Howard takes aim at Land Rights in the Northern Territory

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Yvonne Margarula, the most senior member of the Mirrar Gudjehmi clan, became a household name during the struggle to stop the Jabiluka Uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Margarula and the Mirrar people were able to exercise their right of veto under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA). They also had a well-resourced Land council, independent of government and corporations, to represent their interests. In 2004, the Council, acting on behalf of the traditional owners, voted to ratify a satisfactory agreement that brought the long struggle to an end.

Independence threatened. Proposals announced by the Howard Government in June threaten to gut the ALRA. Although the right of veto would remain, amendments to the Act will turn the Land Councils into toothless tigers whose funding will be at the Minister’s whim. This will severely undermine the ability of Indigenous communities to use their veto power.

The spin doctors got to work, and the amendments were announced with the fine sounding idea that the changes — particularly the proposal to create private ownership on communal land — is all about helping Aboriginal people to achieve the “great Australian dream” to purchase their own homes. For poverty-stricken communities with no jobs, plus poor education and health, this suggestion is pure fantasy. Yet the mainstream media lapped it up.

Access for miners. A little more investigation reveals what is really behind the proposed changes. The accompanying Explanatory Memorandum couldn’t be clearer. The first principal objective of the changes is to “improve access to Aboriginal land for development, especially mining.”

There are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of uranium and other minerals on Aboriginal land, which mining companies would love to access without having to deal with the likes of Margarula and a Land Council again working together.

Dispossession. The Howard Government’s plan is about destroying the ALRA. This is part of its racist and paternalistic agenda for Indigenous Australia. Howard wants to take Aboriginal affairs back to the mission days, stealing Indigenous country for the benefit of big business. Protest. Speak out. Say: “not in my name!” Howard must be stopped!

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