Traditional owners are concerned about the exit strategy of the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) as it looks to hand over a cattle station in the Northern Territory.

The ILC gave notification in May that it would not renew its lease on Hodgson Downs Station, 270 kilometres south west of Katherine, with the intention of handing back the assets to traditional owners or over to a third party in December.

However the Northern Land Council (NLC) has raised concerns on behalf of traditional owners about the ILC’s actions, following accusations by Indigenous leaders and local cattlemen in Cape York that the ILC was de-stocking some of its properties — a claim the ILC has vigorously denied.

NLC CEO Joe Morrison said traditional owners feared the ILC would leave them little capacity to run Hodgson Downs at the end of the lease.

Hodgson Downs Station is currently stocked with around 6,000 Brahman cattle.
ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald

“There is a lot of concern about the ILC departing quickly, also in terms of what is happening in north Queensland where there has been de-stocking on some [ILC] stations and handing back to traditional owners,” Mr Morrison said.

“I understand there is probably a business case for the ILC [to sell off cattle], but the ILC and the Indigenous Land Fund were established to assist in the purchase and operation of Aboriginal ventures, and this is one of those important ones.

“So we want to make sure the ILC not only keeps with its obligations but there is an opportunity for Aboriginal people to participate in the pastoral industry.”

ILC executive director of agribusiness Craig North moved to reassure traditional owners that there were “certainly no plans to sell off the cattle and to leave the property bare”.

“The plans are to continue with our mustering,” he said.

“There is some work to tidy up the herd and maybe sell off some of the less productive breeders in the stock, so it can be offered as part of the sale to a new lessee.”

ILC changing its agribusiness model

Mr North said the ILC’s decision to not renew the Hodgson Downs pastoral lease and its lease over three cattle properties in Far North Queensland was part of a restructure of the corporation’s agribusiness focus.

“A part of that new model we are looking to roll out is about shifting the balance from us being an owner-operator to us moving into roles where we can facilitate new commercial arrangements between other Indigenous agribusiness and investors,” he said.

“The ILC would look at a role, depending on what type of operator [Hodgson Downs] would get, in supporting capability; that might be around business support or capability to enable that new arrangement to be put in place.”

Despite the NLC being notified seven months in advance that the ILC would not be renewing its lease, Mr Morrison said traditional owners needed more time for a handover.

“We hope there is some arrangement that will gradually build capacity through joint venture arrangements with a good ethical partner to work with traditional owners so they can operate that business over a period of time.”

Mr North said the ILC would look to support the handover to traditional owners or a new third party lessee.

“If time gets pushed towards the end of the expressions of interest period then we will be in discussions with traditional owners about what might happen in that instance,” he said.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.