Discussion paper

Land reform in the Northern Territory: evidence not ideology

Ideology Policy Australia Northern Territory
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Executive summary: Historically there has been a poor correlation between stated government policy objectives in relation to land tenure reform in the Northern Territory and the measures devised in pursuit of them. Over the last decade, advocates of legislative reform of the ALRA and those seeking to demonise ‘communal title’ have tended to:

  • deliberately mischaracterise the efficacy of existing ALRA provisions;
  • ignore the intended beneficiaries, the Aboriginal land owners, in devising tenure
  • overemphasise the likely outcomes of major legislative reform; and, more recently,
  • ignore the significant extent to which the formalisation of land tenure on Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, by means of leasing, is now well advanced.

As we move forward into the fourth decade of land rights in the Northern Territory, it is critical that governments focus on how to facilitate thriving and sustainable Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and respond by devising effective policy and reforms based on the evidence.

This paper looks back over the last seven years of land tenure reform with a view to capturing its impact and demonstrating that the underlying policies were ideological rather than evidence based. The last part of the paper looks forward and highlights that with land tenure formalisation within communities almost completed, there remains three major challenges to facilitating development on Aboriginal land in Aboriginal communities: regularising and expanding the delivery of infrastructure; ensuring that there is access to finance for economic development; and, in some communities, formalising negotiated settlements between residents and traditional owners.

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