It is an honour to lead the Central Land Council as we celebrate 40 years of land rights in the Northern Territory.
When I thanked the members for returning me as the chair in April I felt proud that the Council has been running so much better in the last couple of years. We have been working hard at our governance. Just before the Council elections old and new CLC members came together for a very enjoyable induction day.
My first visit after the election was to our rangers at their annual camp at Blue Bush Station, north of Tennant Creek. They were even more confident than at last year’s ranger camp. They teach each other about what works well and they keep our country healthy and our communities and languages strong.
I don’t need a government report to know this but it is good to hear that independent experts have been telling the federal government the same story. I hope it will listen up and help us start more ranger groups. I was very happy when the Labor party promised more money for rangers if they win the election.
Many bush voters also want to change the broken housing system. The CLC has helped a group of lawyers and volunteers to survey houses in our communities. They collected proof that the Northern Territory Department of Housing failed to repair and maintain the houses properly. Some communities have already taken legal action against the department and my home town of Yuendumu will be next.
Yuendumu is not the only place where people use community lease money in a way that helps everyone but it is a good example of how we invest in projects that can keep going after the lease money stops.
The new outstation resource centre we funded with the support of the CLC’s community development program, the Yapa Kurlangu Ngurrara Aboriginal Corporation, now has 28 outstations and 22 Aboriginal workers on its books. YKNAC has plenty of contract work in infrastructure and housing maintenance, construction and cleaning. They are using affected area compensation income from The Granites mine to tow broken cars and recycle their parts. This new project is not just great news for all us bush mechanics – we also hope it will create more real jobs for locals.
CLC Chair Francis Kelly calls for more ranger jobs at Kalkaringi.
We need proper jobs to develop our communities, not the work for the dole program. The government now calls it community development program (CDP), just like our successful program, but we can tell which is the gammon one. CDP is punishing people and hurting communities. Proper community development is what we do for ourselves, not something forced on us by the government.
Our community development program is something the Northern Land Council now has in common with us. I hope we will start to share ideas during the first joint land council meeting in a very long time – in Kalkaringi, near one of the birthplaces of land rights.
When we last met there together, in 1998, we released the Kalkaringi Statement. It set out our hopes and worries about constitutional development and governance of the NT, ahead of the defeated statehood referendum.
As we begin to talk about another referendum, this time about recognising us in the Australian constitution, it is important to understand that our commitment to the principles in the Kalkaringi Statement stays strong. We are happy to look at constitutional reform that brings us meaningful and lasting benefits. When we discuss constitutional reform in Aboriginal meetings in the NT later this year we will also make sure that it does not endanger our rights to negotiate treaties to finally achieve self determination.