Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Amendments pave the way for new NT lease agreements

New land lease agreements for Groote Eylandt and 13 parks and reserves will go ahead in the Northern Territory after legislation was passed in the Senate today.

The Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 allows more flexibility for leasing in NT Aboriginal communities to drive improvements to housing and infrastructure.

One of the first benefits will be finalising the Groote Eylandt Regional Partnership Agreement, signed by the Australian and Northern Territory Governments and the Anindilyakwa people last month.

This agreement includes a township lease over the Angurugu, Umbakumba and Milyakburra communities for a 40-year initial term followed by a 40-year renewal period. The flexible term was a key to reaching agreement with people who were concerned about committing future generations to a 99 year arrangement.

The aim of this more flexible approach to managing leases is to encourage more communities to enter into township leases. The minimum term will be 40 years with options to extend to a maximum of 99 years. These changes will allow traditional owners to propose leases tailored to the needs of communities.

The Government sees many advantages to whole of township leases and will work with traditional owners, through land councils, to negotiate these leases where communities are interested.

The legislation will also see 13 parks and reserves subject to land claims transferred to Aboriginal ownership – on condition the land will be immediately leased back to the NT Government to continue being run as national parks and reserves.

This arises from an agreement struck between the NT Government and the traditional Aboriginal owners in September 2003, about the future tenure and administration of these lands.

The Australian Government can now finally resolve the situation. This proves Indigenous land claims can be settled through our preferred method of negotiation rather than expensive litigation funded by taxpayers.

The national parks will be co-managed as parks by the NT Government and the traditional Aboriginal owners. This is similar to Commonwealth arrangements with the owners of Uluru Kata-Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks.