A Commonwealth report has urged governments to outlay long-term funding agreements to help Traditional Owners latch onto the huge economic opportunities in northern Australia.
The Australian Parliament’s Northern Australia Committee in February tabled the report of its engagement of Traditional Owners in the economic development of northern Australia inquiry.
Among 10 recommendations were calls for increased funding and support for prescribed body corporates, a review into the high rate of churn among PBC directors and establishment of a body to tailor business support.
Kimberley Land Council chief executive Tyronne Garstone said the report’s committee had listened to Aboriginal organisations across the country.
“Many of the recommendations are in areas where the KLC has been calling for change for many years,” he said.
“(This) includes increased funding for (Prescribed Bodies Corporate) and other Indigenous bodies, a strategy for Indigenous economic development in northern Australia, new and innovative land tenure systems to create greater opportunities, and enhanced support for Indigenous rangers.”
Mr Garstone said the KLC was pleased the committee recommended establishment of a Northern Australia Indigenous Economic Development Body to provide business development, legal and research support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.
“Now it’s important that, rather than this report sitting on the shelves of government, the recommendations are implemented by our leaders to create real and long-lasting change,” he said.
The report found strong levels of interest among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in participating in the economic development of northern Australia.
Committee chairman Warren Entsch said there was a challenge for Traditional Owners in leveraging native title and land rights to benefit communities.
“The bodies representing Traditional Owners have a very large burden of responsibilities and expectations placed upon them, but government funding and capacity-building support for them is insufficient. Secure, long-term funding is essential,” he said.
Mr Entsch said emerging sectors of the economy such as carbon abatement, renewable energy and savannah burning could prove fruitful for Traditional Owners.
“Opportunities like these have the special strengths of using traditional knowledge of country,” he said.
“They also support efforts to stay connected with country and to fulfill traditional obligations of custodianship.”
A Northern Land Council spokesperson welcomed the report.
“It is important that Aboriginal people are involved at the start of the conversation and that the governance and financial framework, implementation and risk management plans are co-designed,” they said.