The barriers to individual home and land ownership apply in those areas where land is vested in forms of Aboriginal title. State governments have responsibility for statutory Aboriginal titles, other titles, state land legislation and land planning and administration matters. In the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth has responsibility for administering the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, and historically, until recently, Northern Territory Governments have been tardy in engaging in solving the problems of development on Indigenous land. The legal arrangements vary considerably across jurisdictions, but all are complex and require innovation to remove the hurdles to Indigenous home ownership and leasing.
In some jurisdictions, Aboriginal title is vested in joint ownership and held in trust with complex conditions precluding titling to enable home ownership and titling for enterprises. Special Aboriginal titles held in trust cannot be traded or mortgaged, precluding home ownership and titling for private business investment.* This leads to individuals and families being confined to a life in social housing with its characteristic loss of personal responsibility to care for and maintain the housing asset. It is difficult for first Australians in social housing to feel pride in their homes and taxpayers continue to fund this poor standard of living and foot the bill for high maintenance costs.
The land reform needed to break this impasse is urgent and possible. It will require commitment from the Commonwealth, states and territories, as well as first Australian traditional owners, first Australian residents and first Australian local councils and similar bodies with relevant responsibilities.
I firmly believe that most first Australians will, if given the opportunity, join with other Australians to work hard to earn the financial capacity to own homes, businesses and land assets so they can support themselves and their families independent of government.
*However, the Commonwealth administers the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986 and the Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Act 1987.
What we heard
- Indigenous-held land has great potential for improving first Australian employment and economic development.
- People want to own their homes, not just rent them, as this gives them full control over their home environment.
- Lack of reform in land titling and tenure is blocking people from owning their own homes.
- A key impediment to economic development is the inability to borrow against the land.
- Land, as agreed by traditional owners, should be able to be traded as an asset by the individual.
- Land access agreements should be used to prioritise employment, not just access to country.
- Stronger links need to be created between industry and traditional owners to improve employment outcomes.
- A lack of adequate engagement with representative bodies in land administration systems limits the effectiveness of agreements concerning employment.
- Using Indigenous Land Use Agreements and Native Title Agreements has been effective in developing Indigenous business and should be encouraged; for example, by enforcing procurement minimums for goods and services provided by Indigenous businesses. Industries in which Indigenous businesses operate include tourism, natural resource management, construction, agriculture and mining.
Many first Australians in remote areas are land rich yet living in poverty. More than 20% of the Australian landmass is now Indigenous owned or controlled under various land rights regimes or exclusively controlled under native title.199 Statutory Indigenous land tenure limits opportunities to raise finance against land, or transfer land for economic development. Home ownership investment is impossible and other land uses, such as for community purposes, are also stopped in the vast majority of this Indigenous estate.
Measures that level the economic playing field between Indigenous people and other Australians— such as releasing land under fungible titles (or other tradeable titles) according to the wishes of the first Australian owners—are required, and long overdue. This will enable first Australians to use portions of their land to generate value and wealth by the means used by other Australians.