Charles Darwin University Research Fellow, Professor Jeremy Russell-Smith is calling for a greater level of candid engagement from governments, and regional and community sectors when addressing enterprise and community development issues in Northern Australia.
Professor Russell-Smith is the lead editor of a recently published book, “Sustainable Land Sector Development in Northern Australia: Indigenous rights, aspirations, and cultural responsibilities”, which addresses Indigenous equity and access in Northern Australian land sector development.
He said the project was sparked, partly, as a response to the former Abbott Coalition government’s “Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia”, which was published in June 2015.
“It was our concern that the White Paper did not realistically acknowledge and address fundamental issues facing Aboriginal people living on country who have a majority interest in, and cultural responsibilities for, managing land and sea assets,” Professor Russell-Smith said.
“We saw a lot of potential conflict between the White Paper’s policy prescriptions and lack of recognition of the necessity for inclusion, and in fact diminution of Indigenous title rights and economic interests in northern development.
“There is an urgent need to have a serious and sincere policy-based conversation that involves all stakeholders in the region which recognises what Indigenous land owners envision, and developing durable partnerships towards, achievement of sustainable economic development.”
The introduction to chapter four of “Sustainable Land Sector Development” states: “North Australia inspires many competing narratives about its future – historically as an (inescapable) destroyer of grand visions; more recently as a globally significant ‘food bowl’ irrigated by limitless water, and as a rich quarry and gas producer delivering great benefits despite regulatory challenges.
“It is also the site of extraordinarily valuable natural and cultural assets that warrant special protection, and, outside a few affluent urban enclaves, it is a place of enduring human poverty, and social dysfunction.”
Professor Russell-Smith said that economic emphasis on the pastoral industry on mostly marginally pastoral lands, essentially above a line extending from Townsville to Broome, ignored the opportunity to explore a greater diversification of industries in the region that could offer sustainable and equitable social and economic outcomes.