Environment Minister Peter Garrett last night said he would not intervene in the dispute.
“The commonwealth Environment Minister does not have a role in the wild rivers matter, those are issues for the Queensland Government, Mr Pearson and others to discuss,” Mr Garrett said.
“I am committed to a full and thorough consultation as part of today’s decision about tentative listing. This will be an exhaustive process which we extend over the coming years.”
Mr Pearson’s support is seen as crucial to the Rudd Government’s bid to move Aborigines from welfare to work and its decision to end the CDEP scheme from July 1.
Mr Garrett and state environment ministers in Hobart yesterday set up the showdown with far north Queensland Aborigines after they agreed to put Cape York forward for tentative World Heritage listing yesterday despite pleas to hold off.
The meeting endorsed a “tentative” list of four proposed World Heritage areas to present to international body UNESCO later this year.
The Cape York proposal was placed at the top of the list in terms of priorities, giving its nomination a strong chance of being formally presented to UNESCO in a process that could take up to 10 years.
Mr Pearson condemned Mr Garrett for failing to take a stand on the wild rivers issue.
“As for Peter Garrett’s acquiescence to this, Peter Garrett hasn’t been up here in two years,” Mr Pearson told The Weekend Australian.
“He has not had one conversation with the organisations or representatives up here. I’ve not as much as shaken hands with him, and yet 15 years prior to that you couldn’t stop the bugger wanting to meet you.
“He would be up here saying he was a great friend of Aboriginal people and so on at the drop of a hat, and in two years of being a minister he has never darkened our doorway.
“And the commitment that I make to him is that he will join the long list of failed environment ministers who have grand schemes about trying to stuff Aboriginal people over who will never succeed.”
Mr Garrett defended the decision, arguing there was still time for Aborigines to be consulted.
“Today environment ministers endorsed a tentative list, noting that it will now be the subject of extensive consultation with stakeholders, and this will include traditional owners,” he said. “This is the beginning of a process which will stretch over a number of years and full and thorough consultation is a commitment of both the Queensland and the commonwealth governments as part of this process.”
But Mr Pearson said the promise was meaningless after the Queensland Government’s decision to impose “wild river” declarations on three river basins, despite strong traditional owner opposition.
Traditional owners and Mr Pearson argue the ban on development within 1km of a river or creek in each of the basins would destroy economic development.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said consultation with traditional owners would be necessary before World Heritage listing was achieved.
“It is critical that there is proper consultation with traditional owners,” she said.
Queensland Climate Change Minister Kate Jones said the cape, which has been largely untouched by development, had international environmental significance and a successful World Heritage listing would help bring tourism and jobs to the region.
She said the process of obtaining a listing was only in its early stages and indigenous stakeholders would need to be “extensively consulted” before the nomination could progress.
“Our commitment is that we must undertake consultation and we will ensure that we do so,” Ms Jones said.
ALP powerbroker and indigenous leader Warren Mundine said it was time for governments to show leadership on both wild rivers and the World Heritage listing of Cape York.
“I think the federal Government should be addressing this issue,” Mr Mundine said.
“I think the Government needs to sit down with indigenous people immediately on this.
“You can’t ask Aboriginal people to get off their backsides and start getting into economic development and economic projects that are now under threat. You can’t have it both ways.
“Why should Aboriginal people carry the can for white man’s abuse of the environment and locking us into a non-economic future. In native title, mining companies sign off with Aboriginal people before mining projects go ahead. We expect the same thing from Governments with environmental issues.”
Mr Pearson has taken three months’ leave of absence from the Cape York Institute to fight the wild rivers legislation.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma has warned previously that the declaration of the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart Rivers could contravene the rights of the local indigenous people.
Mr Pearson said the wild rivers laws would be strongly fought and legally challenged.
“The terrible thing about this regime is that if someone were to find a very valuable mine, the wild rivers will not stop the state Government from going ahead with it,” Mr Pearson said.
“So this is complete hypocrisy in terms of the environment.
“It will be the smaller-scale sustainable industries; it will be those things that will be precluded – that’s the madness of this.”