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Review lacks consultation -Snowden

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SnowdenCONSULTATION of Aboriginal people was too limited during the review process of the Reeves Report on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (NTLRA), says Federal ALP MP, Warren Snowdon.The Federal House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs is conducting an inquiry into the Reeves Report.Mr Snowdon said the Federal Government was expecting a report from the committee by the end of June but only four days in February and a few days in March had been proposed for hearings in the major Territory centres."There will be very limited opportunity and scope to travel around and talk to the people most affected, that is, Aboriginal people in the bush. So it's just a cynical political exercise, and I think that's how it will be seen," said Mr Snowdon.The report’s author was critical of the Land Councils in terms of their consultation over what was in his report, said Mr Snowdon."Yet the only people who have been talking to Aboriginal people around the NT in relation to this have been the Land Councils. So he can't on the one hand be critical of the Councils for informing people of their views about what's in it if, on the other hand, there's no independent way of providing people with informed information," he said."I think there are real problems with the process because this document is 617 pages - and there's another volume of appendices."It's a joke to assert that you can get an appropriate consideration of the detail of this report by the people who are going to be affected by it. It's still got huge problems, but apart from that, if you were a person who didn't have a good education and a high standard of literacy, you couldn't understand a word of it," he said.

ATSIC Chairman Gatjil Djerrkura has called on the Federal Government to stop misleading the public by telling half the story on the Reeves Report.

Mr Djerrkura said Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer had recently claimed the report had concluded the Central Land Council (CLC) and Northern Land Council (NLC) should be abolished in favour of decentralisation and the creation of a number of smaller land councils.

Mr Djerrkura said this was wrong, and that the report had recommended the CLC and the NLC, both elected, should be replaced by a larger and more centralised council, the Northern Territory Land Council (NTLC), which would be appointed by the Federal and NT governments. The NTLC would act as an umbrella group for a new system of regional

land councils, to be accountable and supervised by the proposed (and unelected) NTLC.

"The current Act allows for the establishment of new land councils if there is substantial support from Aboriginal people living in the area," Mr Djerrkura said.

"These provisions, unlike the Reeves Report, allow Aboriginal people to make the decision - rather than a remote government in Canberra," he said.

Mr Fischer's recent trip to Nhulunbuy in North East Arnhem Land was a lost opportunity, said Northern Land Council Chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu.

Mr Yunupingu said he would welcome the opportunity to talk to such a senior member of the Government about the dangers inherent in the Reeves Report, which gave power over land to a bureaucracy instead of the landowners themselves.

"We are concerned that this would be a disincentive to development and could lead to corruption and

mismanagement," he said.

In late 1998, the Full Council of the NLC approved 17 new mining exploration leases, making 30 per cent of the total amount of Aboriginal-owned land, excluding parks, now under exploration by mining companies in the NLC

region. A further nine per cent of Aboriginal land in the region is under negotiation for exploration licences.

Mr Yunupingu said these agreements proved that the Land Rights Act did not hinder development in the Northern Territory.

"Once again, the facts speak for themselves. Aboriginal people are continuing to open up their land for development and everybody, including the NT Government and the mining industry, knows this," he said.

In an historic ceremony last December, Aboriginal traditional landowners and the Central Land Council signed four mineral exploration licence agreements with Normandy Gold Pty Ltd in the Tennant Creek region.

CLC Director Tracker Tilmouth said the agreements were historic because they marked the first time the Warumungu people had had a chance to have a say over mineral

exploration on their land.

The agreements will provide employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people and local contractors. They also ensure sacred sites will be protected.

"The agreements show, yet again, that the Land Rights Act is working for the benefit of the entire hiorthem Territory community," said Mr Tilmouth.

John Reeves was originally commissioned by the Federal Government to review the Act in October 1997. His report was presented to the Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in August 1998.

by Robert Douglas