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Only white fella development allowed

By Ken McKay - posted Monday, 10 August 2009

Before I deal with the central premise it is necessary to briefly deal with the allegations of Tania Major, Indigenous Australian and anti wild rivers campaigner, that the Chinalco development was excluded from Queensland’s Wild Rivers initiative because of the lobbying efforts of Jim Elder. The statement is wrong.

For some period of time the holders of the Pechiney bauxite leases in Aurukun, Cape York, earned the wrath of successive governments for not developing the resource into a mine with a smelter and refinery.

So much so that in 2004 the Beattie Labor government repealed the special legislation that awarded the mining lease. During 2005 the Wild Rivers legislation was being developed and there was considerable concern that this would be a huge embarrassment if it prevented the Aurukun resource from being developed. That is the reason the Wild Rivers legislation specifically excluded the Aurukun development: the lease was put out to tender and awarded in a competitive bid after the Wild Rivers legislation was enacted, and thus before Chinalco and any lobbyist firms were involved.


Before we deal with the specifics of the impact of the Wild Rivers legislation it is useful to take a quick snapshot of key demographical statistics for our Indigenous people.

All the statistics quoted below come from ABS catalogue number 4704.0.

The unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians is 16 per cent compared with 5 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians; home ownership is 34 per cent compared with 69 per cent; median weekly income for Indigenous Australians is 56 per cent of that for non-Indigenous Australians; life expectancy for males is 59 compared with 77, for females it is 65 compared to 82; 75 per cent of males die before the age of 65 compared with 26 per cent, 65 per cent of females die before the age of 65 compared to 16 per cent; male infant deaths are 6.4 per cent compared to 0.9 per cent and female infant deaths are 5.7 per cent compared to 0.8 per cent.

To put this in context, both Eritrea and Ghana have a higher life expectancy for males than Indigenous Australia. The unemployment among Indigenous Australians is comparable to the unemployment rates in Algeria, Azerbaijan, Botswana and Serbia.

To support the welfare of Indigenous people economic activity must be brought to the communities: the biggest impediment is the lack of capital accumulation available for economic ventures.

For wide ranging improvements external capital needs to be invested into economic activity within or for Indigenous communities. The nature of the market means opportunities are limited and investments will be marginal at best in terms of potential returns to the external holders of the capital.


The most likely source of capital is from natural resource projects injecting capital via Indigenous Land Use Agreements; second is joint venture projects for agribusiness activity; and finally ecotourism ventures.

Any increased regulatory uncertainty or compliance costs act as huge barriers and disincentives for external private entities investing or entering into joint economic ventures with Indigenous communities.

The Wild Rivers legislation is a significant barrier to investment certainty, thus reducing the capacity of ending the entrenched poverty in Indigenous communities in the Cape.

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About the Author

Ken McKay is a former Queensland Ministerial Policy Adviser now working in the Queensland Union movement. The views expressed in this article are his views and do not represent the views of past or current employers.

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