By ERWIN CHLANDA
The ALP Senator for the NT, Nova Peris (pictured), through her chief of staff David Money, has declined to answer questions put to her by the Alice Springs News Online about what is shaping up as the key question in Territory Aboriginal affairs: economic development on Aboriginal land.
Mr Money provided lines which we “can attribute” to the Senator but we had made it clear to him that we “find to-and-fro emails are not productive, and I’d like a conversation with Nova”.
The NT’s CLP Senator and now Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, has spoken frequently about opportunities for leasing Aboriginal land, preferably as joint ventures with traditional owners, for businesses such as primary production or tourism.
The issue got further traction this week when the Alice Springs Town Council cited the need for increased commercial activity in the bush as a reason for a boost in Federal road funding.
Senator Scullion introduced amendments to the Land Rights Act to streamline already existing laws, and to set time limits for the land councils for dealing with applications from their clients, the traditional owners.
The amendments were defeated in the Senate by Labor, supported by the Greens.
Senator Peris said in the Senate that “the minister simply did not properly consult with affected stakeholders, in particular the land councils. The land councils do not support the regulation.”
On March 26 we requested an interview with Senator Peris, emailing a string of questions, but Mr Money told us the interview would not be granted.
This is in significant contrast to her agreeing to an extensive interview at the Alice Show in July last year. That, of course, was before the September 7 elections.
In the questions we emailed to Senator Peris we referred in part to a submission by the Northern and Central Land Councils.
Question: In the event of [an] application coming from traditional owners, what is it the land council needs to consider? Is it not simply an institution that takes care of the paperwork in accordance with instructions from the applicants (the land council’s clients)?
Question: If the application is refused on the objections by people other than people with immediate traditional connections to the land subject to the application, would this not violate the principle that no-one is allowed to talk for anyone else’s land? [See also “the informed consent of the appropriate traditional Aboriginal owners” in the CLC/NLC submission.]
Question: As it is likely that the size of land subject to a lease application for commercial purposes is quite small – typically a few square kilometers – could any investigation of the support or otherwise by traditional owners not be carried out in a few days? [Senator Scullion’s amendment would have set a three months limit.]
In this we referred to the CLC/NLC submission which said: “We have a grave fear that even the threat of an application for delegation, by maverick groups and/or ‘carpetbagger’ advisors purporting to act on their behalf, will lead to intra-community disputes and even possibly litigation, which the ALC, and possibly you, Minister, would have to defend at great cost to us all.”
Question: All NT Aboriginal land is held as inalienable freehold by land trusts. It is probable that the members of any trust affected would have come to an agreement on the application. In such an event, is it not clear that the land council has a mere facilitating role (doing the paperwork), not a decision making one? Traditional owners would simply be looking after their own land. At their discretion they may call on the LCs for administrative support.
Question: Is the Senator saying that “consultation” is legitimate only when it is done with the land councils, and only the land councils?
Question: Is the Senator aware of allegations that some land councils are not representatives of all Aboriginal people, nor maybe even the majority?
Question: The land councils are statutory authorities of the Federal Government and ultimately operating under its instructions. Is it a reasonable view that the Federal Government can make changes to laws that govern land councils only at the land councils’ pleasure?
Question: Are there examples in Central Australia of the CLC initiating and maintaining commercially feasible enterprises on Aboriginal land with strong histories of Indigenous employment and growth in the past 40 years? If so, what are they?
Question: Should the principal of the land councils, namely the Federal Department of Indigenous Affairs, from time to time conduct its own consultation processes?
By ERWIN CHLANDA