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The Australian National University

Issue Briefs

Document: Issue Brief

Document: Issue Brief

CAEPR has recently made two submissions to an inquiry of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (HRSCATSIA) into greater autonomy for 'the people of the Torres Strait'. These submissions, which are also available as CAEPR Discussion Papers Nos 121 and 132, outline two approaches to greater autonomy.

A regional approach

The first submission has a strong regional focus and examines both the political and economic dimensions of potential developments.

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Recent agreements

Aboriginal communities are increasingly involved in negotiating mineral development agreements with mining companies and relevant State agencies. Analysis of five recent agreements suggested that agreements are varied in three major ways:

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The Tjapukai Cultural Park (previously the Tjapukai Dance Theatre) located immediately north of Cairns, is an instructive case study reflecting both private sector employment and regional economic development. It has become well known internationally. Its commercial success is based on:

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The provision of the right to negotiate is critical to future land management and resource development on claimed native title lands. It is also a key element of the recognition and protection of Indigenous native title rights to land. There has been mounting industry criticism concerning alleged delays and costs associated with the right to negotiate process. But there is also considerable confusion about how the right actually operates, and a lack of recognition of the outcomes achieved to date.

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Most of the public debate about the workability of the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA) for resource developers has focused on mining rather than on the petroleum industry. This is largely because the majority of petroleum industry exploration and production occurs offshore. There are other important differences between mining and the petroleum industry that appear to simplify potential negotiations with native title parties.

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The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) has been operating for 20 years. Its functions are largely financed from mining activity on Aboriginal land; 'mining royalty equivalents' are paid into the Aboriginals Benefit Trust Account (ABTA). The money paid into the ABTA is paid out in three ways:

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Native title

The High Court's Mabo judgment of 1992 recognised native title rights based on the traditions of the Indigenous people of Australia where they have maintained their connection with the land and where title has not been extinguished by acts of government. The resulting Native Title Act 1993 (NTA) provides for:

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A central issue facing Australian policy makers is how to meet the principles of equity and social justice in access to economic benefits for diverse regional, ethnic and Aboriginal populations, while at the same time meeting broad national goals of economic development. This issue is particularly complex in the case of Aboriginal people, and the discussion paper Money, business and culture: issues for Aboriginal economic policy by Dr David Martin raises a number of significant questions for both policy makers and Aboriginal people themselves.

Document: Issue Brief

Sharing and reciprocity in Aboriginal communities are part of a complex cultural system in which individuals and groups provide economic assistance to one another. Sharing can also be understood as a mechanism through which Aboriginal people display and confirm their social relationships with each other. Yet the type of sharing displayed is