Implementing native title: economic lessons from the Northern Territory

Author/editor: Altman, JC
Year published: 1994
Issue no.: 64


The economic future of Aboriginal Australians in the Northern Territory will be significantly improved in the 21st century if strategic gains in land ownership made in the late 20th century can be converted to economic development of that land. In this paper, in a specific regional context, it is argued that leverage provided by the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, and now the Native Title Act 1993, has the capacity to facilitate regional development options for Aboriginal people. The potential for such a scenario is assessed by considering the economic lessons that can be learnt from the operations of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 over the past 17 years and the extent that these have been, and can be, incorporated into the Native Title Act 1993. The paper begins by outlining the institutional and legislative history of making mining payments to Aboriginal people for the use of their land. It then moves to examine financial components of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and to evaluate the efficacy of their operation. The paper ends by asking how economic lessons from the Northern Territory might have been incorporated into the Native Title Act 1993 and examining two mining agreements completed in the post-Mabo era. Policy issues that emanate from this analysis, especially in relation to the implementing of native title, are raised in conclusion. This discussion paper is a revised version of a paper presented at the Mabo and Native Titles Seminar convened by the Macquarie University Mineral and Energy Economics Centre and the Australian Mining and Petroleum Law Association, ANA Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney, 14-15 April 1994. A mid-term review of the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy (AEDP) has recently been completed. While much of the associated policy rhetoric and assessment of policy outcomes has been aimed at the national level, the fiscal environment in which AEDP goals are to be achieved is invariably one of regional labour markets and administrative systems operating in the economic context of States and Territories. In view of this reality, this paper responds to a need for regional-level analyses of change in the economic status of Indigenous people compared to that of non-Indigenous people in each State and Territory. Using 1986 and 1991 Census-based social indicators for the Northern Territory, attention is focused on relative shifts in population growth and intra-State distribution, labour force and income status, and levels of welfare dependency (measured as non-employment income). A major finding is that while the gap in labour force status between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has narrowed, the relative income status and level of welfare dependency of Indigenous people has worsened. This suggests that increased emphasis on the quality of AEDP outcomes, and not just quantity, will be necessary if the overall aims of the AEDP are to be accomplished.

ISBN: 0 7315 1738 5

ISSN:1036 1774

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