Joe2 alerted me to an article in Crikey, which, if true, tells of a completely contemptible practice on behalf of the Howard government. The article, appropriately slugged¹ Stuart Highway robbery, is based on “a document that has come into the hands of Crikey”, which they claim suggests that the government plans to seize assets from indigenous communities, only to offer them back at a hefty price. I, for one, would very much like to see that document.
Organisational assets above the value of $400,000 are to be compulsorily acquired by Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and transferred to a new entity, the Indigenous Economic Development Trust (IEDT), and then rented back at commercial rates to the same organisations from which the asset has been taken from.
Presumably the reason for seizing ‘organisational assets’ (Community-owned infrastructure? Houses?) valued over $400,000 is because they think aboriginal people, or communities, are unable to adequately manage them. Assuming that’s the reason, then why offer such assets back, even if it is at commercial rates? Possibly it is because they are well aware that indigenous communities are so cash-strapped that they would have very little capacity to pay market rents for housing, potentially opening up communities to anyone with enough money.
In that respect, it’d be consistent with the stated reason for scrapping the permit system: to open up otherwise closed communities to outsiders.
That speculation aside, the plan suggested in this article is ominously reminiscent of a piece of commonwealth propaganda that I saw in every government and public service building in Katherine during the height of the intervention. Unfortunately I didn’t keep a copy², but to paraphrase the section on the forced leasing of land, it said that after having acquired said land, the government will fix up the houses, then lease them back to the community at market rents.
If the government’s idea of helping aboriginal people out of regular old poverty is to force them into abject poverty and potential homelessness, then they really are on the wrong track.
¹Slugged as in the URL, not the title.
²If you’re in the Territory and feel like providing the actual quote, the propaganda is shaped like a newspaper, probably the size of the Katherine Times with a reddish colour-scheme. It’s a single folded piece of paper, that is, with four internal ‘pages’, and it has a ‘letter’ from Mal Brough on the front page heralding the good work the government is doing. You can’t miss it. I think the bit I refer to is on page 3.