Indigenous leader Peter Yu says the Federal Government’s current push to develop northern Australia fails to embrace Aboriginal people, and that Traditional Owners are incorrectly being viewed more as a hurdle than an asset as reported by ABC News.
Speaking at this week’s Developing Northern Australia conference in Darwin, Mr Yu said the Government was focussing on traditional industries such as mining and irrigated agriculture, but was “practically silent” on economic activities where Indigenous people were leading — such as land management, carbon sequestration, conservation and eco-tourism.
He said the Government’s White Paper on developing the north was fundamentally flawed.
“Well it’s predictable from an Aboriginal perspective and what it really represents is a kind of 19th century think-tank,” he said.
“I think having a White Paper is a good thing to do, but I don’t think it’s expansive or inclusive enough in terms of understanding the north in its contemporary setting, particularly in regards to the demographic of the traditional owner community right across northern Australia.”
“It doesn’t offer anything new in terms of a reconstruction of that paradigm to the extent that we [Indigenous people] are going to be front and centre of this discussion [about developing northern Australia].”
Mr Yu said doing business “the old way” was no longer going to work in the north.
“Currently there is no structural or formal engagement between Indigenous people and Governments over the future development of northern Australia,” he said.
“This is a huge omission and must be addressed if we are to imagine an inclusive northern Australian development future.”
The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) officially opens on July 1, but has already attracted more than $30 billion worth of potential projects.
The NAIF’s role is to administer the Federal Government’s $5 billion loan scheme to stimulate northern development, and according to its new chair-designate, Sharon Warburton, to be eligible for a loan, proponents must have an Indigenous engagement strategy.
“I’m delighted that one of the mandatory criteria for access to NAIF concessional funding is to demonstrate Indigenous engagement,” she told ABC Rural.
“And we’ll be looking for very well thought through diverse and broad strategies from project proponents on how they’re going to achieve that Indigenous engagement.”
Mr Yu said he was interested to see what the NAIF’s methodology of Indigenous engagement actually meant.
He said there was no Indigenous representation on the NAIF board, which needed “to be rectified”. To listen to the interview click here.