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.”