NT First Nations leader calls for rejection of lease deals

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra says the proposed lease deals are regarded by most Aboriginal people as an effective surrender of title.


Dr Djiniyini Gondarra (Archive image)

Sally Bothroyd ABC News 8 Nov 2013

A Northern Territory Indigenous leader is calling on Aboriginal communities to reject bids by the Federal Government to secure leases over parts of their land.

Reverend Doctor Djiniyini Gondarra has issued a statement saying there is no evidence of general consultation with the communities concerned.

He says the "hasty" process is putting unfair pressure on them.

He says the 99-year-leases mean the handing over of hard-fought-for entitlements to land for what would appear to be short-term gain, and was regarded by most people as an effective surrender of title.

"A lease that takes control of the land means we are giving away our law and our identity," the statement said.

"We will have nothing to live for.

"We will become fringe dwellers.

"Our land can never simply be exchanged for monetary gain."

Rev Dr Gondarra said Aboriginal communities should reject government overtures involving any changes until the government abides by culturally appropriate protocols and undertakes to give the communities access to independent advice, including legal advice at government expense.


Senator Nigel Scullion (Archive image)

Indigenous Affairs Minister Senator Nigel Scullion recently signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) on 99-year township leases for the townships of Gunbalanya and Yirrkala in the Territory.

The aim is to finalise the proposed 99-year leases by June 30 next year.

Senator Scullion said he hoped these arrangements would encourage other Indigenous communities to sign similar deals.

When the initial Gunbalanya agreement was reached last month, Senator Scullion said that traditional owners had agreed it was the most effective way to achieve economic and commercial development in the township of about 900 people, 300 kilometres east of Darwin.

The stated aim of the lease system is to allow certainty in the development of infrastructure and businesses in remote Indigenous communities.

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Dismantling the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976

I express my deep concern at the actions of the Abbott Government as evidenced by the behaviour of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, in hastily procuring MOU's on township leases for 99 years in Gunbalanya and Yirrkala in recent weeks. He is quoted as saying that this was part of a blitz to encourage other communities around the country to sign similar deals.

There is no evidence of general consultation with the communities concerned and the haste associated with the process would suggest that there has been no time for reflection or the obtaining of legal and other advice as to the advisability of what the Government proposes. The process therefore places unfair pressure on the communities concerned.

What these leases involve is the handing over of hard fought entitlements to lands to the Government for at least four generations for what would appear to be short term gains. A 99 year lease is regarded by most people as an effective surrender of title.

It is a decision that requires careful and mature consideration and not one taken in response to a fly in fly out Government 'blitz'.

Our Madayin-Law is upheld by the Ngurringgitj-Tradition in the land. A lease that takes control of the land means we are giving away our Law and our identity. We will have nothing to live for. We will become fringe dwellers. Our land can never simply be exchanged for monetary gain.

Government behaviour thus far is consistent with that of its many predecessors in trampling over the rights of Aboriginal people and treating them as second class citizens.

It also flies in the face of consultation recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission aimed at consensus decision- making, which two Parliamentary Committees have endorsed, including one of which Senator Scullion was a member.

It is also inconsistent with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Australia has endorsed.

I call on other Aboriginal Communities to reject the Government's overtures involving any changes unless and until they abide by culturally appropriate protocols and undertake to give the communities access to independent advice, including legal advice at the Government's expense.

Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
6th November 2013
0428 402 929


Pictured: Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra (right) with Michael Anderson, Sovereign Union (left) and George Gaymarani Pascoe in Darwin, September, 2012