The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, has today announced a $7.5 million investment to help traditional owners in the Northern Land Council region finalise Aboriginal land claims over sea country.
Speaking at the Northern Land Council meeting in Katherine, Minister Scullion reiterated the Coalition Government’s commitment to finalising unresolved land claims.
“It’s crucial that claims are finalised so that traditional owners can be recognised for their ownership of country, but also to enable them to realise the economic value of their land rights,” Minister Scullion said.
“A comprehensive settlement of claims related to the rights recognised in the Blue Mud Bay decision should involve benefits for traditional owners to participate in commercial fisheries and marine resource management activities.
“That’s why this funding will support claimants to participate in these activities to promote local employment and enterprise.
“The $7.5 million investment will be directed to the Northern Land Council, which will work with traditional owners across its region to allocate funds.
“Even though the Northern Territory Government has not yet offered to settle these land claims, I support the traditional owners of this country and want them to control this fund.”
Although the High Court decision on Blue Mud Bay was handed down nearly a decade ago, there is still a series of outstanding tidal water claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. These outstanding claims are located in the intertidal zone or the beds and banks of rivers.
“I am keen to see the Northern Territory Government match the Commonwealth’s commitment and settle these claims as soon as possible,” Minister Scullion said.
“Traditional owners have every right to be growing frustrated at the lack of progress by the Northern Territory Government.
“The Coalition Government has stepped in with this investment to progress these claims as soon as possible and help promote certainty for all parties through arrangements that can recognise land rights, meet detriment concerns and at the same time support the growth of Indigenous business and employment opportunities from fishing industries across the Top End.
“The Country Liberals showed what was possible when Adam Giles and I worked in close partnership with the Northern Land Council to finalise the Kenbi Land Claim.
“I call on Chief Minister Gunner to similarly prioritise the outstanding claims and work in partnership with me and the Northern Land Council so we can support what traditional owners have always known, that this is Aboriginal land.
“As with the connection that First Australians have to land, fresh and saltwater country can underpin the social and economic wellbeing of Indigenous communities.
“The Government and the Indigenous Land Corporation are working together to look at expanding the ILC’s remit to fresh and saltwater country across Australia and to talk about this possible reform with its stakeholders.
“I am keen for Aboriginal people to benefit from their fresh and saltwater country, and thank the Northern Land Council for its ongoing commitment to achieving this objective.”
NLC Chairman, Sam Bush-Blanasi, welcomed Minister Scullion’s announcement.
“Nigel Scullion’s grant demonstrates a real commitment from the Commonwealth to Aboriginal economic development in northern Australia,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.
“This is a significant development towards final settlement of the Blue Mud Bay decision, and, like Senator Scullion, I hope that the NT Government will match the Commonwealth’s commitment.”