Supporters of a proposed deal between Nyoongar people and the WA state government say that it has the potential to “close the gap” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Yet opponents say the deal is no good.
The state government has proposed a deal that would put $60 million a year for 10 years into a trust fund . After the 10 years, the government says this “future fund”, would be used to develop “economic opportunities” for Aboriginal people.
As part of the package, the state government would pass an act of parliament recognising the Nyoongar people as the original inhabitants of south-west WA. In addition, there would be a transfer of several parcels of Crown land into Nyoongar ownership.
This issue has emerged after a long running attempt by Nyoongar people to establish native title through the courts. In 2006, federal court judge Murray Wilcox ruled that native title continues to exist for the Nyoongar people.
The judgement was later overturned on appeal with the potential that the whole case be heard again. The new proposal is an attempt to resolve the matter outside of the courts.
If this deal is accepted, it would mean that Nyoongar people abandon all future claims of native title in south- west WA.
“For the Nyoongar people, this is relinquishing, surrendering their native title claim forever,” premier Colin Barnett told the AAP on February 4. “So it's a very profound decision that they'll be hopefully be making.”
Barnett said the deal would mean native title claims could not hinder any future mining, agricultural, marine or property developments in south-west WA.
The WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy has welcomed the proposal. The Labor opposition is also fully behind the deal.
In contrast, local Aboriginal activists protested outside the February 8 meeting at which the proposed deal was put to representatives of the Nyoongar land claim.
Aboriginal activist Marianne Mackay, who protested against Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard in Canberra two weeks before, played a prominent role. She has been vilified by the establishment media as a result.
Mackay told Green Left Weekly that the Barnett government had not supported Aboriginal interests in the past and so asked why it should be trusted now.
“Any deal with the government is never going to be beneficial to Aboriginal people,” she said.
Similarly, Nyoongar elder Uncle Ben Taylor described the deal as “useless”. “The deal is no good,” he told GLW.
“All that money: it won't reach Aboriginal people, it won't reach them,” he said. “As far as giving land back, they're giving reserves back. That's what we used to live in.”
Instead of making deals about native title, Taylor told GLW the Aboriginal movement should not give up on the goal of sovereignty. “That's what we were talking about in Canberra [at the Tent Embassy anniversary].”
Aboriginal supporters of the plan have raised expectations that this deal will mean a significant improvement in the lives of local Aboriginal people. However, exactly how the money and land transfers would be administered, and by whom, is still unclear.
One message coming from supporters of this deal is that creating “business opportunities” for Aboriginal people would be a major benefit. Barnett told the AAP that investing in “Aboriginal business development” was a major positive outcome.
South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council executive member Glen Kelly supports the deal and has talked up several opportunities for Aboriginal community development, one of which was “business development”.
However, any attempt to look towards small or medium business solutions for Aboriginal people will inevitably mean some achieve success and prosperity at the expense of others.
Regardless of the intentions and hopes of Aboriginal negotiators, it is not difficult to see that the government will in the future seek to wash its hands of responsibility for Aboriginal services once the cash is paid.
Mackay told GLW: “Everything they're offering is what we should be given as citizens of this country and as the First People of this land.”