Aborigines have a right to economic development – by Wayne Bergmann (The Australian – September 30, 2015)


In his victory speech, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced: “There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. We will ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future.”

If federal, state and territory governments are to ensure that Aboriginal Australians are included in these “opportunities of the future”, it is obvious their first priority should be to support the economic initiatives of Aboriginal people.

Remarkably, some governments do not understand this. Take the most recent Queensland state governments.

On Cape York Peninsula near Aurukan, there’s $20 billion worth of bauxite waiting to be mined. The traditional owners of the area, the Wik and Wik Way people, eager to be part of the economic development of their region, formed a joint venture with an Australian mining company to create Aurukan Bauxite Developments and planned to mine the resource.

As part of the joint venture, ABD was to give a 15 per cent share of the project to traditional owners, two Aboriginal directors would be appointed to a board of seven, and there were unambiguous commitments to indigenous employment and training. ABD chairman Nicholas Stump has 40 years’ experience in the mining industry and was formerly chief executive of Comalco and MIM Holdings. According to Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson: “He is leading a serious team that has the money, the capability and the capacity to do this.”

Here was an opportunity for Aboriginal people to exercise their property rights under native title and control and benefit from development on their country, from operating mining equipment right up to a board level. Here was an opportunity for Aboriginal people to make a significant step towards economic independence.

But ABD didn’t win the tender. In a highly questionable process the former Liberal National Party government of Campbell Newman gave preferred proponent status to Swiss mining giant Glencore. In recent weeks, Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government has refused to overturn the Newman government’s decision.

History has shown that a failure to support the economic initiatives of traditional owners burdens our welfare system and creates cycles of poverty and unemployment. It’s only when traditional owners fully participate in development and make decisions about what happens on their native title areas that these cycles are broken. Excluding them means taxpayers will continue to foot the welfare bill.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/aborigines-have-a-right-to-economic-development/story-e6frg6zo-1227549587235

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