By ERWIN CHLANDA
An initiative by the Howard government in 2006 to stimulate commercial activity, private enterprise style, by Aboriginal people on their land has been turned into yet another source of sit-down money.
At right: The Central Desert Shire office in Yuendumu: lease payments for government assets in the bush, a new form of sit-down money. Where are the leases for businesses and private homes?
The Aboriginal Affairs Minister at the time, Mal Brough, introduced an amendment to allow leases to be granted of otherwise “inalienable” Aboriginal freehold land, meaning it cannot be sold or – consequently – mortgaged.
The intention was that people could own their homes, and that businesses could be started, perhaps by joint venture partners with capital and experience from outside, with the venture having at least a limited security of tenure.
The Labor government that came to power in 2007 reduced the period from 99 to 40 years.
So far as we can ascertain, not a single lease has been issued on behalf of their Land Trusts clients by the Central Land Council (CLC) for the purpose of a privately owned business or home.
In response to my comment piece earlier this week, the CLC media spokesperson fired off a missive, claiming that the CLC had issued “486 leases since those amendments”.
We replied that our report was “about leases for land on which homes can be built for private, not communal, ownership, and for private enterprise businesses and agricultural enterprises in which people in the bush play a vital role and have individual ownership”. We asked: “Please provide the number of those leases.” No information has been forthcoming.
We have reported on the issue of land leases to governments several times, including a comprehensive report in February last year.
It seems the only ones to get leases, at least at present, are government services which provide important, expensive and disproportionally needed assistance to people in the bush. And now the taxpayer is burdened with another impost.
For example, the Central Desert Shire has applied for leases which will cost it about $180,000 a year, according to CEO Cathryn Hutton.
She says they are for all main occupied buildings, including council offices, depots, work yards, staff accommodation, community halls, child and aged care facilities.
Ms Hutton says there are 20 to 30 leases in small communities and 50 to 60 in bigger ones.
The shire is using the same leasing model as the NT Government. (A lands department source says its leases are in preparation.) Another model is being developed for community living areas, says Ms Hutton.
The lessors are the Land Trusts and the CLC is acting on their behalf.
The annual payment is expected to be 6% of the properties’ unimproved capital value for residential land and 8% for commercial.
Ms Hutton says the CLC has not yet approved nor accepted the lease applications: “They are not signed off yet,” she says.
By ERWIN CHLANDA