The market in Aboriginal Australia

Issue 

The Native Title Market
By David Ritter
UWA Publishing, 2009
120 pages, $19.95

David Ritter is a rare beast: a lawyer with a heart and the ability to explain complex legislation in plain English. He has made his living for a decade helping Aboriginal communities navigate their way through the maze of Native Title negotiations.

Native Title, despite what its name implies, does not allow Aboriginal people to protect their land from invasion from mining companies. If a mining company wants to explore or mine then the traditional owners must negotiate — they have no right of refusal.

The Native Title Tribunal does not ensure that compensation agreements are fair. These deals are secret — no community may tell its neighbours what price they obtained.

Mining companies can walk away from the table at will. If the price of a metal goes down, companies put talks on ice. The traditional owners must come back to negotiations when the company clicks its fingers.

Ritter explains that the system is designed to force Aboriginal people to commodify their land, whether they want to or not, leaving them to try to cut the best deal they can.

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