Postpone the passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act Bill

Postpone the passage of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act Bill

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August 29, 2006

(contributed by Derek Lane)

I found another article at ENIAR – which is admittedly old (before the legislation was passed) but by a bloke who seems to know the reality and puts it quite well…

11 August 2006 – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma has grave concerns about the amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976, which is currently being debated in the Senate.

Commissioner Calma said: “I urge the government to postpone the passage of this Bill until there is more detail regarding the impact of the implementation of the legislation and until land owners have been informed and given the opportunity to provide input into this process.

“The federal Government has not consulted with Aboriginal land owners on significant aspects of the legislation. Minister Brough claims that these amendments have been negotiated over the past nine years, however new amendments were added to the Bill just before its introduction – the 99-year lease provision is one such amendment.

The proposed lease provisions will effectively take away the rights of the traditional owners to decide who and what takes place on their ancestral lands for 99 years. Companies, services and non-traditional owners will be able to lease land from the government rather than obtaining consent from the land owners on a case-by-case basis. “In effect, the land owners will lose control of their land for four generations.

The provision for extension of the 99-year leases means that the land may never be returned to my people should this experiment fail,” said Mr Calma. “While I believe that economic development opportunities are essential for the well-being of Aboriginal communities, I don’t think 99-year leases will provide that economic opportunity.

Last year I undertook extensive research into land leasing and my research confirmed that dividing Aboriginal land into small parcels leads to extensive administrative costs, few if any economic benefits for Aboriginal people, and the loss of our ancestral lands. When the Word Bank introduced individual land tenure policies in the 1970s they failed to such an extent that they are now reversing this strategy in an effort to undo the damage.

Similarly, both the USA and New Zealand are reversing individual land titling policies because of the problems they have created regarding succession rights, the cost of administration, and the fact that they have eroded Indigenous land rights and delivered few if any benefits. “My concern about the amendments is that they will do the opposite of what they intend. They have the potential to create poverty rather than lead to its alleviation,” Commissioner Calma said. “I would like to see a lot more detail about these amendments. I want to know exactly how the government will pay for the lease proposal.

If the money is to come from our Aboriginal Benefits Account, then how much will they take and for how long? My people need to know this detail. If we are expected to pay for the cost of the leases over time through rent payments, then what will it cost to lease land from the government, and what will the land rates cost? In addition, if the leases are to encourage home ownership as the federal Government claims, then how will these mortgages be secured and how much will insurance cost in remote communities for these loans? None of this detail is currently available.

“I implore the government to provide my people with the basic courtesy of explaining this legislation and listening to their views about its impacts – no other Australian would accept radical changes to their land tenure arrangements without extensive negotiation. “I would also like to remind the government that land rights were not set up with the sole purpose of facilitating economic development.

Land rights were set up in acknowledgment of dispossession, for social, communal, residential, cultural and spiritual purposes. In my view, the 99-year leases are compulsory acquisition under another guise. All I am asking here is to give Aboriginal people the same basic rights as other Australians.”

Source: HREOC

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