Aborigines condemn Land Acquisition Fund

Issue 

Aborigines condemn Land Acquisition Fund

By John Nebauer

BRISBANE — Thirty people attended a meeting called by the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) on November 2 to discuss the implication of the federal government's Land Acquisition Fund section of the Native Title Act.

Les Malezer, who had returned from a meeting on the Gold Coast where 14 Queensland Aboriginal land councils agreed to form the Queensland Federation of Land Councils (QFLC) told the meeting that there were significant problems with the current Native Title Act.

In particular, Malezer was very critical of the new land fund component of the act. The federal government will pay $1289 million into the land fund over a period of 10 years. Malezer told the meeting that the government's measure will amount to "$70 per Aboriginal person per year over the period". This is less than the sum total the various land councils currently have available for land acquisition, which will no longer be available to them.

Malezer compared this sum to the $1 billion spent on the new Parliament House, or the proposed new fleet of 10 submarines at $300 million each. He also noted the proposal of the Democrats, who argued that the fund should be 1% of GDP.

The funds are to be administered by a board of seven directors, including the ATSIC chairperson. Although the appointment procedures ensure that at least five of the seven must be indigenous persons, all appointments apart from that of the ATSIC chairperson are to be by the minister of finance, who must also approve all transactions of the fund. This means that Aboriginal communities have no say in the management of the fund.

Malezer also told the meeting that a number of land councils had indicated that land should revert to native title after purchase on behalf of a community. Without this provision, there can be no ultimate land security for indigenous communities, particularly those on pastoral leases, which generally revert to the Commonwealth after 99 years. This proposal was vetoed by the Labor government.

Another concern was the process of claiming land under the provisions of the Native Title Act. Essentially the onus is on the Aboriginal community to prove that title has not been extinguished.

Jeanie Bell, who also attended the Gold Coast Land Councils meeting, told the meeting that the various Aboriginal representative bodies have to become political bodies. She said that Aboriginal people were rediscovering their culture, but needed their land to make that rediscovery meaningful, and for that to take place Aboriginal representative bodies had to organise politically.