Australian Aborigines apply pressure, win limited land rights in province
Canberra — The Queensland government has made an important move to grant a limited form of land rights to Australian Aborigines living in that state.
The decision has received the qualified approval of the federal government and of some Aborigines in the state, though leading black activists and the federal opposition say the proposal doesn't go far enough.
The latest decision of the Queensland government appears to have been prompted by concern about possible federal intervention and by the Aborigines' threat to disrupt the (British) Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in the Queensland capital, Brisbane, this September.
Those threats were voiced by a federal civil servant, Charles Perkins, chairman of the Aboriginal Development Commission and himself an Aborigine.
He said the Commonwealth Games ''would be stopped, if necessary'' to get land rights for Aborigines in Queensland.
''If the Queensland government does not give land rights to Aborigines, then there simply will be no games,'' he said.
The Queensland government has protested to the federal government about this public stance by one of its civil servants, but it nevertheless has acted to try to moderate Aboriginal hostility.
Queensland does not expect to placate all Aborigines with its latest proposals, but it does hope eventually to get most Australians to support its stance.
The Queensland premier, Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, said the plan would satisfy all but the ''rabidly militant activists.''
But the federal Cabinet, which met in Brisbane the day after the announcement , did not give its full approval to the scheme.
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said the proposal was ''a very important proposal which has the possibility of some very significant results.'' But he asked the attorney general to examine the scheme before the federal government reached a final verdict.
The proposal would transfer some 30,000 square kilometers in the far north of Queensland (1.7 percent of the state) to Aborigines who now occupy the area. About 41,000 Aboriginals live in the state.
The land, which is at present in Aborignal reserves fully controlled by the Queensland government, is to be handed to the Aboriginal communities as a ''deed of grant of trust'' -- a form of title used in Queensland to grant land to universities, hospitals, and race courses.
This form of land holding will enable Aboriginal councils to lease out smaller areas of the land to Aborigines, though only with the approval of the local minister for lands.
But the councils will not be able to sell or subdivide the land. Nor will they have mineral rights or be able to prevent prospecting or mining.
This limited tenure contrasts with full title given to Aborigines in the Northern Territory and in South Australia. Aborigines now have title to about 28 percent of the Northern Territory and 11 percent of South Australia.
Northern Territory Aborigines control mineral deposits on their land and thus receive royalties from mining companies.
In the past few years there have been a continuing series of disputes between Queensland and the federal government over the treatment of Aborigines in Queensland.
On several occasions the federal government has sought to intervene in Queensland affairs, using its constitutional power to make laws affecting Aborigines. So far Queensland has managed to avoid outright federal control of land occupied by Queensland Aborigines.
Sen. Peter Baume, the federal Aboriginal affairs minister, said the Queensland position had changed markedly in the past eight months, when Queensland was considering granting 50-year leases to the Aborigines. He said the new title was close to being a ''perpetual lease.''
Among those who have already expressed opposition to the new proposal is a federal Liberal Party senator from Queensland, Neville Bonner, who is the only Aborigine in Parliament. He described the offer as ''paternalism.''
Labor Party Senator Susan Ryan, opposition spokesman on Aboriginal affairs, said the proposal was ''not satisfactory,'' and said she would introduce a bill in the federal parliament to ''grant full and irrevocable title to reserve land to aboriginal people.''
''The most significant flaw in the proposal is that it is clearly not what the Aboriginal people of Queensland want,'' she says.