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Inquiry dumps Reeves Report

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Northern Land Council


Monday 30 August 1999 igust 1999 J i L —A- -O jJ U U - N *

Inquiry Dumps Reeves Report NLC Chairman Galarrwuy Yunupingu said today that the report o f the House o f Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiring into the Reeves Report had rejected all o f Reeves’s major recommendations.

"The Committee has not upheld even one o f Reeves's destructive plans for NT land rights," said Mr Yunupingu. "His unworkable proposals for stripping traditional owners o f their rights, fragmenting the land councils, and abolishing the permits system have all been rejected by this Committee which has a majority o f Government members."

The Committee's number one recommendation is that no changes should be made to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act without the informed consent of traditional Aboriginal owners and Aboriginal people in the

"We have not had enough time to see the detail of the report, but I am very pleased that the Committee has rejected the Reeves Report so strongly," said Mr Yunupingu. "They listened to Aboriginal people when we told them that his proposals would destroy our culture and land rights."

"I now call on the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs to make it clear that the Reeves Report is dead, and that the Federal Government will not go ahead with any amendments to the Land Rights Act which would diminish our rights."

"The Minister should affirm his support for the core principles identified by the Committee: preserving Aboriginal rights to land; respecting Aboriginal autonomy and self-reliance; the need for constructive partnerships between Aboriginal people and governments; and retaining the flexibility o f the Land Rights

“We should now turn to the real issues identified by John Reeves: the appalling economic and social disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal people. As Reeves points out, only $35 million per annum is generated through the Land Rights Act compared with the $700 million which the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments allocate to health, education and services. We should be focusing on the $700 million and examining how we can achieve better outcomes.”

"We have just been through two years o f this Review which has threatened our culture and our land. Constantly fighting to protect our established rights distracts us from concentrating on our real responsibilities which are to manage our land responsibly, get on with economic development projects, try to find ways to deal with our social and economic problems, and make a strong future for Aboriginal people."



30 August 1999 more information Rosemary Cadden 0417 803 425 (Gove); John Roberts on 0407 758 721 (Canberra); Katy Haire 08-8920 5113 or 0417 942 200 (Darwin)


Background Notes

Review of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976

John Reeves QC was appointed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission to review the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 in October 1997. (See below for terms o f reference) He called for submissions and began a program o f hearings in November/December 1997. There was considerable concern about the timing and processes adopted for both the hearings and


The Report was tabled in the Federal Parliament on 21 August 1998, and was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (HORSCATSIA) on 10 December 1998. HORS CATS IA was asked to inquire into:

1. The proposed system o f regional land councils

2. The proposed structure and functions o f the Northern Territory Aboriginal Council

3. The proposed changes to the operations o f the Aboriginal Benefits Reserve;

4. The proposed modifications to the mining provisions o f the Act;

5. Proposals concerning access to Aboriginal land including access by the NT Government;

6. Proposed application o f NT laws to Aboriginal land.

The Committee called for submissions in January 1999, and began a program o f hearings in Canberra and the Northern Territory in March.

The Committee heard considerable and substantial criticisms o f the Reeves Report from a range of sources. In particular, Aboriginal people at the hearings in the NT almost unanimously rejected the Reeves model for land rights. Also o f significance was the number o f expert and academic submissions which criticised the Reeves model from the perspectives o f anthropology, law, economics and public policy. Such critics included the original architect o f the Land Rights Act, Sir Edward Woodward (who described aspects o f the Reeves model as “a long leap in the dark”); former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his four Aboriginal Affairs Ministers; Professor o f Law at ANU Ernst Wilheim, and Professor o f Public Policy at Melbourne University Brian Galligan. (These submissions are available on the HORSCATSIA website.)

A seminar was held under the auspices o f the ANU’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research in March 1999 which brought together a body o f academics to comment on the Reeves Report. The seminar resulted in a publication entitled “Land Rights at Risk” which contained a broad range o f critiques across disciplines condemning the Reeves Report as flawed and unworkable.

A further conference was held in late August 1999 by Quadrant. This conference has resulted in renewed interest in the Reeves Report, focussing on the issues o f service delivery, education and reconciliation.

An issue which has emerged from the debate over the Reeves Report has been the role o f land and land rights in the social and economic well-being of Aboriginal people. Reeves drew attention to the appalling social and economic situation of Aboriginal people, including their extremely low educational levels; acute health problems; unemployment; and lack of housing and infrastructure. His solution was to use the

Land Rights Act as the vehicle for addressing these problems. This was the post-hoc justification for the


radical rewrite o f traditional ownership, decision-making and control over land which has been so soundly criticised.

Land Councils and other critics o f this view have pointed out that the money raised from economic development o f Aboriginal land is approximately $35 million per annum, compared with up to $740 million allocated through various government programs. It has been further argued, at such forums as the ANU seminar, that it is fundamentally wrong to seek to address social and economic problems through a scheme which is specifically focused on recognising traditional rights to land.

The HORSCATSLA report has reinforced the view that the Land Rights Act is not the appropriate vehicle for fixing the social and economic disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. It has also recognised the fundamental importance o f protecting those traditional rights to land which are the basis o f Aboriginal culture and society to this day in the NT.