Mining and the NT intervention
Your article “What's behind the NT intervention” (GLW #843) outlines the government's goal of forced assimilation of Aboriginal communities.
Under the intervention, millions of dollars worth of assets and housing has been seized from Aboriginal community councils and thousands of Aboriginal jobs have been lost as Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) close down.
Then prime minister John Howard declared in 2007 that: "Aboriginal people have no future outside the Australian mainstream.”
The intervention goes hand-in-hand with Howard’s “white blindfold” view of history that suggests the colonisation of Australia is a progressive phenomenon.
Draconian intervention measures have attempted to wipe out the material basis of the collective life of Aboriginal people in the NT.
But while we can agree on the question of assimilation, unfortunately, there was a real confusion in your article about the relationship between land rights, mining and the intervention.
First, there is an important difference between native title and the land rights held by many in NT communities under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act NT 1976 (ALRA).
Native title is the most inferior form of land title under British law. Native title holders cannot stop mining operations on their land. But ALRA land is essentially freehold title.
The vast majority of ALRA land has not been acquired by the government. Only small parcels of land over townships have been acquired, none of it for mining.
Your comments about “hub towns” are contradictory. On the one hand, you insinuate that Aboriginal people are being driven off their land to make way for mining; on the other you say they are being forced into “hub towns” that are near major mines.
A large number of “hub towns” are indeed communities that have some royalty income from major resource operations.
This is part of neoliberal, assimilationist ideology that says the only communities that are “viable” are those that can establish links with the “real economy”.
But mining companies gain no greater rights through the “hub towns” policy or the intervention.
Disputes over mining have played a major role in the history of Aboriginal land rights movement and no doubt will continue to do so, as we currently see with the dispute over the Kimberley Gas Plant.
But the intervention is about blaming Aboriginal people themselves for the years of government neglect and driving Aboriginal people into the mainstream.
To portray the intervention as a land grab for mining both disorients the movement against the intervention and underestimates the savagery of what is taking place.