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Land Council casts doubt on home ownership plan

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

The director of one of the Northern Territory's land councils says anyone advocating private land ownership in Aboriginal communities needs to think twice.

During yesterday's visit to the community of Wadeye, 250 kilometres south-west of Darwin, Prime Minister John Howard said there was a case for private land ownership in Indigenous communities.

The issue of land tenure was raised in a meeting with local leaders and Mr Howard says Aboriginal people should be able to aspire to own their own homes.

But the chairman of the Central Land Council, David Ross, says the idea is not practical for many remote communities.

"Do these people understand what owning their own home means and everything that goes with owning their own home," he said.

"Do they fully realise what it is that they have to do in order to have a mortgage, ongoing maintenance, the cost of getting that maintenance done in remote areas."

Mr Ross says many Aboriginal people have different aspirations from the wider Australian community.

"Aboriginal people aspire to their culture and what that culture involves - a lore, a language and especially for the traditional people and that way of life as against a normal Western life that the general Australian population aspire to," he said.

Changes to Act?

About 40 per cent of land in the Northern Territory is Indigenous-owned.

While Mr Howard would not commit to whether he wants changes to the Native Title Act, he says there is a case for private land ownership in Indigenous communities.

"All Australian should be able to aspire to owning their own home and having their own business and having title to something," he said.

"It's the key to your sense of individuality, it's the key to your capacity to achieve and care for your family and I don't believe that Indigenous Australians should be treated differently in this respect."

Labor's Indigenous affairs spokesman, Kim Carr, says the Prime Minister's comments are nothing more than a distraction.

Senator Carr says the proposals are really about the compulsory acquisition of Indigenous land.

He says the idea of home ownership in Indigenous communities is unrealistic.

"The problem is the Commonwealth Bank and all the other banks are not rushing out to lend money for housing to people who are unemployed and in some of these communities there is 85 per cent unemployment, there is no economic base, there won't be the basis for a mortgage market," he said.

"This is about the confiscation of Aboriginal land by forcing people to grant leases of land to others from outside of the community."

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