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Howard Government's secret land rights plans.

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Senator Chris Evans Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services

4 October 2005

Howard Government's Secret Land Rights Plans

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Chris Evans has expressed strong concern that Indigenous people were being locked out of discussions about the Government's proposed land rights amendments.

Federal Cabinet is reported to have approved changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory.

'The Government has drawn up plans in secret - no one knows the details.

'Labor is concerned about the secrecy and lack of consultation with traditional custodians regarding these proposals.

'We are also concerned more directly about the National Indigenous Council's draft land tenure principles - which would appear to be the basis for the Government proposals.

'These proposals would appear to override parts of the Northern Territory Land Rights Act,' Senator Evans said.

The mooted changes include removing the right of traditional owners to veto development projects on their land while giving Territory and Federal Governments the power to compulsorily acquire land if traditional owners 'unreasonably refuse' an application for a private lease.

'Labor will not support amendments to existing land rights and native title legislation that have not been the subject of proper consultation and do not have the support of Indigenous Australians,' Senator Evans said.

'Labor welcomes any constructive debate about how Indigenous Australians increase economic benefits from Indigenous land holdings.

'That debate must respect the cultural significance of Indigenous lands and the collective interest and spiritual relationship to the land of traditional owners.

'Proposals for compulsory acquisition of Indigenous land for private use are deeply unhelpful and have the potential to seriously undermine Indigenous land rights.'

Labor will hold the Government to Prime Minister John Howard's commitment on the 30th of May that the Government 'does not seek to wind back or undermine native title or land rights'.

For more information please call media adviser John McNamara: 02 6277 3233, 0418 308 599.