Tensions over land rights coming to a head up north

In Australian Cultural Exports, Australian Domestic Tourism, Government, Harmonisation, Media and Communications, Momentum, Northern Territory

PHOTO: NLC members said they were deeply dissappointed by Senator Scullion’s absence. (ABC News: Kate Wild)

Northern Land Council accuses Senator Nigel Scullion of breaking election promise on land rights

Australia’s largest Aboriginal land council has accused Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Nigel Scullion of breaking a promise that the Coalition, if it won government, would not review or amend the Land Rights Act.

Holding a copy of Senator Scullion’s press release, titled No changes to NT Land Rights and dated August 14, 2013, Northern Land Council (NLC) deputy chairman John Daly accused the Minister of proposing a review of land rights legislation without the consent of traditional owners.

“Prior to him getting in as the Minister, this here says he wasn’t going to do any reviews or anything like that without the consent of traditional owners and the land council,” he said.

“And this is just another broken promise from this government.”

The comments were made today at a full council meeting that Senator Scullion did not attend.

It was the first full council meeting since the October Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting at which Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the NT and Queensland governments and the Commonwealth would “urgently investigate” the administration of Aboriginal land.

“You just have to look at the history of the last couple of months and the Government is doing backflips left, right and centre,” Mr Daly said.

“So we say to the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, come to our 110th full council meeting, we’ve got pressing business to get on with and do.”

NLC’s questions are ‘pressing for the nation’

NLC chief executive Joe Morrison said council members wanted to put questions to the Minister they believed were “pressing for the nation”.

These included Federal Government plans to water down the Land Rights Act, pressure on Aboriginal towns to sign 99 year leases, and the Federal Government’s use of Aboriginal money earned from mining royalties, he said.

He said the Federal Government’s agenda to develop northern Australia had been a chief subject of the week-long meeting.

Asked if there was a power struggle going on between the NLC and government over the administration of Aboriginal land, Mr Morrison said there “very much is”.

He said a stand-off between the Federal Government and land councils on who administers Aboriginal land could have a negative impact on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians.

Since the Prime Minister’s announcement in October other states had shown interest in joining the review of the administration of Aboriginal land, according to Mr Morrison.

“Really there isn’t, and hasn’t been, any conversation with Aboriginal people about the future of the Land Rights Act,” he said.

“Yet again we’re going through this discourse nationally about Land Administration arrangements when we’ve continuously proved that the Land Council system is able to deliver on leases and third party interests.”

NLC ‘disappointed’ and ‘frustrated’ by Scullion no-show

Mr Daly said the full council, which had prepared a list of pressing questions, had been told the Minister would not be attending half an hour after he was due to arrive.

Senator Scullion would have faced heavy questioning about Indigenous policy and funding arrangements from 78 NLC members.

“Apparently because of mechanical problems with a plane that had not left Darwin,” he said.

A spokesperson for Senator Scullion confirmed he could not attend the plane had mechanical problems.

The council was meeting at the Aurora Resort at Kakadu National Park, about 210 kilometres from Darwin.

“Traditional owners are deeply disappointed we did not have the opportunity to call the Minister to account,” he said.

“We’re also disappointed the Minister was not prepared to make alternative travel arrangements to attend.

“It’s no longer good enough for the Minister and the Prime Minister to stay away.

“We need to deal with these issues now.”

The Northern Myth

Senator Nigel Scullion, the Toronto Star and “bullshit”

A few weeks ago I caught up with Toronto Star reporter Rick Westhead while he was passing through Darwin. We had a long chat over couple of cups of bad coffee and I gave him my views about the NT Intervention and race relations in this country.

Late last night Rick sent an email telling me that his piece had been published and that my “comments made the cut.

 Rick’s piece is a well-written and balanced overview of the current state of indigenous affairs in the Top End and just about as good a job as a stranger in a strange land could do of this most complex aspect of Indigenous affairs policy on short notice. He obviously put considerable time and effort into the piece and spoke to many people with views right across the spectrum of opinion about the NT Intervention.

Rick also spent a few days out at the remote Arnhem land coastal community of Ramingining and attended a community meeting called to consider proposed changes to the NT Intervention.

Among those he spoke to while at Ramingining was Senator Nigel Scullion, the Australian Opposition shadow minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Last night I emailed Rick and corrected his tag for Scullion as a member of the “Labour” party. Rick has changed Scullion’s tag to “Liberal”, which is partly correct. Scullion sits in the Senate as the Senator for the Northern Territory, elected as a member of the NT’s conservative party, the Country Liberal Party, or CLP.

Scullion’s comments caught my eye, firstly because of his use of the swearword “bullshit” to describe reactions to alcohol bans – particularly as Ramingining has always been a “dry” community – but also because many of his comments appeared ill-informed or seriously out-of-step with contemporary policy and thinking – even within his own side of politics.

Here is what Scullion had to say to Rick while he was at a community meeting to discuss the changes to the NT Intervention – now called Stronger Futures – as reported by Rick Westhead in his piece in Saturday’s Toronto Star:

Senator Nigel Scullion, a member of the Liberal Party, stood to the side and defended the intervention.

Look, you can’t have it both ways,” Scullion said. “You want to talk about preserving the old ways and rejecting modern society, but you want to drive around doing your hunting in Land Rovers?

One of the criticisms of the intervention has been that a blanket prohibition of alcohol wasn’t necessary because some communities such as Ramingining already banned booze.

That’s bulls—,” Scullion said. “I’ve been here when the whole place is pissed. The fact is there are big problems in Aboriginal communities. Look at the teen pregnancy rate. Look at how many 10-year-olds are contracting STDs. Don’t tell me they’re getting them off toilet seats. Men are trading them cigarettes for sex.

Scullion said few locals are willing to report or condemn the crime of sex with minors.

In an isolated place like this, community is everything, and if you stand out, you’ll be ostracized and that’s it,” he said. “They might even kill you.

Scullion similarly defends the decision to force indigenous students to learn in English, even though most children in Ramingining grow up learning local languages Djambarrpuyngu, Gupapuyngu, and Ganalbingu before they study English.

English is the language of Australia,” he said. “There has to be an interface. We have to facilitate people being able to communicate.

The elders are ready to hear from Scullion, and he walks to a nearby microphone. He’s hoping to win votes, not alienate locals, so he begins by apologizing for the lack of consultation before the intervention’s introduction.

We should have come here first before the intervention and asked what you wanted and for that I’m sorry,” Scullion said. “But that’s in the past.

The past seems to be a place that Senator Scullion seems to be firmly stuck in.

I’ll leave it for others to draw their own conclusions about just what Senator Scullion meant by his comments and welcome your thoughts as comments below.

In the apparently likely event that the Liberal-National Party Coalition wins the next Federal election Nigel Scullion is slated to become our next Indigenous Affairs Minister.

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