[Documents menu]Documents menu
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 12:50:53 -0500
Sender: The African Global Experience <AGE-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
Comments: RFC822 error: <W> Incorrect or incomplete address field found and ignored.
From: Marpessa Kupendua <nattyreb@IX.NETCOM.COM>
Subject: !*Aboriginal land rights attacked by Aussie miners, ranchers, millionaires
Date: Sun, 21 Dec 1997 15:43:35 -0600
To: nattyreb@ix.netcom.com
From: Michael Novick <mnovick@laedu.lalc.k12.ca.us>
Subject: Aboriginal land rights attacked by Aussie miners, ranchers, millionaires

Aborigine Land Claims Under Fire

From the Associated Press
20 December 1997

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Michael Turner wants to build dams and fences on the 50,000-acre sheep ranch he leases from the government, but says he can't because of possible Aboriginal land claims.

If he can't be sure the changes will last, he and lenders will not risk the investment, he says.

That's why ranchers and miners are pushing Australia's conservative government to pass a law eliminating Aborigine claims on such lands. The fight has deadlocked in Parliament, and that could bring early elections -- along with a racially charged campaign.

Supporters of the proposed legislation are unbending in their insistence that any chance of an Aborigine making a claim on government land should be extinguished by law. Without that, they say, they will not have the "certainty" needed to develop leased lands.

The campaign is being pushed hard by ranchers like Turner even though Australia's highest court has ruled that Aboriginal claims are subordinate to ranchers' rights in case of any conflict.

Turner is not, by any stretch, a rich or powerful man. By Australian standards, his ranch at Quilpie in southwestern Queensland is quite small.

There are some very rich and powerful people who stand to benefit if the government's land bill passes -- and some are not Australian.

The Sultan of Brunei, the world's richest man, owns five cattle ranches in the Northern Territory covering land slightly larger than Brunei itself, almost 1.5 million acres.

The Australian-born media baron Rupert Murdoch, now a U.S. citizen, is also a major landowner.

So is the nation's biggest life insurance company, the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and its rival, National Mutual, which is now owned by the French company AXA.

A subsidiary of DKP Sabah Malaysia owns four properties stretching over 2.2 million acres. Indonesia's Bakrie family owns eight properties covering 4.6 million acres, an area almost as large as Israel.

But it is the local barons of the bush, like Don McDonald, who are the real powers pushing for the law.

The McDonald family runs some 110,000 head of cattle on nine ranches in northern Queensland that sprawl over almost 7.5 million acres.

McDonald, a hard-liner in the debate, also is president of the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition of Prime Minister John Howard.

Most of the ancestors of Australia's 353,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were driven off their tribal lands after white settlement began in 1788.

Their forced removal worried British colonial authorities, as one of Australia's High Court judges, Justice John Toohey, noted in the land rights case.

Toohey recalled that in 1848, British Secretary of State Earl Grey declared that the original leases for Australia's first ranchers offered them no more than the right to run cattle or sheep.

"These leases are not intended to deprive the natives of their former right to hunt over these districts or to wander over them in search of subsistence," Grey said.

But his words were ignored by land-hungry white settlers.

Last May, ranchers confronted the prime minister in the Queensland cattle town of Longreach, demanding that he legislate away any native title rights that might be revived by the High Court ruling.

A year ago, the High Court ruled that Aboriginal titles can coexist with the leases on which Australia's ranchers hold their often vast properties. However, it also said that if there was a conflict, the ranchers' rights prevailed.

Howard responded by introducing what he said was a balanced compromise that would limit Aboriginal claims and assure ranchers' rights.

Aborigines rejected it, describing the plan as racist and discriminatory because it would restrict their rights and no one else's.

The opposition Labor Party, the Australian Democrats and independent Sen. Brian Harradine, who holds the balance of power in the closely divided Senate, all largely accepted the Aborigines' argument. The Senate gutted Howard's plan in early December.

Howard is now demanding that the Senate back down, a request that is unlikely to be met.

If the impasse persists, new parliamentary elections might be held, probably in the second half of 1998.

Howard insists he wants the compromise that he originally proposed, not an early election.

But Labor's deputy leader, Gareth Evans, has accused Howard of deliberately releasing the "demons" of racism for political advantage.

One of Howard's senior lieutenants, National Party Sen. Ron Boswell, concedes that if an early election is called, racial issues will top the campaign agenda, even if the major parties try to talk about other matters, such as tax reform and the economy.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.

Be PART of the solution -- People Against Racist Terror/ PO Box 1055/Culver City CA 90232-1055/310-288-5003/ Order our journal "Turning the Tide." mnovickttt@igc.org