The signing of a historic land agreement in Arnhem Land is the first step in enabling Aboriginal people to have a bigger say in their own future, an indigenous leader says.
Joe Morrison, chief executive of the Northern Land Council, says the signing of a memorandum of understanding towards the establishment of a township lease for the Gumatj community of Gunyangara, or Ski Beach, near Nhulunbuy, is the first to be done on the terms of the community rather than those in federal government.
It envisages a 99-year township lease to be held over Gunyangara by a community entity owned and controlled by the Gumatj themselves.
That makes it fundamentally different from the township leases that the Commonwealth government has negotiated on the Tiwi Islands, and at Groote Eylandt, Mr Morrison says.
Those leases are held in the name of the Executive Director of Township Leasing, who consults with traditional owners but ultimately controls development in Aboriginal communities.
The model for Gunyangara is an “elegant solution”, Mr Morrison said.
“We don’t want to see traditional owners having to forfeit control, and lose their property rights.”
He said the deal should signal a move towards more consultations with indigenous people about developments on their lands.
“To my mind, the abandonment of the Rio Tinto bauxite refinery here in Gove underlines the vulnerability of Aboriginal people in remote parts of the Northern Territory as development comes and development goes,” Mr Morrison said.
“They’ve come to realise that some of the economic development in northern Australia, which they are expected to consent to, comes with risk and cost,” he said.