Privatise Aboriginal land rights? Lessons from Papua New Guinea
Ecovillage Network UK
evnuk at gaia.org
Wed Apr 20 13:45:07 BST 2005
Privatise Aboriginal land rights? The lessons from Papua New Guinea
Green Left Weekly, April 13, 2005.
The federal government, backed by mining company-funded think tanks, has
a new agenda for Aboriginal land rights: privatise them. And privatisation
here, as elsewhere, means that the sharks will move in.
In February, Indigenous affairs minister Amanda Vanstone announced, we
have a bill under preparation dealing with the Northern Territory land
rights issue. Without revealing details, she suggested the bill would make
the Northern Territory Land Rights Act 1976 (the strongest Aboriginal land
rights legislation in Australia) more workable, and would provide
greater choice for Aboriginal people about what to do with their land.
Then in April, Prime Minster John Howard told a Northern Territory audience
that he wanted to review the law by looking more towards private
recognition of land rights. Similarly, Vanstones predecessor, Philip
Ruddock, announced in 2002 that his governments priorities included
reducing barriers to economic development on Aboriginal land, and
facilitating effective devolution of control from existing land councils to
more localised regional bodies.
There is no mystery about the agenda. Ideologues at the Centre for
Independent Studies, Helen Hughes and Jenness Warin, have declared
Aboriginal land rights a socialist conspiracy constructed by
non-Aboriginals, and have demanded that this experiment in socialist
utopia be replaced by individual property rights. Their views were
repeated by the Australian newspaper in a February 19 article entitled
Land rights should apply to individuals, and have been echoed by other
right-wing ideologues like Christopher Pearson.
The ideologues from these think tanks are backed by mining companies and
investment groups that want easy access to Aboriginal land. Though their
arguments now stress the benefits to Aboriginal communities through
mortgage and lease facilities, the unspoken danger is that Aboriginal
communities will be dispossessed of their land a second time.
This is a pattern seen in Papua New Guinea, where there is still customary
title over 97% of the country. Some communities have been persuaded (with
very small amounts of money) to register, mortgage and run the serious risk
of alienating their land. Alternatively they have agreed to long-term
leases on very poor conditions often 50 Kina (A$25) per hectare, per
year. Yet preliminary research I carried out shows that a hectare of good
village farm land in PNG can be producing an equivalent value of up to
20,000 Kina (A$10,000) per year.
The result of such land deals has been that the few thousand dollars and a
few motor vehicles that some groups have gained have been used up and
rusted out in a few years. But communities have lost their main asset
their land. Their children then become destitute, having no ready access to
fertile land and housing. Community advocates in PNG have seen these
disasters, and have fiercely opposed Australian government and World Bank
programs to register and mobilise their customary lands.
The privatise land rights arguments in Australia have made use of some
Aboriginal commentators, notably Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson who, keen
to win favour with the major powers (in government, the mass media and big
corporations), have promoted various corporate partnerships and stressed
individual responsibility before social justice.
Warren Mundine a member of Howards newly appointed National Indigenous
Council, but also ALP vice-president has openly called for the individual
titling and sale of Aboriginal community land. Echoing right-wing
ideologues, but with community welfare arguments, he calls for a move away
from communal land ownership and non-profit community based businesses in
favour of home ownership, economic land development and private,
The major argument of the ideologues and their helpers has been that
after almost 30 years of land rights, and 12 years of native title many
Aboriginal communities are still poor and destitute. Privatisation is their
suggested way forward; but this welfare argument is misleading, and
disguises real interests.
First, Australian Aboriginal people (unlike those in PNG) have not had
proper recognition of their land rights in the current era. Although around
20% of the Australian land mass is now subject to some form of land rights
(14.3% through various successful land rights claims, and 5.7% through the
Native Title Act), this is mostly arid land and benefits less than 20% of
the Aboriginal population. Most Aboriginal lands are in the deserts of the
Northern Territory, South Australia and (more recently) Western Australia.
Most successful claims under the Native Title Act have also been in the
north, and in particular the Torres Strait islands.
Second, mismanagement of community land assets will hardy be improved by an
opening up to individual Aboriginal operators and land developers. Since
when have property developers in Australia represented anything other than
get rich quick schemes for a handful, at the expense of the masses of
The PNG experience tells us that poor communities can be tricked out of
their community assets by registration and privatisation arguments, and
that a few business people from those communities usurping the rights and
assets of those communities may benefit from their separate deals with
However the wiser heads in the PNG community remind us of the enormous
social security and community benefits of retaining their central cultural
institution of customary land. Andrew Lakau told the July 11, 1995 Post
Courier that the extended kinship system and customary land holdings are
the only viable options to provide support and security to the needy in the
various communities throughout PNG. Josepha Kanawi added in the Post
Courier on May 19, 2003, that peoples economic independence ... is
achieved only through being in affinity with their land ... [and] land
groups are the source of authority for institutions of state and
government in Papua New Guinea.
Rob Welsh of the NSW Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council has the better
perspective, quoted on BBC Online on December 7, 2004, as saying that home
ownership and private business opportunities for our people is the way
forward. However these programs should be in addition to, not instead of
community based land rights, business ventures and services. Those doing
best in Papua New Guinea (apart from the operators and robbers) are those
who have kept their community land and developed opportunities in the cash
The same mining companies, banks and their paid ideologues are pushing for
the privatisation of Indigenous land in both Papua New Guinea and
Australia. Beware of their phony expressed concerns for Indigenous welfare.
They have the same deceitful arguments, and similar disguised self- interest.
[Tim Anderson is a Sydney University academic and activist with AidWatch.
AidWatch is organising a tour of PNG land rights speakers in September. For
more information visit <http:// www.aidwatch.org.au>.]
From Green Left Weekly, April 13, 2005.
EcoVillage Network UK PeopleFinder - http://www.peoplefinder.org.uk
A new contact point for getting involved in the UK EcoVillage movement.
EVN-UK MAILING LIST: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ecovillageuk
Subscribe (approx. 1 post/2wks.): ecovillageuk-subscribe at yahoogroups.com
CHAPTER 7 - http://www.tlio.org.uk/chapter7/
The UK's Rural Sustainable Settlement Planning Campaign
'Chapter 7 News' - 16-20pp. quarterly - £2.00 ea. £7.00 per annum sub. from
The Potato Store, Flaxdrayton Farm, South Petherton, Somerset, TA13
chapter7 at tlio.demon.co.uk
Tel. 01460 249204
ECOVILLAGE GUIDE BOOKS - available (postage included) from
Mulberry House, 19 Maple Grove, Bath, BA2 3AF - 01225 484472
UK > 'Diggers and Dreamers' - Annual directory of UK Communities - £6.00
EUROPE > 'Eurotopia' - Directory of Intentional Communities and Ecovillages
in Europe - £15.00
COTTARS AND SQUATTERS > Reccommended: UK land rights history - £10.00
PERMACULTURE MAGAZINE - http://www.permaculture.co.uk/
Quarterly colour mag. for enquiring minds and original thinkers everywhere.
Hyden House Ltd, The Sustainability Centre, East Meon, Hampshire GU32 1HR,
info at permaculture.co.uk
Tel. 01730 823311
ECOVILLAGE NETWORK UK (that's us!) - http://www.evnuk.org.uk
Populating the rhetoric of rural sustainability
Volunteers: Russ Curgenven, Nikki Ali, Tony Gosling, Pam Norris, Joyce
PO Box 1410, Bristol, BS99 3JP
Tel. 0117 373 0346
evnuk at gaia.org, office at evnuk.org.uk
DIGGERS AND DREAMERS - Searchable community database
Diggers & Dreamers, a UK guide to communal living for more than 10 years
c/o Edge of Time Ltd, BCM Edge, London, WC1N 3XX, UK
info at diggersanddreamers.org.uk
Tel. 07000 780536
WWOOF - http://www.wwoof.org/wuk0.html
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms
Join WWOOF, do some work, stay for free. Membership includes directory
PO Box 2675, Lewes, Sussex, BN7 1RB
fran at wwoof.org
PERMACULTURE ASSOCIATION UK - http://www.permaculture.org.uk
Supports individuals, projects and groups working with permaculture in Britain
Third Floor Studios, 6 Carr Mills, 322 Meanwood Road, Leeds, West
Yorkshire, LS7 2HY
office at permaculture.org.uk
Tel/Fax: 07041 390170 and 0113 262 1718
GROUNDSWELL - http://www.groundswell.org.uk
Promoting and developing self-help initiatives with the homeless
U.K. COHOUSING NETWORK - http://www.cohousing.co.uk/
Sharing expertise and experience amongst the U.K. cohousing groups.
FOREST SCHOOL CAMPS - http://www.fsc.org.uk/about.htm
Camps for kids to get back to nature with the minimum of authority.
EUROPEAN FUNDING - http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/funding/intro_en.htm
INTL. INTENTIONAL COMMUNITIES DIRECTORY http://directory.ic.org/
GLOBAL ECOVILLAGE NETWORK, EUROPEAN OFFICES - http://www.gen-europe.org/
Rosa-Luxemburgstr. 89, D-14806 Belzig, Germany - info at gen-europe.org - 0049
Ecovillage Office, Findhorn, The Park, Forres, Moray, Scotland IV36 0TZ -
ecovillage at findhorn.org - +44 (0)1309 690154
Minutes of meetings
European email list - post <euevforum at lists.gen-europe.org> -
contact webmaster at gen-europe.org
Download free & easy to use PGP encryption at http://www.pgpi.com
More information about the Diggers350