The federal government is trying to snatch back land from Aboriginal people by pressuring them to sign 99-year township leases, the Northern Land Council says.
The NLC is clashing with federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion over what it says is an attempt to convince traditional owners to sign over their lands and associated rights.
Township leases provide a surety to banks and give indigenous communities the opportunity to borrow against their land to buy their own homes and businesses.
Land councils serve to negotiate with the government on their behalf.
However, the NLC says leases signed under section 19A of the Land Rights Act designate an executive leaseholder to hold the rights to the land on behalf of the government and can make decisions without traditional owners’ consent.
The NLC want the provision repealed in favour of the broader section 19, which offers traditional owners the same economic benefits of the lease while retaining full decision-making powers over their land.
“It’s one thing to talk about normalising townships, it’s another thing to talk about taking rights away,” NLC CEO Joe Morrison said on Friday.
The NLC accused Senator Scullion of trying to divide and conquer communities by pushing section 19A township leases.
The community of Gunbalanya in East Arnhem Land is negotiating a 99-year lease with the government but NLC executive member John Christophersen told Mr Scullion he had a petition against it signed by 400 people, as well as eight of the 13 traditional owners.
“People are very concerned about it and want it to go away,” Mr Morrison said.
“One can surmise that this is a land grab.
“Forty years ago no one really saw the value of Aboriginal land – it was wasted land, it was the domain of buffaloes and pigs.
“Now we understand Aboriginal lands are very valuable and everyone wants a slice, and we want to make sure we maintain control.”
Senator Scullion said the NLC was playing power games.
“This is about a perceived loss of power … (but) traditional owners are completely in control,” he said.
Gunbalanya will decide whether or not to sign up to a 99-year lease later this year.