Communal land and the amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT)

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This paper is written as a response to the former Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone’s call for ‘robust debate’ on the Howard Government’s ‘quiet revolution’ in Aboriginal Affairs. It takes as its focus the amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 (hereafter ‘the ALRA’), in particular the proposal to establish a mechanism to effectively privatise areas of Aboriginal land. We oppose this amendment as a simplistic attempt at social engineering, which proceeds on premises that are ideologically driven and without evidentiary basis. Our reasons are as follows. There has been no opportunity for the relevant traditional owners to give their free, prior and informed consent to this amendment. There is adequate provision in the existing legislation for the issuing of leases where and when this is desired by these people. There is evidence-based research which clearly demonstrates that most Indigenous households in remote communities do not have the resources to service a mortgage, such that bankruptcy rather than home-ownership is a more likely outcome of this policy. We believe that Indigenous Australians have a right to self-determination and that this right includes the right to forms of tenure that reflect cultural difference.

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Last reviewed: 21 Jul 2017