adopt a by-whatever-means-necessary approach to protecting the environment. They end up treating communities with contempt and using genuine local and regional environmental patriots as fodder in their big-picture campaigns.

Schneiders is the embodiment of this new phase in environmental activism: the environmentalist as apparatchik rather than the old model of environmentalist as campaigner.

The influence and power of these green apparatchiks is impressive, and has delivered large wins. In Queensland, state Labor’s beholden to groups such as TWS for delivering green preferences. In return, they have all but outsourced their environmental portfolios to these groups.

But these green apparatchiks are trashing community relationships in the countryside. They ride roughshod over rural people, landowners who were pioneers in the Landcare movement, Aboriginal communities that share conservation goals, and industries that are genuine about sustainability. Indeed, in a moment of hubris Schneiders once revealed to academic researchers he considered public consultation “a long suicide note”.

Green apparatchiks sit down with Labor hardheads in state secretariats and play a giant game of chess, trading pawns across a chessboard the size of Queensland. Public consultation is a sham while deals are cut by the big boys.

This chessboard trade-off was evident when the water management deals cut between Queensland Labor under Peter Beattie and TWS came to grief with the Traveston Dam.

When the Greens and TWS went soft against the dam before the state election in March 2009, it was apparent that this did not just involve Labor preferences to Greens candidate Ronan Lee in the seat of Indooroopilly.

It pointed to the earlier below-the-radar deal to trade support for a dam in the southeast in return for wild rivers up north and out west. But then Peter Garrett, as environment minister, torpedoed Traveston. I wonder how many people in the Bligh government ponder the double game played by TWS: running dead in Brisbane but going by the back door to Canberra.

In any case, the Queenslanders lost $500 million on Traveston, proving how dangerous it is for governments to play environmental games with taxpayers money.

The Queensland Wild Rivers is truly draconian. It provides no appeal rights and no parliamentary review.

The minister has virtually unfettered powers, providing fertile opportunity for organisations such as TWS to become silent partners in government. Processes that conservation groups normally hold sacred—appeal rights, natural justice and procedural fairness—have been denied to Indigenous people in respect of wild rivers legislation.

Protection must be afforded Indigenous people from powerful single-issue interest groups intent on removing their rights.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is intended to lay the foundations for these protections. The right of free, prior and informed consent to policies and regulatory actions is at the heart of this protection.

State Labor has turned a blind eye to that principle, endorsed by its federal counterparts, and has focused instead on repaying political debts. Federal Labor’s principles in this area are to be tested.

Noel Pearson is director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I thank the Senate for both of those incorporations. I urge senators and those interested in this debate on the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011 to have a serious look at Senator Boswell’s speech. As I say, it is a very well researched and detailed speech. It anticipated what I say are the quite shallow arguments by both Senator McLucas and Senator Siewert and really put the lie to those pious comments of the former two speakers.

Make no mistake about this: the opposition of the Labor Party and the Greens to this is purely political and, as almost everybody now knows, certainly Noel Pearson and most of the Indigenous people in Cape York, this is all about keeping Labor governments in power both in Queensland and federally by Greens’ support. The Greens, egged on by the Wilderness Society, simply say to Labor: ‘If you don’t do what we say in relation to wild rivers we will withdraw our support,’ whereupon both federally and in Queensland the Labor Party governments would fall.

Whilst I have been saying this for a long time, it is instructive to read Noel Pearson’s article, which I have also incorporated, where he clearly highlights that fact. As Noel Pearson said in his article:

Queensland bureaucrats and the Wilderness Society work like a tag team, dumping forests of submissions before a second federal inquiry into Tony Abbott’s wild rivers bill by the House of Representatives economics committee, announced late last year as a stalling tactic by the government.

I acknowledge that not everyone agrees with Noel Pearson all of the time, but in this instance I think all of the Indigenous leaders in Cape York want to be able to develop their land. There was a proposal by Cape Alumina, which of course is anathema to the Greens and to the Wilderness Society, for a new mine in the cape that would have provided real jobs, not these make-work jobs, for Indigenous people. This was destroyed by this wild rivers legislation and the way the Queensland government is administering it.

I want to make it clear to those who might be following this debate that, unfortunately, because of time limits—we do want to try to get this legislation voted on today so that we can determine the will of the Senate—my time has been limited to a mere six minutes, which is not going to give me much time to refute the arguments of the previous two speakers or to promote my own. Suffice it to say, and I repeat, that the article of Noel Pearson and Senator Boswell’s speech actually anticipated the stupidity of the Labor Party and the Greens and have answered many of those questions.

I point out that one of the things that is often said to me is that ‘wild rivers is good because it has all these wild rivers rangers, and that provides real jobs for Indigenous people’. The ranger program is a good one. It was started by the Howard government in the fisheries area to look after coastal and Ghost Net programs. It is a good program but it does not need to be related to wild rivers. It can go ahead whether there is a Queensland wild rivers program or not. So that is just absolutely ridiculous. It is a furphy. It is a disingenuous argument by Senator McLucas and Senator Siewert, who promote that.

Tony Abbott has brought this bill forward, as everyone knows—well, perhaps a lot of people do not know, because when Tony Abbott goes to Cape York he does not take a team of television reporters and newspaper journalists with him; he actually goes up there and works in the communities, and he has been doing that for a number of years—because he understands empathy. He understands the wishes and desires of Indigenous people to look after their own land.

Senator Conroy —He took three journos and they all got lost!

Senator Crossin interjecting—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Senator Conroy and his colleagues over there obviously do not believe Indigenous people are capable of looking after their own land. They have to have the big heavy hand of the government and the Greens and the Wilderness Society to tell Indigenous people what is good for them. Indigenous people reject that. They are offended by it, as most fair-minded Australians would be. It is about time the Labor Party and the Greens realised that Indigenous people are capable of looking after their own land. Good heavens, they have done it for hundreds of thousands of years! Why do you need the Queensland government and the Greens and the Wilderness Society to come in over the top and tell Indigenous people what is good for them? I urge the Senate to adopt this bill.