The 'national emergency' and land rights reform: Separating fact from fiction: An assessment of the proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976


In June 2007, the Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs declared a ‘national emergency’ with eleven measures aimed at combating child abuse and dysfunction in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. This paper responds to two of the measures: the compulsory acquisition of an undefined number of prescribed communities (measure five) and the partial abolition of the permit system (measure ten). This paper contends there is compelling evidence to show that the proposed changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 have no connection with the incidence of child sexual abuse; are likely to jeopardise the effectiveness of the Government’s emergency response in the Northern Territory and are detrimental to the development of Aboriginal communities. The paper argues that the partial abolition of the permit system and the compulsory acquisition of five-year leases over townships should be vigorously opposed. While the paper focuses on only two of the National Emergency response measures, it is contended that a major issue that arises is the incompatibility of these two measures with the ten others. An attempt is made to highlight this major problem in an illustrative rather than exhaustive manner.

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