by Jo Chandler
Galarrwuy Yunupingu: Memorandum of understanding puts land grab fears to
IT'S a powerful image: Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, casually
dressed, at ease and at home with one of the most strident and powerful
opponents of his charge into remote Northern Territory Aboriginal communities,
But as the Federal Government celebrated the land rights champion's surprise
turnaround as a potent endorsement of its emergency intervention in territory
communities over child welfare, other Aboriginal leaders and commentators say
the document underwriting the alliance represents a backdown of key elements of
the Government strategy.
The proposed 99-year lease remains in the hands of the local community,
delivering a coup to the Gumatj clan, and recasting the shape of the
The memorandum of understanding signed this week by Mr Yunupingu and Mr
Brough after a secret meeting in Arnhem Land brokered by eminent Cape York
Aboriginal campaigner and supporter of the intervention, Noel Pearson ensures
that Mr Yunupingu's clan retains control of much of its land at Gunyangara (Ski
It also recognises the voices of local elders "to remind governments that
they are not in control of our lives", as Mr Yunupingu wrote in The
Australian yesterday, enlarging on talks which will also deliver unspecified
millions of dollars to the community.
Mr Yunupingu described it as a "new model" which put his concerns of a land
grab to rest and empowered traditional owners.
Olga Havnen, a prominent territory leader and a member of the new National
Aboriginal Alliance which opposes the intervention said a key part of the
draft deal was that the land-holding entity under the lease would be a local
Aboriginal body. "This is a significant shift," she said. "Will those options be
available to other people, other communities?"
She also questioned whether the deal would allow the community to bypass some
of the emergency response, such as the quarantining of welfare money. A
spokesman for Mr Brough said the emergency measures would still apply.
Early last month, at the annual Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, Ms Haven and
Mr Yunupingu were among leaders condemning the intervention as a land grab. "I
don't want his money. I want my land," he said then. In yesterday's opinion
article, Mr Yunupingu said he had changed his position on meeting Mr Brough and
being assured they shared a commitment to improving children's lives.
Ms Havnen's analysis of the draft deal was that Mr Yunupingu has kept control
of his land and got the money, though Mr Brough said yesterday there had been
"no talk at all of money this is not about being bought off this is about
what is right for the next generation".
David Dalrymple, a Darwin barrister and expert on Aboriginal land issues,
said the Gumatj agreement differed importantly from talks with other communities
by not handing over the lease to a government entity. This was critical because
under section 71 of the Land Rights Act, indigenous people lose their statutory
entitlement to live and practice culture on land leased to a body other than an
"The beauty of Galarrwuy's deal is that the head lease goes to an Aboriginal
corporation, so they retain that entitlement," Mr Dalrymple said. "The other
important thing about this deal is that the Gumatj mob themselves are
determining what commercial leasing will happen there and in what terms.
"It's the antithesis of the government model. The community in Wadeye had
been trying to negotiate something virtually identical before the intervention,
and Brough knocked them back.
"Here, Brough has had to eat humble pie. He has surrendered, and what he has
got in exchange is a public relations coup."
Mr Brough said the Gumatj deal related to different circumstances because the
traditional owners wanted an arrangement that would allow them to "unleash the
value" of landholdings beyond the township. Such an arrangement was "available
to anyone in the territory".
Professor Mick Dodson, a senior Aboriginal leader, said of the draft deal:
"The problem I have is that this doesn't appear to be a sound public policy
approach reacting to criticism in this way. It's bad policy The precedent is
now set. Jump up and down, and the Government will come in and bring some
prominent Aboriginal people who agree with them to talk to you and to do a deal
with you to keep you quiet. Is that how it works?
"Galarrwuy has been one of the most strident and outspoken critics of the
intervention, particularly this aspect of it the leases," Professor Dodson
said. "It must be a large inducement to turn his view around."
Of the intervention, he said "there seem to be major problems arising each
day. And this is symptomatic of bad planning, and planning on the