On Wednesday, a set of reforms to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 passed through parliament.
At its core is a new corporate Commonwealth entity, the Northern Territory Aboriginal Investment Corporation (NTAIC), which is set up to invest funds from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA). This will be an Aboriginal controlled organisation, as demanded by Indigenous Northern Territorians for decades.
Speaking on the passage of this bill, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said that through the passing of these “historic reforms . . . a new era of economic and social empowerment” is being signalled for First Nations People in the Northern Territory.
“The legislation is the culmination of nearly four years of co-design work with the Northern Territory Land Councils, Aboriginal Territorians and Government,” the Minister continued.
He reiterated the importance of moving the decision-making of significant portions of mining royalties to the NT.
“As a Commonwealth entity, it will keep the highest levels of governance and oversight, but this legislation puts the decision making in the hands of Aboriginal people,” he emphasised.
Minister Wyatt said the NTAIC will receive initial funding of $500 million with an additional $60 million a year for the first three years to firmly establish it.
Funding is set to continue beyond that according to the Minister.
The Minister further highlighted that within the bill other reforms for community-controlled township leases, the permit system and making mining and exploration licenses more efficient while strengthening rights of Traditional owners.
Senator for the Northern Territory, Dr Sam McMahon welcomed the passing of the legislation “which will give Indigenous people control over activities on their own land” and benefit them economically and socially from the resources on Country.
The bill was further supported by the Northern Land Council and the Chair, Mr Samuel Bush-Blanasi, who suggested that this success shows “just how much Aboriginal people can achieve” when they have a seat at the table.
Bush-Blanasi celebrated getting the reforms passed.
“We have been working on these reforms for a long time. Finally we got it done. Now it’s time to hit the ground running and make it happen.”
Acting CEO of the Northern Land Council, Joe Martin-Jard, noted the importance that the changes meant “Traditional Owners won’t have to meet with miners if they have already said no”.
“No means no.”
Martin-Jard stated the Council’s neutrality on mining, and that if Traditional Owners consent, then his “job is to make sure they get the best possible deal”.
The bill wasn’t fully supported, however, as Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe condemned it in her speech to parliament.
“This bill is not about self-determination, it’s certainly not about empowerment of First Nations People,” she said.
“It is yet another example of how we are being patronised, and decisions are being made for us, instead of by us.”
She said the Greens can’t support the bill unless a section (Schedule 2) is removed because “Schedule 2 is about fast-tracking the destruction and desecration of Country”.
“It’s about the destruction and desecration of sacred sites with mining. This parliament has no business passing this bill,” concluded Senator Thorpe.
Minister Wyatt state that the NTAIC is aimed to be operational in 2022, and that until then ABA funding will still be available within the existing process.
By Aaron Bloch