Congress seek wider consultation
In a joint submission to the Australian Government, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and the Northern Regional Council of Congress have urged more robust consultation with First Peoples about a suite of proposed reforms to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act currently before the Senate.
The submission expresses a deep concern that a narrow consultation process has meant First Nations Peoples of the Northern Territory are generally unaware of the proposed changes or their impact.
UAICC National Interim Chair Rev Mark Kickett, who co-signed the submission with NRCC Chair Jamie Nyaningu, said the two weeks allowed for submission on the Bill was not enough time for First Nations people to be properly consulted and to engage with the complexities of the Bill.
“First Nations People seek the right to self-determination, and that means we have control and choice about how our community’s needs are met, and it also means that we are consulted and listened to,” said Rev Kickett.
“In respect to this proposed amendment, further and wider consultation is needed to ensure meaningful engagement with the traditional owners.”
The amendments were introduced to Parliament in late August following a three-year development process alongside the four Northern Territory Land Councils. Among a suite of changes are a new Aboriginal-controlled investment body, practical land administration reforms, and streamlined exploration and mining processes on Aboriginal land.
The submission cites a 1999 recommendation of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs that amendments to the Land Rights Act should not be made before meaningful engagement with Traditional owners has taken place.
“These recommendations continue to hold true and are the foundation principles for ‘informed consent’. It is our belief they have not been followed appropriately in developing and drafting the Bill that is before the Senate,” the submission notes
In the submission, Congress also expressed concern that both the consultation process and reforms themselves compromise the agency of local communities by locating undue power with land councils, which it states have often failed to hear and faithfully represent the wishes of First Peoples.
“Many of the Bill’s proposed amendments appear to be inconsistent with the stated objective ‘to enhance Aboriginal control over land management.’”
“Should the Bill pass, the Australian Parliament will have failed to meet the standards of full, prior and informed consent that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) mandates and to which we as a nation have agreed.”
The Uniting Church Assembly also made a submission to express its full support of the joint submission put forward by the UAICC and NRCC.