Individual land ownership no magic pill for Aboriginal economic development: New Oxfam Report

Published: 1 November 2005

A new report released by Oxfam Australia finds no evidence to suggest that individual ownership of Aboriginal lands will bring about increased home ownership and economic development in remote Aboriginal communities.

A new report released by Oxfam Australia finds no evidence to suggest that individual ownership of Aboriginal lands will bring about increased home ownership and economic development in remote Aboriginal communities.

The release of the report – Land Rights and Development Reform in Remote Australia – comes amidst indications the Federal Government is looking at possible changes to land rights and native title legislation to facilitate individual ownership of Aboriginal lands.

The research focuses on the Northern Territory and tests whether converting communal ownership of Aboriginal land to individual ownership will bring the type of changes the Federal Government has said it is aiming for. It shows that individual title to land is neither necessary nor sufficient to meet development goals. The report confirms the need for approaches to development to be based on a careful analysis of evidence.

“This report aims to inject more evidence into the public policy debate about possible changes to how title to land is held by Indigenous Australians,” says Andrew Hewett, Executive Director of Oxfam Australia.

The report suggests options for winding back Government power over development on Aboriginal lands and increasing the abilities of Aboriginal owners to obtain and use the benefits generated by development.

”Governments must assist in the development of Aboriginal business and enterprise to enable people to transition from welfare to employment. But governments must also step up to their responsibilities in health, education, housing and associated infrastructure. Adequate services aimed at improving health, education and unmet housing need are not ‘welfare’. They are the right of every Australian, and Governments at all levels have been failing to meet their obligations to Indigenous Australians in these areas,” says Hewett.

According to Andrew Hewett, “It’s absolutely vital that Indigenous Australians are the people who make decisions about their land ownership arrangements. Past changes, such as the Native Title Amendment Act in 1998, reduced Indigenous Australians’ ability to control and benefit from economic development from their lands, so it’s no surprise that they are concerned about what moves may be in store.”

“Any changes must be done in a manner which respects the rights of Indigenous landowners and native title holders and the particular cultural attachments Indigenous people have to country,” says Andrew Hewett. “They also need to be grounded in a thorough assessment of evidence for the costs of getting this wrong are too high.”

“It’s important to acknowledge that land rights, native title and development issues are not only important for Indigenous Australians in remote areas of the country. They’re important for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across Australia, and approaches to development need to be tailored to people’s contexts and aspirations.”

Oxfam Australia works with the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia, Yorgum Family Counselling Service, Flipside Circus, Keriba Warngun, and Maari Ma Aboriginal Health Corporation to achieve positive change for Indigenous Australians. In addition, Oxfam Australia has been contracted by the Department of Health and Ageing to run the Gulf Regional Health Service in North West Queensland.

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