By ERWIN CHLANDA
How would Tony Abbott go as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs?
The question arose with the latest episode of the former Prime Minister running interference against the current one.
It brings much displeasure to Nigel Scullion who announced he had “confirmed on a number of occasions he is absolutely committed to serving the full term as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs”.
Of course Senator Scullion – who is preparing answers to questions we put to him on Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) issues – may not get a say in the matter in this right vs far right tiff.
A contemporary answer to the question came from Joe Morrison which, in essence, was that they were all hopeless, all Aboriginal Affairs Ministers over the past four decades, every single one.
An equally enduring phenomenon is the capacity of Indigenous leaders to deliver ‘poor bugger me’ speeches: Mr Morrison’s was fittingly titled “Unhappy Anniversaries: What is there to celebrate?”
Mr Morrison (pictured) is the CEO of the Northern and Council (NLC). He was speaking in part also for the Central Land Council (CLC) when he delivered the Nugget Coombs Memorial Lecture last month.
“Forty years and we have not yet secured our future,” Mr Morrison declaimed, blaming serial neglect by governments. Expended taxpayers’ billions rated mention only in the context of not being enough.
“The joint full [land] councils criticised the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia for its lack of support for Indigenous-led developments, and for failing to recognise the aspirations of Aboriginal people to drive themselves the development of their lands and waters.”
What is keeping them? Just two royalty associations, those attached to the Granites gold mine, Kurra and GMAAAC, have combined assets (“retained earnings”) of $85m.
“We cannot live in hope that governments will deliver,” said Mr Morrison. Do they really need to?
Mr Morrison delivers his own contradiction: “And there’s the obvious: we own and/or have legally recognised rights over more than 90 per cent of northern Australia.”
It’s worth repeating that number: 90%. We are used to 50% – that’s the round figure of the vast area in the NT held by Aboriginal people under ‘land rights’ freehold.
Native title land would make up part of the rest.
He brings full circle his argument, apparently inadvertently, that there is no longer a case for handouts: “The financial sector has confirmed for us that section 19 leases [under the land rights Act] are able to be used as security.
“Commercialising a section 19 lease turns Aboriginal landowners into landlords.
“It enables them to use their land to generate income without losing control over it. This is a fundamental step towards self-determination and self responsibility.”
Brilliant: Aboriginal people own or have rights over an area twice the size of France and most of that land can be used as collateral.
Meanwhile Mr Morrison tells his audience: “The realisation [of Aboriginal objectives] will depend initially on good will and up-front investment by governments. The Aboriginals Benefit Account would be an ideal source.”
He doesn’t want to let the governments “off the hook”.
And while he says Indigenous people are the “region’s largest land owning group” he deplores that “government policies continue to fail spectacularly”.
We put the following questions to Senator Scullion:
• How much money is in ABA?
• What are the policies for making available money from the ABA?
• How many applications for funding have the been made by the NLC and the CLC (including associated organisation) in the past three years?
• Which ones have been approved – please state respective amounts.
UPDATE 1am November 9:
A spokesperson for the Minister provided the followoing details:-
- Minister Scullion has implemented reforms to the ABA that are focused on improving the long-term sustainability of the account and ensuring that projects funded from it directly benefit Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
- The ABA was never intended to support projects that should be funded out of government programmes or that unsustainably draw down on the fund.
- That is why on coming to office, the Minister instituted a policy of not approving ABA funding unless it has been approved by the ABA Advisory Committee.
- This is a new approach that gives the advisory committee a greater role in the decision-making process than existed under the previous Labor Government.
- As a result of the Minister’s reforms, the amount of funding in the ABA account has risen from $429 million in 2013 to $580 million as of 30 June 2016.
- Land Councils are funded under a separate section of the Land Rights Act – section 64(1) – to the grants programme.
- Since 2010, the Northern Land Council has received more than $136 million and the Central Land Council more than $113 million in ABA funding.
- In addition to operational funding, under the ABA grants programme, since 2013 the Northern Land Council has received four grants totalling almost $5.6 million and the Central Land Council has received six grants totalling $2.8 million.
- It is also important to note that both the Northern and Central Land Councils already have economic development organisations that the land councils are major stakeholders in: the Aboriginal Investment Group (NLC) and Centrecorp (CLC).
- While public figures are not available, these agencies already hold many investments including the Toyota dealership in Alice Springs and Customs House in Gove.
- The Minister would be keen to work the Land Councils to better utilise these investment bodies and funding provided to the Land Councils from the ABA to pursue economic development for communities on Aboriginal land.
Background information: The Minister would be happy to provide information on the Coalition Government’s policies to support local traditional owners make decisions about their own land through the delegation of Land Council functions or community-entity township leasing.