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Indigenous leader warns against dramatic land rights changes

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 7 April 2005

A member of the Prime Minister's National Indigenous Council is cautioning against sweeping changes to Australia's land rights legislation.

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday indicated a debate about private ownership is necessary to address the issue.

The council's Warren Mundine says the primary battle by Indigenous people to get land through lands rights and native title law has been won, and it is only natural that energy is now being turned towards Aboriginal Australians owing their own homes and businesses.

He says it is a plank in the fight against welfare dependency.

But Mr Mundine says only slight changes need to be made to enable private land ownership.

"Under most of the acts now that are happening around Australia on Aboriginal land, there is opportunities to do that within the New South Wales legislation and the Northern Territory land rights legislation and under the Native Title Act," he said.

"For Indigenous land use agreements you have an opportunity to have leasehold arrangements similar to what, you know, Canberra's built on - the 99-year lease or the 50-year lease or something where people can have private ownership."

Mr Mundine says he is trying to encourage a "salt and pepper approach" in communities.

"Of communal and private ownership for enterprise development and for asset building, as well as having government there which provides the infrastructure such as schools, medical centres, etc," he said.

Clarity sought

Mr Mundine is appealing for Mr Howard to clarify his rethink on land rights.

"I think he needs to be a bit more clear about what he intends to do and what he's up to," he said.

"I think at the same time we need to have Aboriginal people being part of the consultation process at all stages."

Labor's Kim Carr says the debate about Indigenous home ownership is a distraction.

"It's aimed at trying to encourage people to accept the compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land," he said.

"Very few people will be able to rush into the land market.

"There is no asset increases in prices through housing in remote communities.

"This is a proposal which goes to taking Aboriginal land for other economic purposes by people other than Aboriginals."

No split

Mr Mundine, who is the incoming ALP president, rejects any idea that there is a split in his party on the issue.

"You only have to look at Clare Martin," he said.

"Clare Martin is the chief minister of the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory Government is a Labor government, they're very strongly behind the idea of economic development.

"But the underlying title still remains within the hands of Aboriginal people, it's above that title that we're talking about where we have a leasehold approach where people... the land remains within Aboriginal hands, but at the same time we can encourage economic development and home ownership on land."

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