In the November 20, 2013 edition of The National Indigenous Times, journalist Gerry Georgatos wrote of a wave of fear that has gripped Aboriginal communities outside of the Northern Territory, that the 99-year-leases proposed to Northern Territory communities will soon be proposed to communities in South Australia’s APY lands and elsewhere in Australia. Senator Nigel Scullion, Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Gerry Georgatos recently discussed these concerns:
Senator Nigel Scullion, the minister for Aboriginal Affairs, did what no other minister I have ever known has done. He phoned up the subjects of a newspaper story to discuss their concerns. He did what former Minister Jenny Macklin to my knowledge never did. Last week, The National Indigenous Times ran my story on the fears and concerns that many have about the proposed 99-year-leases which are being pushed in the Northern Territory that they will creep south of the border to South Australia’s APY Country. Minister Scullion rejected that this would occur but also spoke at length to APY Elder Yami Lester and to Narrunga Elder Tauto Sansbury.
Mr Lester’s and Mr Sansbury’s fears followed a wave of concerns from Dr Djinininy Gondarra that the 99-year-leases are tantamount to cultural genocide. Dr Gondarra has urged communities to not sign the leases.
Minister Scullion said that he understands the origin of many of the residents’ concerns. “I absolutely understand the concern that Aboriginal people have about the future of their land.”
“For many people in remote communities, land is the only asset they have – and they hold it dearly,” said Minister Scullion.
In the Northern Territory, objections to the leases have been raised by Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and by the Central Land Council chairperson Maurie Japarta Ryan. Weighing into the criticisms are former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and journalist/humanitarian Jeff McMullen. Mr Fraser criticised the lack of community consultation but Minister Scullion has rejected this, stating that communities are being consulted and that they will have till September next year to make up their minds.
But according to Mr Fraser the 99-year-leases will mean “government going a long way to making sure Aboriginal people can no longer control their own land.”
“There is a massive contradiction in the philosophy of the Liberal Party (in our day) and the Liberal Party today,” said Mr Fraser.
Mr McMullen said there is a government drive for “economic control of Aboriginal lands.”
“The land grab is to facilitate the easy entry of miners for exploration and development.
But Minister Scullion said that the 99-year-leases are an opportunity at improving economic and social dividends and benefits to the communities and that the leases are about nothing else – there is no hidden agenda.
Minister Scullion said he can understand all the concerns of Aboriginal Traditional Owners and communities and that he would like to find every means possible to further engage with people, to ensure that consultation includes all of the people.
“I can therefore appreciate the concerns expressed in The National Indigenous Times (November 20) by Yami Lester, Mr Sansbury and Ms Crocker.”
“I have spoken personally to both Yami Lester and Tauto Sansbury to explain the process the Australian Government is embarking on in the Northern Territory in relation to township leases at Yirrkala and Gunbalanya.”
“The 99 year leases only apply in the Northern Territory, where the law provides for them. This is not the case in South Australia with respect to the APY Lands.”
He said that in both the Northern Territory communities that he has “discussed with Traditional Owners the possibility of 99-year-leases as a catalyst to building strong, sustainable communities which can attract business development to provide a real future for local people.”
“This is an entirely voluntary process; there is no compulsion from government and negotiations are going well. The discussions have the support of Traditional Owners and the Northern Land Council.”
“These discussions reflect a genuine partnership with the Traditional Owners and the wider community of both Gunbalanya and Yirrkala.”
“Ultimately it will be up to the communities to determine whether they enter into an agreement. I will respect the communities’ decision, regardless of the outcome.”
“It is important to note that, in my view, the Northern Territory is way ahead in terms of land rights. For example, both the NT and Australian Governments pay local communities to place government facilities, such as police stations and medical centres, on their land. To me, this reflects a respect for the local community. Governments lease land and buildings in major cities to provide these services to the community. Why should it be any different in remote townships?”
“In South Australia, governments, both State and Commonwealth don’t make such payments for land used in the provision of services in the APY Lands.”
Minister Scullion said that it “was great to have the opportunity to speak directly with Yami and Tauto and I appreciated the time they took to sharing their views with me.”
“I indicated that if they ever have any concerns about the impact on their communities of government activity in the NT or elsewhere, they can contact me directly. I look forward to meeting both of them to discuss issues of concern to their communities.”
Mr Lester and Mr Sansbury both said they appreciated the phone calls from Minister Scullion.
Minister Scullion is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs alongside the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Tony Abbott and both will meet three times a year and receive advice from the Warren Mundine chaired Indigenous Advisory Council. It is not the first time there has been a Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. William Wentworth was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs under the Prime Minister (firstly Gorton and then McMahon). Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam took the helm in Aboriginal Affairs during the first stretch of his prime ministerial tenure before handing over – there were three ministers of Aboriginal Affairs after Whitlam’s steering of the ship. Under the Fraser Government there were five Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs. Under the Hawke/Keating years there were three. Under the Howard years there were four ministers. Under the Rudd/Gillard years there was only Jenny Macklin. Minister Scullion has been in his role since September 18.
The November 20 article by Gerry Georgatos– published in The National Indigenous Times, November 20, 2013
Don’t take our lands – Yami Lester
by Gerry Georgatos
There is a wave of fear spreading across remote Aboriginal communities where people had believed that in the least they had achieved the return of Country through various forms of land rights and agreements. Elders around the country are joining Northern Territory Elders in speaking out against the blitzkrieg campaign being conducted by the Federal Government for communities to effectively sign away their Country for 99-year-leases – what many Elders believe a blatant Government campaign to end Aboriginal land rights.
South Australia’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Elders are concerned that the Minister Nigel Scullion-led-campaign in the Northern Territory remote communities to sign away their townships over to 99-year-leases is on its way across the border to South Australia’s APY lands. APY Maralinga Tjarutja Pitjantjatjara Elder Yami Lester said it is self-evident that this is what is occurring.
Mr Lester lost his sight as a young child in 1956 after the atomic bomb tests at Maralinga. “I may be blind but I can see what is happening, and so can many others of our people in this Country. Aross the border in Country shared everyone, there and here, is worried by what is happening.”
“The leases are about ending our land rights. Of what worth were the land rights deals we signed if they can be cheated out of us like this? There is a great fear among all our peoples that the Government is coming. (Minister Nigel) Scullion is pushing communities to sign these leases in the Territory and this is not going to be limited to the Territory but is a nationwide plan.”
“They are using poverty and welfare arguments to trick everyone that this is best for us, but land rights, ownership of our Country has nothing to do with welfare and poverty, these are other issues altogether,” said Mr Lester.
“If we sign these leases then we are finished forever as people on Country, our rights will disappear into the forgetfulness of time. We will not recover what the land rights struggles and some of the achievements promised our long suffering people.”
Chair of South Australia’s Narrunga peoples, Tauto Sansbury supported Mr Lester. “Yami is right, this is exactly what the Government will attempt to do, it’s not just on the cards, it’s knocking at the door. They want our Country for any number of reasons, but it will be the death knell of land rights, we will be finished. They want to demoralise us, for us to go out into assimilation with just a whimper while they benefit from the fruits of Country like resources or other developments. What their hearts and souls are cold to are what it will do to many of us. The demoralisation will end in many more suicides, the crisis of our identity will be at the heart of much grief. The worst is yet to come.”
“What many of those who say they are looking out for us, whether they are Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson and like company, and whether they are the Prime Minister and his Office of Aboriginal Affairs, is that we do want our Country, and we do not want all the things that they may want for us. What we are entitled to in terms of high expectations and materialism have nothing to do with taking our Country or denying us the fruits from that Country.”
“Where is that quiet giant, the National Congress? Where are they on speaking out against the 99-year-leases?”
“We want to live in happy and healthy ways, not necessarily in all the expectations others have for us, who forever want to dictate to us.”
“None of us support these 99-year-leases, none of us support some money for our Country. We should have our Country and we should properly benefit from our Country while also being entitled to everything any Australian is entitled to,” said Mr Sansbury.
“Self-esteem, respect of self and of others, confidence are tied up in our Country. By removing from us our tie to Country they will kill many of us. Governments have always been in a battle to extinguish our rights, we fight tooth and nail in the Courts for even the most basic right, they give us next to nothing without us having to fight for it.”
South Australia’s Kaurna Elder and Chair of the Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage Association, Lynette Crocker said that instead of 99-year leases Governments should settle their differences once and for all with Aboriginal peoples with a Treaty “and instead do the right thing by all Aboriginal peoples.”
“Treaty should have come in South Australian regions in the 1830s when the colonialists dispossessed our peoples, and similarly so around Australia. But our Government does not care about Treaties, or about land rights or of doing the right thing. But we will keep the battle up and fight for Treaty. We will get it.”
“What little we have did not come easy. What happened to Australia was the Aboriginal voice rose, Gough Whitlam came along, a friend to our peoples, then the Wik decision and Eddie Mabo. Don’t’ ever imagine that Australian Governments want to give us anything. I approached the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard about Treaty, and she responded to me, ‘We don’t’ need any more bits of paper.”
“The Prime Minister said to me ‘there will be no Treaty’. We have to raise our voices to get it, we have to come together because look what is happening otherwise – land rights are disappearing, lands are being taken back, and this is what the 99-year-leases are about to make sure we lose back to them – the control of our Countries.”
Mr Lester said that his peoples are “the trustees of our Country, and our Elders only concern themselves with the protection of our lands for the generations of our peoples to come.”
“We take better care of Country than does the white fella, who drops atomic bombs on them, who kills Country and people, who makes toxic the land, who pollutes endlessly, who makes both Country and peoples sick. This has never been our history or our way.”
Mr Lester pointed to Governments mining resources to excess, developing uranium mines on Arabunna and Kakadu Country, and he pointed to the uranium waste intended for Muckaty.
Dr Djiniyini Gondarra recently criticised the speed and the manner in which Minister Scullion’s representatives had secured Memorandums of Understandings from the Arnhem’s Yirrkala and Gunbalanya communities. He said that after the leases were done and money spent, less than $1 million for the community per annum, that his peoples would have been removed, assimilated, that cultural genocide would have been achieved. He said that the Government that was selling the 99-year-leases to communities was the same Government that launched “the terror of the Northern Territory Intervention, which had left such trauma that had not been felt since the 1950s and prior.”
Australia did not experience land rights litigation until the 1970s, when in 1971 the Northern Territory High Court rejected the concept in the Gove Land Rights case. Thanks to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973 the Aboriginal Lands Rights Commission was established in the wake of the High Court debacle. In 1979 Aboriginal lawyer Paul Coe took on the Commonwealth with a class action on behalf of all Aboriginal peoples in reference to land rights. He was unsuccessful. In 1976, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act established a statutory procedure that would return approximately 40 per cent of the Northern Territory to Aboriginal ownership. In 1981, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act had a similar effect for South Australia. Then in 1992, following the 1989 Wik decision, the High Court of Australia using the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 overturned the Northern Territory’s 1971 High Court decision and upheld Mabo verse Queensland in rejecting ‘terra nullius.’ This paved the way for Native Title.
Mr Lester is concerned that Native Title and Land Rights Acts are now on their way out.
“If I can see one thing, it is this, we cannot allow this to happen. The Government and the media have been portraying Yirrkala and Gunbalanya as hopeless messes of drunk people and truant children and that the leases will allow the community to begin fixing the communities while the Government sticks more of its nose in. They have been saying many same things about our (APY) Country and they have had the media writing these bad stories, so that everyone will believe that signing our Country away is for our good – when it is not.”
“It will be the end of our people in the ways we choose to be, alongside all our other rights. This is what Governments want, to get rid of us as a problem, get rid of the Aboriginal people from Country and make them like everyone else in the cities. it will be the death of our people, and the death of true Country too.”
However Minister Scullion’s spokespeople said that the leases will only become binding after the middle of next year, that negotiations will continue till then, and that Aboriginal land title will continue to underwrite the leases.
His office said that the upfront payments to communities will allow them to build business and enterprises, creating local jobs. Minister Scullion said this will give the community the financial opportunity to create a number of roles, including truancy officers. “I want to see truancy officers who can go to each house and get children to school.”
“We have fundamental structural and attitudinal problems to change.” Mr Scullion said that community has to be engaged in changing the negative circumstances of many communities, and he said this can be done by using the “Land Rights Act” to “wake up people”.
Senator Scullion said the Yirrkala agreement with Traditional Owners had the support of the Northern Land Council. However Mr Sansbury said that these leases are “dispossession, theft, and racism.”
“Why is it always the Aboriginal person is treated differently and always finishes up with less?”