SEVERAL traditional owners are declaring that an agreement signed with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to negotiate a 99-year township lease by next September is “null and void” because they were not consulted.
Yirrkala, a town wracked by petrol-sniffing, kava abuse and unemployment, recently became the second Arnhem Land community to sign an agreement with Senator Scullion to negotiate a 99-year township lease that would allow private ownership.
In a statement obtained by The Australian, indigenous leader Djiniyini Gondarra, from East Arnhem Land, who says he is a traditional owner who does not reside in the community, and three other traditional owners say they were not consulted and the agreement should not hold.
“We the undersigned have not been informed or given consent for others to speak for us about this issue, and . . . consider it null and void,” the statement says.
Dr Gondarra told The Australian he opposed township leasing and believed it stripped control from traditional owners.
“This is another invasion, this is another colonisation and trying to force communities when communities are not ready,” he said.
“I’m not against economic development or businesses but the government needs to work with the people rather than saying we will take over the land. I’m the spokesman, I am not the only person, they did not contact all the TOs (traditional owners).”
Senator Scullion said the government had every intention of informing all traditional owners about the leasing, and this was only the first step in the process. He said he had left a message for Dr Gondarra and others and did not have any intention of excluding anyone.
“Yes, there are many traditional owners who may live in Darwin for example; they live there but they are still traditional owners,” Senator Scullion said.
“They will be contacted as part of the second stage of the process. We are required to, at the first stage, get consensus in the community and that includes traditional owners.
“In Yirrkala, because of the nature of the diaspora of the people who live in Arnhem Land, it is not possible (for them all to be there). I know they will all be engaged. There is another process that happens after this.”
Under the leasing arrangement, each community would get an upfront payment to build businesses and enterprises to create jobs, as stipulated by the traditional owners, in exchange for a 99-year lease with the executive director of township leasing, an independent commonwealth statutory office. The traditional owners continue to own the underlying Aboriginal land title.
Dr Gondarra disputes the Northern Land Council’s view of traditional ownership of the land and in 2011 challenged previous indigenous affair minister Jenny Macklin’s consent and approval under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 for the land council and the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Land Trust to enter into a lease and agreement in relation to the Rio Tinto Alcan bauxite mine and refinery on the Gove Peninsula.
A judicial review of Ms Macklin’s decisions was heard in the Federal Court in March. The court has not yet made its decision.