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WA's 20 million-hectare plan to boost home ownership in remote Indigenous communities

David Prestipino -

Western Australia is planning to offer eight per cent of its land for Traditional Owners to control as the push to open up remote Aboriginal communities to individual home ownership ramps up.

Reported by The Australian on Thursday, the WA government is drafting a bill to transfer an estate called the Aboriginal Lands Trust from a statutory body it established when church missions closed more than 50 years ago.

The lands trust covers 20 million hectares, encompassing 284 parcels of land, five pastoral leases and 142 permanent First Nations settlements home to an estimated 12,000 people.

The move would result in home ownership and outside investment in those 142 Indigenous communities for the first time, if they wanted.

The WA government's proposal follows comments last week from Northern Australia Minister Madeleine King flagging the diversion of funds for resources and mining projects into Aboriginal housing investment.

That federal plan would allow residents to become homeowners for the first time in remote Indigenous communities, making long-term lease payments that would profit the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

In WA, rigid tenure rules under the Aboriginal Lands Trust (ALT) have prevented land development in communities, with Indigenous people mostly locked into public housing.

The proposal to transfer control of trust land to traditional owners could trigger a massive backlash akin to the high-profile campaign by the Pastoralists and Graziers Association as WA Labor tried to introduce new Aboriginal cultural heritage laws in 2023.

"The Cook government is committed to delivering on its ­objective to divest the ALT estate into the direct control of Aboriginal people and entities, to facilitate social and economic outcomes that can be delivered through land tenure," the WA government told The Australian.

"A draft bill is being prepared for parliament to remove barriers to divestment and open up more opportunities for Aboriginal people living on the ALT estate.

"The draft bill has been informed by consultation with ­Aboriginal community residents, native title parties and other stakeholders and will be subject to a further round of consultation.

"A key outcome of legislative change is to maximise opportunities for Aboriginal land ownership and management and economic activity."

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said land tenure change was a significant step to economic and social transformation in remote Aboriginal communities.

"It is an extremely complex process, and it takes time, but it is a priority for our government, and I am committed to ensuring we see positive and impactful change for these communitie," Dr Buti told The Australian.

"As a government, we must continue to remove barriers, such as the inflexible land tenure arrangements, unresolved native title issues and support the local delivery of public services, capacity building, training, and business assistance to start or expand Aboriginal enterprises.

"This will assist Aboriginal people to identify and negotiate opportunities that reinforce their native title rights and present new ventures for their community."

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