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Issue #1673      February 18, 2015

COAG reviews land rights

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has pointedly identified the Northern Land Council as a target of an “urgent” investigation by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) into Indigenous land administration and land use.

The investigation was announced in a communiqué at the end of the last COAG meeting in Canberra in October last year:

“... the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory and Queensland will urgently investigate Indigenous land administration and land use to enable traditional owners to readily attract private sector investment and finance to develop their own land with new industries and businesses to provide jobs and economic advancement for Indigenous people.”

The results of the investigation will be reported to the first COAG meeting of this year (a date has not yet been set). The investigation will mean a review of the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act and the Native Title Act.

“We’ve been tasked with having a review over the impediments to economic development in northern Australia,” Mr Scullion told the ABC late last year.

“As part of that we will look at all the legislation that has an issue.”

Three weeks before the 2013 federal election, Mr Scullion issued a joint news media statement with Tina MacFarlane, the CLP candidate for Lingiari: “The coalition has no plans to change, amend or review the Aboriginal Land Rights Act if we win government.”

Of course, the Coalition did win Government, and Mr Scullion went on to win the Indigenous Affairs Ministry, and a seat at the Cabinet table. NLC deputy chairman John Daly brandished the Scullion/MacFarlane media release during a news conference at the NLC’s last Full Council meeting at South Alligator.

“Prior to him getting in as the Minister, this here says he wasn’t going to do any review of anything like that without the consent of Traditional Owners and the Land Council,” Mr Daly told reporters. “And this is just another broken promise of this government.”

But Mr Scullion has rejected that charge.

He was scheduled to attend the Full Council meeting, but, at the last minute, sent through a message that he would not be there. He later told the ABC: “First of all, I’ve broken no promise at all and I’ve made it very clear: not only I have no intention, I am not going to support any changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, unless the land councils request it.

“That was the statement I made before the election and that’s the statement I stand with now.”

Further in his interview with the ABC, Mr Scullion made it plain that the operations of the NLC would be very much a focus of the COAG review.

“In terms of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, in my view the only issue that’s a problem is the actual operation of the Act and I think the land councils have got every right to be a bit nervous, particularly the Northern Land Council,” he said.

Land Rights News (Northern Edition)

Next article – For the full exercise of human rights

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