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Govt must explain land rights changes - Erosion of Indigenous land rights must be rejected.



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Senator Kim Carr

Labor Senator for Victoria Shadow Minister for Public Administration and Open Government, Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation and the Arts 06 April 2005

Govt must explain land rights changes Erosion of Indigenous land rights must be rejected

Labor calls on the Government to come clean on its position on Indigenous land rights.

The Government must explain the nature and extent of its planned changes to land rights legislation. In the light of the Government’s forthcoming Senate majority, there have been a series of calls from individuals and organisations to

fundamentally change Indigenous land rights laws in Australia.

Recently, the Government’s hand picked National Indigenous Council considered proposals that would seriously reduce Indigenous land rights in this country. The paper was originally called “Privatizing Indigenous Land”.

The policy options paper canvassed legislating to require traditional owners to approve requests from others for long-term, transferable leases of their land.

The Government would need to change land rights legislation to force through such a destructive move. The paper notes that this would create public outcry and would have “profound implications of a policy, legal, constitutional and financial nature”. It suggests a public relations strategy to lessen the fallout - try and keep the emphasis on home ownership, rather than compulsory acquisition of Indigenous land.

It is clear these proposals would strip traditional owners of the right to control what happens on their land. Labor believes this would be a travesty. Compulsory acquisition of Indigenous land without proper compensation would also be unconstitutional.

The Government must explain its intentions.

The NIC options paper does not in itself represent Government policy - yet. Nor do calls by individuals and organisations. However, taken together, there is an emerging trend. The Opposition would be extremely concerned if the Government was seeking to fundamentally alter the basis of the land rights regime in Australia.

Labor continues to support the agreed changes to the Land Rights Act proposed in 2003 by the Northern Territory’s Land Councils, the Northern Territory Government and the mining industry. The Howard Government has done nothing about implementing these and concern is now building that they are more interested in abandoning the fundamental principles of land rights.

Labor supports the economic development of Indigenous lands in partnership with traditional owners. Labor calls on the Howard Government to face up to the issues of building capital, infrastructure and skills to allow this to happen. Labor calls on the Government to face up to the real causes of Indigenous poverty and inequality.

Further information: Kim Carr 0419 563 922, Catriona Jackson, 0417 142 238.