Piper Alderman partner Sebastian Greene has advised on a 99-year township lease which will help Tiwi Islanders achieve home ownership.
Greene advised the Tiwi Land Council in their negotiations with the Federal Government for lease for the communities of Milikapiti (Snake Bay) and Ranku (Wurankuwu).
Ministerial approval was granted by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP on 17 November 2011, with the lease being executed at the end of November 2011.
"A township lease can help to create what more closely resembles a normal market economy on Aboriginal communal land," said Greene, who has been an adviser to the Tiwi Land Council for many years and was instrumental in the negotiation of the first and unprecedented lease for the township of Nguiu (Wurrumiyanga) in 2007.
On his most recent visits to the islands, which lay 80km north of Darwin, Greene said he was "staggered" to see the progress being made at Wurrumiyanga (previously called Nguiu), where there are now many registered sub-leases.
"It was also quite heartening to listen to people talk favourably about township leasing," he said. "Generally, the attitude was not 'if' but 'when'. Their enthusiasm and preparedness to try something different are strengths from which we can all learn."
Under the 99-year township lease, the Tiwi Aboriginal Land Trust, at the direction of the Tiwi Land Council, has granted a 99-year Head Lease to the Executive Director of Township Leasing (EDTL).
The EDTL can then grant sub-leases for 99 years or a lesser term (as appropriate), either to individuals who want to buy or build a home or to businesses.
"Although there is only the one lease, each community has its own consultative forum. At Nguiu, the Tiwis have found the consultative forum to be a very successful vehicle for liaison with the Office of Township Leasing," said Greene, adding that he felt privileged to be involved in an initiative which is a key part of providing greater economic independence and opportunities to Tiwis.
"This will better enable future investment by government and commercial investors in these communities," he said. "If these communities are successful at attracting investment in future years, the increased rentals received should provide substantial benefits to the traditional owners for many years to come. That is a win-win."
Overall, Greene said he enjoyed the experience of working in the Tiwi Islands immensely, and found the cultural differences easy to overcome.
"Clear communication can be challenging, especially when having to explain something new and complex like a township lease," said Greene, "but the Tiwis are extraordinarily polite and friendly people. They are also aspirational."
Tiwis are also AFL fanatics, according to Greene, who said that "after first asking which team you barrack for, [Tiwis] will then ask you for your views on last weekend's games or the latest topical issues".
"They absolutely love it," he said.