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Land tenure constraints

Since 2007, a small number of traditional land owners from six communities in the Northern Territory have agreed to long-term township leases over their communities. These leases have significantly streamlined the complex land administration issues on Indigenous land for communities that have taken them up, and resulted in 16 home owners in Wurrumiyanga on the Tiwi Islands.

In Queensland, individual freehold has enabled home ownership for the residents of the first Australian community of Hope Vale, where there are two established houses and eight more houses under construction with home loans financed to Indigenous owners from Indigenous Business Australia. This shows that where land tenure constraints are addressed through leasing or removed through freeholding, government programmes to move people into home ownership are working. This review has encouraged Indigenous Business Australia to increase its capital adequacy substantially as its business model has been very successful in generating Indigenous wealth through home ownership.

Indigenous land tenure and title varies significantly across jurisdictions.

In all jurisdictions except Queensland, administration and land reform to individual leasing or ownership have stalled. State and territory governments have refused to implement or been tardy in implementing land administration and cadastral systems for bounded allotments to enable the granting of titles to allow 99-year leases, freehold and other titling arrangements. These arrangements are necessary preconditions to enable individual allotments for home ownership and business development. Another obstacle has been the intransigence of state governments in delivering land valuation estimates for Indigenous titles.

Indigenous land councils and other Indigenous corporations have either refused or found it difficult to obtain a mandate from traditional owners to convert Aboriginal titles to freehold leases for the purposes of home construction, home ownership and home and allotment leasing.

Long-term, 99-year leases for housing and economic investment are widely used in the Australian Capital Territory to provide sufficient security for homeowners and investors, while the Crown retains the underlying title to the land. Over some years, there has been growing interest among first Australian traditional owners in being able to use a similar mechanism for remote Indigenous land in Indigenous townships and community residential areas, with traditional owners retaining the underlying land title. There is also interest in converting to freehold title, primarily in first Australian townships. Previous governments have made clumsy efforts in this area that have frustrated land owners and deterred them from taking action. We need to take a reasonable path for the approach to work.