Noel Pearson accuses Warren Entsch of manipulating Aboriginal elders to undermine native title claim


2015 November, 28

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has accused a federal Coalition backbencher of manipulating Aboriginal elders in Cape York in an attempt to undermine Australia's biggest native title claim.

Coalition backbencher and local MP Warren Entsch has lashed back at Mr Pearson, calling him a "potty mouth" and describing him as an "unrepresentative, self-appointed leader".

The native title claim at the centre of the dispute was lodged by the Cape York Land Council and it covers nearly 15 million hectares of Cape York in Queensland's far north.

Noel Pearson. welcome to AM. I think you can safely assume that you're probably off Warren Entsch's Christmas list this.

Let's just recap and have a quick listen to what he's had to say about you in recent days:

(Excerpt of interview with Fran Kelly, RN Breakfast, Nov. 25)

WARREN ENTSCH: One thing you can be sure about Noely is: if you don't agree with absolutely what Noely says or what Noely wants to do, then he is full of vitriol and abuse. He's got a very potty mouth when it comes to that.

And I think it's an insult to a lot of traditional owners in Cape York communities that have dared to stand up and say, "Just because Noel Pearson has an opinion doesn't mean to say that is something that is supported by the broader Indigenous community."

(Excerpt ends)

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Noel Pearson, are you out of touch and even contemptuous of Indigenous elders?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, not at all. The fact is that the one claim is on behalf of thousands of traditional owners in Cape York, including my own family. The claim is in relation to the balance of Cape York that has not had a native title determination.

You see, the Native Title Act was put in in 1993 and approximately 48 per cent of the cape has gone through court processes so that the benefits of the Mabo and the Wik decision have flowed to those traditional owner groups over the last 20 plus years.

The problem is, as it is across Australia, is that if we take the same amount of time to determine the remaining claims, we will be at the native title business for another 30 years.

And so the decision taken by the Land Council was to say, "Listen, most of these claims that have been done have been done through consent determinations"; in other words, the state has agreed to the existence of native title.

And we believe that the balance of native title issues in Cape York can be settled within the next few years, rather than 30.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: But I think that Warren Entsch is suggesting that, through your dominance, you've locked out other traditional owners out of the process and they feel they've been left with no choice but to call on the Federal Government to intervene?

NOEL PEARSON: No. All of those people, three of whom Warren kind of dragged around the corridors of Parliament House this week: they're all native title holders. And it's their groups' rights and interests that are being asserted here.

So they're actually beneficiaries of the claim.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: You call them "puppets" of Warren Entsch?

NOEL PEARSON: Absolutely, because they have no authorisation from their own groups. The Land Council conducted 25 meetings all over northern Queensland with representatives and elders from all of the traditional groups that are- whose traditional country is included in this claim. And they authorised the making of this claim.

But Warren Entsch has sequestered a handful of them in the cause of opposing their own claim.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: So that's a hefty allegation against the local Member. You're effectively saying that, in your view, he's deliberately manipulated this group of Indigenous leaders who... really don't know any better?

NOEL PEARSON: Absolutely. That is, that is what I'm saying. And, you know, the question that's got to be asked is that, as an MP in the Federal Government, is he acting on behalf of the Commonwealth Government? Because the Commonwealth Government is a party to all of these claims, as is the State Government.

So: is the actions of a single backbencher representative? Is he speaking and acting on behalf of the Government of which he is a member? That's a real legal question for us, because the position he's taken is oppositional and I'm wondering if he has the authority of the Commonwealth Government in taking that position?

ELIZABETH JACKSON: What is his agenda, ultimately, in your view?

NOEL PEARSON: Well, ultimately this is - the claim was actually announced mid-last year, when the Newman government was still in power. And the premier, Campbell Newman, welcomed the claim.

It was reported; the headline in The Australian newspaper was that Campbell Newman welcomes the Cape York claim. Because Newman understood and any rational person understands that the quicker we get native title claims settled, the earlier we can get onto the business of people using the land and getting economic development going.

I think what's going on here is that Warren does not - 'cause once you put a claim in and it's registered by the Federal Court, remembering that you have to go through a rigorous process of consultation and authorisation before the court will accept the claim and that has been done.

But the bit that Warren doesn't like is that, once you've registered the claim, those groups have the right to negotiate in relation to anything happening on the land, on their traditional lands.

And Warren doesn't want that. He's got an eye on northern development and he doesn't want traditional owners to be in a position of having leverage in anything that's happening on their traditional country. That is the driver here: Warren does not like the idea of Aboriginal traditional owners having the right to negotiate under the Native Title Act in relation to any development or any conservation that might happen on their country.

The Native Title Act says that the native title holders have got a right to have a say over what happens on their traditional land. That's the bit that Warren hates.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Noel Pearson, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much.

NOEL PEARSON: Thank you.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson.

Noel Pearson accuses Warren Entsch of manipulating Aboriginal elders to undermine native title claim