Concerns over 99 year leases_dismantling the Land Rights Act

Posted on November 8, 2013


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 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 and 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.  In the article below Senator Scullion is quoted as saying that the government had every intention of “informing” all traditional owners about the leasing. Informing is not the same as negotiating and certainly does not meet the principle of free and prior informed consent, a right upheld by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.

Below  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.

Statement by Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM

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

also from the Australian

Nigel Scullion faces rebellion on leases

*   The Australian<>
*   November 07, 2013 12:00AM
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.
Yirrkala, a town wracked by petrol-sniffing, kava abuse and unemployment, recently became the second Arnhem Land community to sign an agreement with Senator Scullion to negotiate a 99-year township lease that would allow private ownership.
In a statement obtained by The Australian, indigenous leader Djiniyini Gondarra, from East Arnhem Land, who says he is a traditional owner who does not reside in the community, and three other traditional owners say they were not consulted and the agreement should not hold.
“We the undersigned have not been informed or given consent for others to speak for us about this issue, and . . . consider it null and void,” the statement says.
Dr Gondarra told The Australian he opposed township leasing and believed it stripped control from traditional owners.
“This is another invasion, this is another colonisation and trying to force communities when communities are not ready,” he said.
“I’m not against economic development or businesses but the government needs to work with the people rather than saying we will take over the land. I’m the spokesman, I am not the only person, they did not contact all the TOs (traditional owners).”
Senator Scullion said the government had every intention of informing all traditional owners about the leasing, and this was only the first step in the process. He said he had left a message for Dr Gondarra and others and did not have any intention of excluding anyone.
“Yes, there are many traditional owners who may live in Darwin for example; they live there but they are still traditional owners,” Senator Scullion said.
“They will be contacted as part of the second stage of the process. We are required to, at the first stage, get consensus in the community and that includes traditional owners.
“In Yirrkala, because of the nature of the diaspora of the people who live in Arnhem Land, it is not possible (for them all to be there). I know they will all be engaged. There is another process that happens after this.”
Under the leasing arrangement, each community would get an upfront payment to build businesses and enterprises to create jobs, as stipulated by the traditional owners, in exchange for a 99-year lease with the executive director of township leasing, an independent commonwealth statutory office. The traditional owners continue to own the underlying Aboriginal land title.
Dr Gondarra disputes the Northern Land Council’s view of traditional ownership of the land and in 2011 challenged previous indigenous affair minister Jenny Macklin’s consent and approval under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 for the land council and the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust to enter into a lease and agreement in relation to the Rio Tinto Alcan bauxite mine and refinery on the Gove Peninsula.
A judicial review of Ms Macklin’s decisions was heard in the Federal Court in March. The court has not yet made its decision.