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Issue #1738      July 6, 2016

Speakers warn over empty promises

While National Native Title Conference keynote speakers Gerald Taiaiake Alfred and Joe Morrison come from different sides of the planet, their messages had a similar underlying message: Beware of empty promises by government.

Morrison, the chief executive of the Northern Territory’s Northern Land Council (NLC), warned the Darwin conference that Indigenous affairs in Australia were under attack and pointed the finger squarely at the source – federal Minister Nigel Scullion.

Morrison said Senator Scullion was pursuing an aggressive agenda of his own, trying to take power from Indigenous organisations and institutions, especially land councils, which in the NT have rejected the Coalition’s plan for 99-year leases of Aboriginal land.

“When you think back to the community goodwill following the 1967 Referendum, it’s long since evaporated because we no longer have leaders of the calibre of prime ministers Gough Whitlam or Malcolm Fraser,” Morrison said.

“Today we have an Indigenous Affairs Minister who describes the Northern Territory Land Rights Act and the Native Title Act as a ‘double whammy’. Senator Scullion has said, if the Native Title Act is good enough for the rest of Australia, then it should be good enough for the NT.

“How cynical,” Morrison said.

“Wrong way around”

“And, he’s got it the wrong way around.

“The Land Rights Act is a beautiful thing for the Northern Territory – and it’s good enough that there should be similar legislation for the rest of Australia.”

Morrison said the federal government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy had been a “fiasco” and had created a climate of “chaos and confusion”, along with Coalition attacks on the NT’s Aboriginals Benefit Account (which distributes mining royalties from Aboriginal land), the white paper into development of northern Australia and basing Indigenous policy on ideas by billionaire miner Andrew Forrest.

“This minister takes our breath away,” Morrison said.

“We believe he’s not up to the job.

“Whoever wins the upcoming federal election, we hope they find a new minister – a minister who believes in land rights, unlike Senator Scullion.”

Professor Alfred, a Mohawk scholar from Canada, spoke at the Darwin conference about Indigenous resurgence in his country.

“We have seen similarities of the struggle by Indigenous people between our countries,” he said.

“Invading forces”

“Our lands were occupied by invading forces and our people herded on to tiny Indian Reserves.

“We have seen other people become wealthy off our land.”

Professor Alfred said that before First Nations had gone through the process in Canada, treaties were seen as the panacea.

“In 1996 we had a vision for a peaceful coexistence through treaties nation to nation – but that was an elusive objective,” he said. “We always need to ask in any negotiation ‘What does this have to do with the land?’

“The government of Canada is adept at the politics of distraction.

“The idea that we can decolonise without a struggle – in Canada that hasn’t proven possible.

“All ideas by government have primarily been directed at defending private interests in land. We have never seen the government do anything to the benefit of our own people that doesn’t protect their own interests.”

The National Native Title Conference was held on Larrakia land in Darwin and jointly hosted by AIATSIS and the NLC.

Koori Mail

Next article – CUB’s dry argument

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