A last minute extension to consultation on changes to the WA Government’s Land Administration Act is seen to be too little too late by uneasy traditional owners. After a mere six-week public feedback period on proposed amendments, the State on Friday extended the feedback date an additional week to 19 August.
The amendments allow for ‘diversification leases’, primarily designed to facilitate renewable energy projects on pastoral leases in remote regions of WA. While many traditional owner groups agree these projects are desirable, there are suspicions that the diversification process simply facilitates freeing up of Crown land for big companies.
Ngadju and Mirning Elder Les Schultz says “I am concerned these changes will be railroaded through. I am nervous this is a land grab for big companies. We definitely need more time to discuss it and approach it with free, prior and informed consent.”
While land use reform is well overdue in WA, the State has been long on rhetoric about the changes, but short on detail.
Says National Native Title Chairman and Western Australian Ngalia Cultural and Community Leader Kado Muir “The State’s Land Acts of 1898, 1933 and 1997 have always given the Lands Minister a power to lease land to Aboriginal people, but history has shown the State has failed to deliver on creating opportunities for Aboriginal people to take up these types of land grants.
Today the Minister and Minister and Lands Department are peddling the message that diversification leases will provide ‘better economic opportunities for Aboriginal stakeholders.
What has changed? How does the state actually intend to deliver real land and economic benefits to Traditional Owners? Is there a genuine intent to create access
and benefit sharing with Traditional Owners, or are the claims by the Minister a ruse to hide the fact, in actuality, that these amendments will facilitate the transfer of large swathes of land to big business?
Renewable energy companies owned by billionaires and multi-nationals will benefit most, not Aboriginal people or other, ordinary West Australians.
Our real fear is that these amendments will further lock our traditional lands up, when it could be an opportunity to raise economic standards in remote communities.”
Mr Schultz has large renewable energy projects proposed for his traditional lands around Norseman and the Nullabor Plain and says, “we want our land access to be based on inclusion, not exclusion, and we want to know what the protections and safeguards for cultural heritage are.”
We ask the Lands Minister to sit down with Aboriginal people and West Australians in remote areas and explain how this new law will benefit our communities, either socially, culturally or economically” adds Mr Muir. “This is a once in a generation opportunity for the Premier and the Lands Minister to ensure West Australians are not left hanging on the wrong end of a fake land deal.”
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