The Land Rights Act is holding Aboriginal people back from achieving their full economic potential, Northern Territory minister Bess Price says.
Speaking at a Developing the Territory conference in Darwin on Monday, the minister for community services said jobs would break the current spate of dependency in communities.
“It is well known that my people have become addicted to sit-down money,” Ms Price said.
“Welfare has become the reason for my people not to look for work.”
But she said the other significant blockage for indigenous economic development was the Land Rights Act.
Instituted by former prime minister Gough Whitlam, the Act has locked Aboriginal land away, she said.
“It’s clear it has now become outdated and a hindrance to moving forward in our communities. It’s clear this piece of law is now forcing our people away from their traditional lands,” Ms Price said.
“I plead with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator Nigel Scullion (Minister for Indigenous Affairs) to give Aboriginal people their land back. When Aboriginal people are free to trade and deal with their lands, social, business and economic opportunities will flow.”
Under the Land Rights Act in the NT, landowners must negotiate with a land council for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement before they can sell or use their land for commercial purposes.
A complicated process ensues as the NT government surveys the land and issues title.
Lending institutions prefer longer 99-year leases in order to guarantee funds for people to buy their own homes or launch businesses, which can only be approved by the federal minister.
Ms Price said a “river of jobs” would flow from unlocking Aboriginal land, in tourism, arts, mining, and the primary industries.
“Jobs will give my people a launching pad to prosperity an ability to make decisions for themselves, (will) break the cycle of welfare and substance addiction, will break the cycle of family violence.”
The NT government is prioritising which Aboriginal communities to target for development.
“We recognise remote communities and regions are not all the same; their needs, aspirations and potential all differ. They are also at different stages of readiness for economic development,” Ms Price said.
Unlocking the potential of indigenous assets was key for a population that are asset-rich but cash-poor, Ms Price said.
“We have lived from the land for tens of thousands of years, the vast cultural knowledge we have accumulated could be a source of income and a pathway to economic independence.”