Brough holding us to ransom, says Tiwi community
Friday, 10 November 2006 9:35:12 AM
By Tara Ravens
DARWIN, November 10, 2006: An Aboriginal community says it is being held to ransom over federal government demands that it agrees to a 99-year lease.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough on Wednesday told a remote community on the Tiwi islands north of Darwin that the islands would only get a new school if it agreed to a 99-year lease.
Mr Brough delivered the ultimatum when he visited the community of Nguiu on Bathurst Island.
A boarding school for Tiwi Island youth is planned for nearby Melville Island.
But Mr Brough told the Nguiu community the federal government would not deliver on a $10 million funding commitment for the new school if it rejected the lease proposal.
This was because private investors would be needed to run the school, and they would only sign up if there was the security of land tenure provided by the federal government initiative, he said.
“The Tiwi people are very passionate about improving their education and we want to make that a reality and (99 year leases) gives us the vehicle to be able to do that,” Mr Brough said.
“You have a right to school, every Australian does and I don’t think it has been adequate here …”
Asked by a concerned local during a community meeting if there was a connection between the new school and 99 year leases, he replied: “Yes there is, because of land tenure.
“We are not going to spend $10 million on something nobody owns … it’s very dependant on there being able to be a block of land that someone actually has control over.”
Barely 10 per cent of young Tiwis have basic literacy and numeracy skills and only 32 per cent of girls attend senior school.
The lease demand comes despite the fact the planned site of the new school on Melville Island operates under current leasing agreements, so will not be affected by the signing of a 99-year lease at Nguiu.
“To me it felt as though the owners of the land were being held to ransom,” president of the local community and member of the Tiwi Land Council Garwin Tipiloura told the community gathering.
The 1,500 strong community of Nguiu is expected to become the first in Australia to allow for home ownership and commercial business development under the federal Government’s recent changes to the Land Rights Act.
Traditional owners committed to negotiating a deal when Mr Brough visited the islands earlier this year.
At the same time, he announced the $10 million in funding for the school, which aims to help fight illiteracy and the major skills shortage on the islands.
“When we heard about the school everyone was just so excited, we could not stop smiling,” said Teresita Purintarameri, from the Wangatunga womens’ group.
“But then when people found out about the 99-year leases they started thinking that the two things were tied up. People feel blackmailed.”
Education is seen by many on the Tiwi Islands as the only way forward for the remote community, which has the highest suicide rater per capita in Australia.
Asked by reporters if he was concerned by the lack of educational resources on the Tiwi Islands, Mr Brough said: “To say that I am disappointed with the level of education throughout many parts of remote Australia is an understatement and I think a lot more needs to be done …
“We want children to come out of school with numeracy, with literacy and with English as a first language so they can go anywhere they want in this country and fulfil their own wishes and dreams and not be locked into a location simply because this education system failed them.” – AAP