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Joe Morrison delivers Keynote Speech Northern Australian Developm

Joe Morrison, CEO NLC delivers the Keynote Speech at the Northern Australian Development Conference at Cairns, Queensland 19 June 2017


I want to say at the outset that when I talk about northern Australia I am talking about the mega landscape of the river systems across the top of Australia. This was the area under study by the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce established by John Howard in 2007 and continued under a modified composition by the Rudd Government.

It is also the region covered by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) where I was CEO for 13 years. So just to make sure there is no confusion about what I refer to as the North, if you drew a line from Townsville to Karratha I am talking about all the land north of that line.

I would like to open up in a positive tone by welcoming the decision made at the recent COAG meeting to establish a ministerial forum to focus on key priority matters concerning Australia’s northern region.

The joint media statement announcing the forum said, “given the significant land holdings of Indigenous people in Northern Australia, the first meeting of the Forum will also bring together Ministers with responsibility for Indigenous affairs and senior Indigenous representatives from northern Australia.” This is an important initiative that I feel Indigenous leaders in northern Australia will strongly support. I would particularly like to acknowledge Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner for his role in establishing this proposed forum, something previous Chief Ministers of the NT have neglected.

However, I should also say that this decision to include Indigenous interests in the national commitment to develop northern Australia has been a long time coming.  “The significant landholdings” that the joint media release refers to is not just those held by Indigenous landowners who directly own or control 40% of northern Australia — either through statutory land rights laws, native title exclusive possession, pastoral lease ownership, Aboriginal reserves or management of national parks.

It also extends to coexisting native title rights to pastoral leases. This means that various traditional owner groups across northern Australia have rights to over 90% of northern Australia including its coastline. It is not just land ownership that highlights the essential importance of Indigenous inclusion; it is also demography. The Indigenous population of the North constitutes the majority of the region’s permanent population. The vast majority of non-Indigenous settlers do not live out their lives in the North.

Indigenous people in northern Australia by virtue of land ownership and demography must be seen as primary stakeholders and not special interest groups. Indigenous interests do not come to this forthcoming engagement with governments about our region’s future development with the status of advisors or marginal participants.

We come as genuinely equity stakeholders with a commitment to inclusive and sustainable development of northern Australia.

Download the complete Keynote Address