For the last few weeks the issue of the federal government’s plan to conditionally fund aboriginal housing has dominated the news (well, the news from the reputable and comprehensive ABC at least).
Their plan (as far as the current situation in Alice Springs is concerned) appears to be this: The government has $60 million earmarked for housing needs in town camps in and around Alice Springs to do things like build new homes, provide mains water access and appropriate plumbing to all homes, mains electricity and all the rest of it, except that the money comes with a significant condition attached: The traditional owners have to sign the land over to the Northern Territory government on a 99 year lease.
In other words, “We’ll build you houses, as long as you relinquish your right to live in them”.
I’m not the most savvy person when it comes to property law or the funding of housing, but there doesn’t appear to be any real reason for the government to impose this condition. Why not just spend that $60 million as Brough claims he so dearly wants to? Why make the residents of Tangentyere possibly give up their traditional land before allocating much-needed funds? Does the ownership of the land affect how the money is spent in any prohibitive manner? If not, then this is merely blackmail.
Some have even gone as far to suggest the 99 year leases breach human rights in that they demand unreasonable concessions on behalf of traditional owners with respect to their land in return for basic services that should ordinarily be guaranteed by the government.
To be honest, I cannot see the pragmatic reason for imposing such a condition. But here’s a conspiracy theorist’s attempt: Those in the government don’t want to spend that money, but they don’t want to be accused of being stingy, so they impose conditions that they know the traditional owners will reject (not without very good reason either) so that they can say “It’s their fault, we gave them a chance”. Alternatively, they see indigenous ownership of land as a threat to their power and are now using the funding to blackmail them out of the land rights that they fought tooth and nail for.
I think I should include this quote from The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma (How’s that for an anarthrous NP?), which surmises the government’s position with respect to traditional owners all around the country (from here):
Indigenous people are saying not only in Alice Springs in the town camps but in the other areas where the Minister has gone around – in Tiwi, Hopevale et cetera – is that they are being encouraged, forced, coerced into making decisions with limited information and within timeframes that’s not allowing them to really sit down and digest and understand the ramifications.
Governance shouldn’t be about coercing constituents to do things that they shouldn’t have to, to receive the funding that is rightfully theirs anyway.