Queensland’s shameful denial of black enterprise
Why does scare-mongering worry us so much? Because it works. And it is simple to do.
This is how it is done in four easy steps: First, you must have a position of actual or perceived authority. Either’s fine.
Second you proclaim your objectivity, or your access to some knowledge that sets yourself apart from the mob. Fancy titles, having written a book, or apparently having seen something nobody else has, are all a good start.
Then you present “the facts” as if they are completely reasonable. Take low probability events and make them seem likely, irrelevant concerns are suddenly relevant, and the fanciful must be just around the corner and picking up speed! Complex conspiracy theories are also perfect.
Finally, you peddle a solution to salve the anxiety that you have created.
I recently travelled through far North Queensland to get a first-hand understanding of the Wild Rivers Act that the Queensland Government is imposing on the people of Cape York. (Note: it might be a perfectly nice piece of legislation for places other than the Cape, I am only talking about Cape York and its people).
In the town of Mapoon I sat in on a presentation from three members of the Department of Land and Resources with about 20 aboriginal elders. Few of those in the audience had finished school as their childhood had been interrupted when the town of Mapoon was cleansed of inhabitants in 1964 to make way for mining in the area. Families were loaded at gun-point onto a boat and taken to Bamaga. Later police returned to burn their houses—their private houses—to ensure they would not return. Legend has it that Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning” song immortalises this sad chapter of our (surprisingly) recent history.
“Nowhere in Australia during the past years has there been a more blatant breaking of promises and denial of human rights [than] the forced removal of Aboriginals [from Mapoon and] the burning down of most of the remaining cottages” Stan Davey, 1964
The presentation I sat through in Mapoon was copybook scaremongering.*
The Government officials introduced themselves carefully, two women from Cairns and a smart looking man who was from Brisbane “which is where lots of the policy comes from” they said. (Step One, done.)
Next, they made it clear they were impartial:
“We are from the Department of Environment and Resource Management and we are from the government. We are not on a side. We are here to tell you what Wild Rivers is. We will tell you the facts. We have got it on paper. We…are here to help you.”
Step 2, and done very well I thought. Then the guts of the scare-mongering: the misrepresented facts:
The ‘villagers’ were told the legislation would prevent fish farming that would lead to fish hormones escaping into the river and destruction of their beloved crab breeding grounds. Never mind that hormones are not used in river based acqua-culture (some can be used at the ponded hatchling stage, if at all).
We were told by the earnest people with university degrees that those same hormone escapes would create horrible algae blooms destroying the rivers. Never mind that algae isn’t bloomed by fish hormones. But these are people from the Government! They have it on paper! Surely they should be trusted.
They went on to say the legislation would stop the Cape becoming another “Murray-Darling basin with the rivers ruined by “pesticides and fertilizers” and the introduction of “1000 hectare” sugar cane farms turning the areas into another area like (shock horror) the Queensland coast.
Never mind that they admitted later that not even a single proposal was in front of the Government for any irrigated farming, or a single cane farm. Never mind that said they were aware that the CSIRO had concluded the area was highly inappropriate for Murry-Darling style irrigation development and it would never happen.
The audience was told that the legislation would stop dams like the Ord River dam. Never mind that the topography of the region and the rivers are nothing like the Ord and there is no chance that the major rivers would ever be dammed. (Imagine trying to dam a 7 kilometre wide river that flows a few times a year through sandy country with no steeps banks.)
Step 3 was deftly delivered and a solution was then presented to the concerned gathering. The “Wild Rivers Legislation” was just a “planning framework”, albeit a large and complex set of rules that would somehow work with the countless other planning rules and regulations, vegetation and water management acts.
In other words, give us, the Government more control over your life and all will be OK. You will be protected from the monster hormone crazy fish and your rivers will not be sucked dry like the Murray. Step 4 done.
Scare-mongering? Certainly. Effective? Not sure.
I am not so sure the Government will win this time because the children of the elders who are fighting the Government are armed and dangerous: the kids running the “give us a go” campaign have things like Year 12 diplomas and university degrees.
And, in case you think I am exaggerating, the full transcript is on www.giveusago.com. Read it yourself, the people of the Cape would appreciate your support.
*Last Friday, the Minister of Lands and Resources Stephen Robertson promised me he would investigate the presentations given by his department in Cape York as part of the Government sponsored “consultation” with traditional owners.
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