FORCING INDIGENOUS communities to lease their townships for 99 years to the Government in return for educational funding is an initiative the Law Council of Australia believes should greatly concern Australians.
Mal Brough, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, said that $10 million would be made available to the Tiwi Island community for school facilities only if they sign a lease over their township to the Commonwealth, the Law Council said.
Law Council president Tim Bugg said that Brough considered the provision of funding for a school as a non-essential service for the community.
“The Minister claims that only non-essential services will be considered. Now, it’s extraordinary that he would consider schooling and housing to be non-essential for indigenous communities, keeping in mind that these communities are some of the most underprivileged in the world,” Bugg said.
Making the provision of school funding conditional on the signing of a lease leaves the Tiwi people with no reasonable choice in the matter, Bugg said, explaining that such a lease may lock up land rights for a number of generations.
“This whole area of the treatment of indigenous people should be cause of great concern for Australians,” he said.
“We’ve recently seen the government legislate to remove customary laws as a consideration in sentencing of indigenous people, rather than looking at what is required, which is proper resourcing.
“Again, the same considerations apply here. Rather than saying ‘hand over your land rights’, the government should be ensuring that the indigenous communities get the sort of facilities that are being proposed, without those strings being attached to what they are offering.”
Brough was unavailable for comment as Lawyers Weekly went to press.