Accusations against the left ... Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton.

Accusations against the left ... Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton. Photo: Maxine Chaplin

THE Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton has accused the left of standing in the way of indigenous advancement, consigning the nation's first peoples to lives of poverty.

In her second Boyer lecture, an extract of which is published in the Herald, Professor Langton argues the environmental movement has emerged as ''one of the most difficult of all the obstacles hindering Aboriginal economic development''.

''Among the left and among those opinion leaders who hang on to the idea of the new 'noble savage', Aboriginal poverty is invisible, masked by a 'wilderness' ideology,'' Professor Langton argues in the lecture, which will be broadcast on Sunday.

Catalyst for change ... Ken Wyatt, Parliament's first indigenous MP.

Catalyst for change ... Ken Wyatt, Parliament's first indigenous MP. Photo: Andrew Meares

''Whenever an Aboriginal group negotiates with a resource extraction company there is an unspoken expectation that no Aboriginal group should become engaged in any economic development. They only tolerate Aboriginal people living on their own land as caretakers of wilderness, living in poverty and remaining uneducated and isolated.''

Professor Langton, the chairwoman of Australian indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne, attacks environmental campaigners who teamed with dissident Aboriginal groups to oppose development at Jabiluka in western Arnhem Land and elsewhere ''not because of impacts on Aboriginal people but to preserve nature and 'wilderness'''.

''Whether Aboriginal groups had projects imposed on them or negotiated successful settlements, these professional protesters, supported by sophisticated non-government organisations funded by a gullible public, accused Aboriginal leaders of 'selling out'. Not once have they campaigned against Aboriginal poverty. They assume that this is the normal for the natives.

''Time and again, native title groups have spent years getting an agreement with a resource company over the line, negotiating income streams that might shift indigenous people from the margins to the centre of regional economic development in return for land access, only for a ragtag team of 'wilderness' campaigners to turn up with an entourage of disaffected Aboriginal protesters to stop development at the eleventh hour.''

She accuses Labor of taking Aboriginal voters for granted since the days of the Whitlam government but says this changed with the election of the West Australian Liberal MP Ken Wyatt as the first indigenous member of the House of Representatives, and the defeat of the Labor government in this year's Northern Territory election, largely due to the disaffection of indigenous voters in bush seats.

Professor Langton says the territory result challenged mainstream perceptions of the marginal power of the Aboriginal vote and demonstrated the Country Liberal Party - once rabidly opposed to Aboriginal rights - had changed its colour.

Professor Langton's lecture will be broadcast on ABC Radio National on Sunday at 5pm and will be available at abc.net.au/radionational/boyerlectures.