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Throwing out the Land Rights Act not the key

Posted: Tue, June 17, 2014

The Director of the Central Land Council, Mr David Ross, today urged the Member for Stuart , NT Minister Bess Price to think more carefully about the implications of throwing out the Land Rights Act.

‘The Minister is playing a dangerous political game and putting at risk nearly forty years of struggle to have land returned to its traditional landowners, without stating what the real problems are or offering any detailed alternatives. It is simply not good enough to just spout rhetoric on complex issues or to pretend that traditional owners are leaving their land because they have land rights.   Blaming tenure is easy, but you only have to look at Tennant Creek, Kalkarindji or Finke to see that remote towns situated on NT freehold title are not faring any better than communities on Aboriginal land. 

More than 50% of the NT is property held by traditional owners under land rights titles, and there are clear processes in the Land Rights Act for ensuring their informed consent can be sought on any dealings with their land.  It is not apparent what the Minister is proposing could replace the land rights system which provides for the recognition of ownership rights in country under Aboriginal law together with defined procedures for landowners decisions to be given effect under the Torrens system. 

Leasing of Aboriginal land allows for a secure interest to be granted over Aboriginal land, and over 500 such leases have been granted in the CLC region.  Leases are transferable and can be mortgaged - major developments like the Alice to Darwin Railway are built on leases over Aboriginal land and there are hundreds of mining and exploration agreements that have been consented to across the Northern Territory on land rights titles.

‘The land is not locked-up and the record shows that tenure can be granted when requests are made and landowners give their consent, but there are many genuine impediments to stimulating economic development, such as: lack of infrastructure, distance from market, poor roads, and lack of start-up capital.’

‘It is utter nonsense to suggest that there is a river of jobs that is somehow being held back by the Land Rights Act.  It is worth pointing out that one of the biggest impediments to young people gaining employment is their tragic lack of education, and the NT Government looks set to remove secondary education from all remote schools.   Progress will be made in small, steady steps, and through hard work. The CLC is intent on doing exactly that and we urge the Minister to work with us.’

David Ross, said ‘on the issue of sit-down money the CLC is working with traditional owners to assist them in making prudent decisions about income derived from their land. For example, the 90 members of our council recently made a decision that resulted in two thirds of the compensation monies received from the compulsory acquisition of the five year leases on remote communities being directed by traditional owners and community members towards community benefit projects.  Through our innovative community development program, more than $25million has been directed by Aboriginal people into their community projects, including swimming pools, education scholarships, early childhood programs, basketball court upgrades, and outstation support.  We are now looking carefully at how to expand this work into enterprise development.’

‘The Minister needs to work with land owners and their land councils on actual solutions and detailed proposals rather than making popularist and ill-informed commentary.’