In moves seemingly impossible to reconcile with the protection of Aboriginal children on remote towns and communities in the Northern Territory, a document has come into the hands of Crikey that presages a federal government takeover of millions of dollars worth of assets owned by Aboriginal organisations.
At least Ned Kelly stole from the rich. Mal Brough is taking from the poor to establish a government-controlled property trust, from which he will then rent back to the dispossessed.
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.
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In some cases this will make those organisations commercially unviable, leading to financial collapse and loss of Aboriginal jobs. Every reason for Aboriginal organisations for acquiring property as part of engaging with capitalism has been thrown out in favour of a centrally controlled government bureaucracy.
This is not about Aboriginal land in places like Arnhem Land: assets will be compulsorily stripped from Aboriginal organisations owning land and property up and down the Stuart Highway—Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs—no matter how well run, no matter what the level of services provided, no matter what those assets are being used for.
The early targets appear to be urban-based Community Development Employment Programs (CDEP). In a letter to these CDEP projects in towns and cities up the Stuart Highway, IBA’s “national manager business funding”, Kim McIlveen is keen to introduce “new products and services that your CDEP organisation might qualify for”.
One of these “new products” is “establishing an Indigenous Economic Development Trust, through which assets will be leased to Aboriginal businesses”.
And he is cheerfully offering a helping hand.
“IBA staff and contracted service providers will be visiting each CDEP over the next few months to provide more information and invite you to discuss your business needs.”
The sheer effrontery of it is extraordinary. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), in at least one instance, will be “resuming” an asset from an Aboriginal business which is being offered back for commercial rental to the very Aboriginal business from which it was compulsorily taken.
In many cases the assets have been built up over many years—in some cases decades. Some are jointly-owned assets. Some are leased to groups such as health services; some provide low cost housing. Some are funded through a combination of commercial income, commercial bank loans, soft government loans and government grants.
The latter factor seems to be the key. Any Aboriginal organisation that directly or indirectly received federal government assistance to acquire or pay off an asset—even in small part—now faces compulsory seizure of the entire asset.
Potentially, property and other commercial assets that are earning an income, and employing Aboriginal people, will be summarily resumed by a federal bureaucracy. At least one CDEP seems destined to relinquish the property it purchased, then lease it back from the IEDT.
And the amount of this Stuart Highway robbery could run into many millions of dollars if this principle is extended. In Darwin assets owned by Larrakia Nation and its business arm, along with the Aboriginal Development Foundation and Danila Dilba Health Service, face compulsory asset removal.
In Katherine the Jawoyn Association faces property losses as well as potential loss of assets in the tourist industry in the millions. Tennant Creek’s Julalikari Council owns low cost housing valued at more than $2 million as well as other properties.
In Alice Springs properties potentially being seized are owned by the Institute for Aboriginal Development, Tangentyere Council, Arrernte Council and Health Congress. Assets in all of these towns owned by the Northern and Central land councils could also face resumption by the feds.
John Howard visited the Aboriginal town of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) Tuesday this week.
“We have a simple aim,” he told the locals, “and that is whilst respecting a special place of Indigenous people in the history and the life of this country, their future can only be as part of the mainstream of the Australian community.
“But unless they can get a share of the bounty of this great and prosperous country, their future will be bleak.”
One can only assume the “special place of Indigenous people in the history and the life of this country” is something to do with continuously re-enacting those bits where land and property are stolen from them. Hard to work out where the “share of the bounty” comes in.