Aboriginal rights supporters and environmental activists protested at the opening of the Brisbane Writers' Festival on September 9, where the keynote speaker was conservative Aboriginal figure Noel Pearson.
Local Murri leader and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson organised the protest. He said that while the UN human rights rapporteur had recently denounced the Northern Territory intervention as "racist", Pearson championed the policy.
Watson read a statement from Alice Spring Aboriginal leaders condemning the intervention and supporting the protest.
Other support messages came from Aboriginal communities sick of Pearson endorsing conservative policies that blame the victims of racism, rather than the perpetrators.
Watson was angry that the Brisbane Writers' Festival gave Pearson, who gets regular coverage in the corporate press, a platform. Meanwhile, so many grassroots Aboriginal activists, who disagree with Pearson, remain voiceless.
Nicole Watson, a Murri lawyer and activist who has just won the Unpublished Indigenous Writer award, said: "While Noel may say that he only speaks for himself, his ideas help formulate a policy return to the 'protectionist system' that our parents fought for decades to demolish, so we could be born with dignity."
A Wilderness Society speaker outlined Pearson's misinformation campaign about the Wild Rivers legislation, which is designed to protect Cape York's river system. Pearson has sided with big mining companies that want unrestricted access to the area, but is attempting to whip up a fear campaign about the new laws affecting traditional fishing and harming Indigenous employment.
The laws do not affect native title rights, and many Aboriginal people — including traditional owners, North Queensland Land Council chairperson Terry O'Shane and activist Murrandoo Yanner — disagree with Pearson and support the legislation. (More information is available at www.giveusabreak.org.au).