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Applying a monetary value to connection with country by Jack Wilkie-Jans 19 September 2015


raditional Ownership in the context of Australia’s First Peoples is at first glance a very straightforward notion and in fact it is. With the introduction of Native Title post Mabo claim and subsequent court ruling in 1992 the whole landscape between land usage, land management and land ownership changed and became less colonial and ambitioned to be one seeking out a more worldly, Australian unique approach between the past and the future of land and human rights in Australia. Basically the Native Title Act 1993 was designed to not only uphold the Mabo vs Queensland

ruled in favour of is. This process is known as negotiation and in theory is supposed to work well. Sometimes Native Title rulings between both Aboriginal group and Aboriginal group as well as ILUA

environmental significance. Other terms negotiated under ILUAs include sometimes the right to live on country even if held under a lease agreement of some kind and/ or to uphold employment quotas of

ruling but to protect the Indigenous connection to land/country and preserve ancient cultural heritage. So not a bad thing at all but of course the ownership of land otherwise under the management or usage of non-Indigenous land holders and engagement with local tribal or clan groups can be difficult to coordinate especially if the land is used for large scale pursuits of primary industries though for obvious reasons of accessibility or in-accessibility, especially mining. Indigenous Land Use Agreements or ILUAs are contracts determining or attempting to strike a balance between cultural uses of land by Traditional Owners and other uses by land holders depending what the use of the area under claim or

negotiations between First Peoples and non-Indigenous Australian land holders goes smoothly and for the better and sometimes not so for any party involved. We’ve briefly looked at what Native Title was originally designed to protect and preserve, being ancient cultural heritage and continued connection to country, and also how ILUAs were intentioned initially to negotiate a co-existence upon country for the purposes of cultural pursuits as mentioned, the kinds of which were initially set out as being: teaching and practicing of tribal customs/ ceremonies and traditional lore, to be able to hunt and fish on site, to protect scared sites or locales within the area of cultural or

members from the local tribes or clan groups in whatever industry or land use is taking place. In recent times and most notably in the past few months regarding the national public & defence, gazetted road, the Peninsula Development Road or PDR, due to the representationally flawed and culturally void One Claim over Cape York there seems to have been- in utter secrecy- the rushed process of ILUAs signed between the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) and Queensland Government. The process of the CYLC declaring the PDR easements under claim as part of the other unclaimed areas in the Cape which make up the One Claim resulted in the Queensland

Jack Andrew Wilkie-Jans. Image: The Courier Mail

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Government getting confused as to their responsibilities and role in upgrading the PDR as enabled by an overall sum of $260 Million- a historic amount of funding lobbied for since 2010 by Cape York Sustainable Futures Inc. (CYSF) and Leichhardt MP, Warren Entsch. While negotiations between the CYLC and Queensland Government ensued... yes that’s right negotiations with a private though largely publicly funded body for road works on a road owned by the Australian people, to be upgraded with hundreds of millions of dollars of Australian tax payer’s money... the road works halted. Once a secret “historic agreement” was signed and the road works were able to move forward however with the CYLC reportedly seeking high set royalties for road materials such as gravel, among other rumoured terms & conditions which effectively cut out anyone not party to the CYLC’s “good will” out of the negotiations with the Sate Government regarding road works. With multiple attempts by some NGOs and Aboriginal Corporations to seek road tolls over public roads in the Cape in the past vaguely

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Jack Wilkie-Jans raised an important point: Just think if there was a bridge how much tourist money would be injected into local businesses in the NPA region with the savings made by visitors of $99 per crossing per vehicle! Image:

under the umbrella of Native Title and Cultural Heritage Act with gammin “cultural” reasoning people need to be set straight as to the difference between genuine royalties for compensation and taxation (such as in a road toll scenario). Genuine royalties do compensate individuals for the loss of land use by another and when administered correctly can inject means for people to start up enterprises enabling them to participate in the wider, regional, state and national- perhaps then global- economy. This is ‘money for purpose’ whereas taxation like as stated with road tolls and to a similar yet different degree the Jardine River Ferry (or more correctly, raft) extortionate cost of $99 per non-trailered vehicle to cross a section of the Jardine River, does not do what genuine and appropriately administered royalties do. It is sit-down, and as I prefer to call, appeasement money; money to receive, not money to do. On the subject of the Jardine River Ferry, well there are those

who would oppose building a bridge for the cost of living and emergency response benefit of the locals in the NPA as well as for the sake and ease of tourism and related traffic. Why would they oppose it? Because the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (NPARC) would lose out on a very lucrative revenue raising scheme. See what I mean by easy, sit down money? In answer, the ferry doesn’t exactly provide huge employment with often one person to three people manning the raft. In one morning 200 cars were waiting to cross in peak tourism season, an actual figure only two weeks ago as quoted by the operators, that comes close to $20,000 in revenue in one morning which is nearly half the annual wage of the average worker. That’s money reserved by the NPARC and does not go into boosting the local economy. Just think if there was a bridge how much tourist money would be injected into local businesses in the NPA region with the savings made by visitors of $99 per crossing per

vehicle! I know I haven’t been very academic or stringent in my examples but this is because the insight into all this is more interpretative and not very tangible and is something really only gained by being on the ground and in conversation with people involved in the Native Title process. However I do believe I’ve used some, if not the major, current examples of sit-down money and taxation sought under the guise of Traditional Ownership and perhaps resulting from Native Title negotiations. I do also believe these examples bear hallmarks of other more varied, less prominent stories from around the Far North/Cape York region. Let me make very clear before I finish up that I do not seek to discredit Native Title, I firmly believe that if gone back to what it was intended for and hence if negotiations of ILUAs were more geared towards co-existence and mutual thrivation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous land users as opposed to seeking out a quick buck then the whole landscape of cross-cultural life on the Cape would be a far different and far happier one. I know people will disagree with me claiming that the legislation itself is flawed but I believe the legislation is fine as is, it’s just the players within the processes under that legislation who need a reality check and need to remember their human valuesboth many of the white and black players! My entire point which I have briefly tried to give background to and present is simply that I feel the concept of Traditional ‘ownership’ over the ancient charge of ‘custodianship’ has superseded the latter and been warped into a very cold, capitalist greed machine. I am seeing the concept of co-existence as being superseded by the notion of ‘land lording’ to an extent similar to pre-Magna Carta England. I see

Native Title Act 1993 was designed to not only uphold the Mabo vs Queensland ruling but to protect the Indigenous connection to land/country and preserve ancient cultural heritage said Jack Wilkie-Jans

the Native Title laws and processes being abused & misused and the provisions of negotiation for mutual benefit at odds with the fact that, accept it or not, we as in the First Peoples of Australia are part of a globalised world where nationwide responsibilities of unity are currently being overlooked for the sake of individual gain- unwittingly ushering in a warring contrast between the environmentally sustainable use of land and the locking-up-and-throwing-away-thekey of regions such as Cape York. World over we know what white racism looks like but in the Cape I am sadly noticing some of my fellow First Peoples pit their own people against each other and also pit their own people against others from outside their culture for the sake of financial gain. For all the posturing of how beneficial they claim their actions are for the

people on the ground, just go and look at the Cape and see the strain of lack of long-term employment and cost of living is having on the average Joe once the royalties and temp work has dried up. Go to the Cape and ask local black fellas and local white fellas about how they are being shut out of the deal of a lifetime regarding the PDR upgrade! Nobody can tell me that all the hoo-ha is supposed to actually help people live normal lives into the future when for all the scrapping the majority are no better off. We need to get back to what being on country and fighting for country truly meant and truly meant to our old people now gone and move away from the cost benefits that turning legislation which was an otherwise source of pride and achievement into nothing more than a divisive end to monetary means.

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Applying a monetary value to connection with country