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Permit system must be protected - Comment: NLC CEO Mr Kim Hill

Posted: Tue, August 31, 2010

Northern Land Council CEO Mr Kim Hill is a staunch supporter of the permit system on Aboriginal land.

The permit system which applies to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory has attracted much debate over recent months, most notably with a pre-election pledge from Liberal leader Tony Abbott to abolish permits for communities and outstations.

This was one of the few policy announcements made by either of the major parties, which pertained to Indigenous affairs.

Not surprisingly, Mr Abbott’s poorly veiled attempt to takeover Aboriginal communities and outstations, whipped up public debate and prompted some disappointing and damaging media coverage. 

I refer to the NT News’ editorial supporting the abolition of the permit system for Aboriginal communities, published 17 August.

The article labelled the Northern Land Council’s opposition to the Federal Liberal Party’s plan to scrap permits as mere “rhetoric”.  Aboriginal peoples are not as dismissive of their land rights.

By saying those doing harm in Aboriginal communities are often residents from within, the author said the permit system “allowed the bad men to operate in the communities with impunity”.

I remind the editor that all people living in communities under the permit system are subject to the same laws as other Australians and criminal behaviour is a matter for police and the justice system.

The Federal Intervention, launched in 2007, established an Australian Crime Commission base in Alice Springs, set up specifically to investigate crime in Aboriginal communities.

Despite this, prosecutions have been few and far between.

The Intervention brought an increased presence of NT Police into our remote communities and this is providing a greater level of confidence among community residents to report criminal behaviour. 

The Northern Territory Police Association has also publicly supported the permit system as a deterrent to crime in Aboriginal communities.

Earlier this year, a situation arose highlighting how the permit system can help reduce criminal activities in Aboriginal communities.

A known paedophile was living at Yirrkala, but the NLC was unable to revoke his permit, since Yirrkala is designated as a ‘prescribed community’ under the Intervention and the permit system is not in place.

Aboriginal peoples in our region know that the permit system does much more than just keep criminals out of Aboriginal communities and homelands.

It is vital to business development, providing a means for our peoples’ self-determination after decades of dispossession and is also a key tool in the development of successful and sustainable Aboriginal-owned business enterprises.

The growth of Indigenous enterprises and entrepreneurs require time and support to develop a strong commercial footing and the permit system is one means of achieving this.

Permits allow Aboriginal peoples, as the recognised owners of their lands and seas, to exercise the very ownership rights which private landholders all over Australia take for granted.

The permit system is also playing a vital role in managing the movements of the rapidly rising numbers of non-indigenous workers in communities and homelands.

The Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project (SIHIP) is delivering much needed housing and housing upgrades across the Northern Territory.

But traditional owners tell me the development is coming at a cost, with many of the non-indigenous workers failing to comply with permit requirements.

Many may simply be unaware that, while they do not need a permit to work in prescribed communities or homelands, a permit is certainly required to access adjacent Aboriginal land.

The NLC is preparing to undertake a widespread advertising campaign, reminding all who work on Aboriginal communities and homelands that Aboriginal land is private land and a permit is required.