Catholic Religious Australia calls on all its members to be aware of what is happening with Land Rights in the Northern Territory. Opportunities for action will be communicated in these coming days.
Currently in the Northern Territory the Federal Government is in the process of ‘negotiating’ 99 year leases with some communities. Concerns have been raised about the process of engaging communities in these negotiations. Previously, the Government has talked about a blitz in communities to get these leases signed and this is leading to a perception of haste in the Government approach. 99 year leases will have an impact for several generations and communities need to have time to consider the implications of these leases. Most importantly they need to be able to seek independent legal advice about what is being offered.
Consultations also need to include all the Traditional Owners. Several traditional owners are declaring that an agreement signed with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to negotiate a 99-year township lease by next September is "null and void" because they were not consulted.
Following is a statement from Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM who highlights his concerns about the current process. In particular, there is a call for Government to ensure that communities have access to independent legal advice.
Dismantling the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976
I express my deep concern at the actions of the Abbott Government as evidenced by the behaviour of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, in hastily procuring MOUs on township leases for 99 years in Gunbalanya and Yirrkala in recent weeks. He is quoted as saying that this was part of a blitz to encourage other communities around the country to sign similar deals.
There is no evidence of general consultation with the communities concerned and the haste associated with the process would suggest that there has been no time for reflection or the obtaining of legal and other advice as to the advisability of what the Government proposes. The process therefore places unfair pressure on the communities concerned.
What these leases involve is the handing over of hard fought entitlements to lands to the Government for at least four generations for what would appear to be short term gains. A 99 year lease is regarded by most people as an effective surrender of title. It is a decision that requires careful and mature consideration and not one taken in response to a fly in fly out Government ‘blitz’.
Our Madayin-Law is upheld by the Ngurringgitj-Tradition in the land. A lease that takes control of the land means we are giving away our Law and our identity. We will have nothing to live for. We will become fringe dwellers. Our land can never simply be exchanged for monetary gain.
Government behaviour thus far is consistent with that of its many predecessors in trampling over the rights of Aboriginal people and treating them as second class citizens. It also flies in the face of consultation recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission aimed at consensus decision- making, which two Parliamentary Committees have endorsed, including one of which Senator Scullion was a member. It is also inconsistent with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Australia has endorsed.
I call on other Aboriginal Communities to reject the Government’s overtures involving any changes unless and until they abide by culturally appropriate protocols and undertake to give the communities access to independent advice, including legal advice at the Government’s expense
Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
6th November 2013
0428 402 929