Business leader blasts Native Title avoidance

Australian governments and industry have a higher level of responsibility to earn their social licence to operate when it comes to Native Title and Aboriginal affairs, leading Indigenous businessman and co-owner of the National Indigenous Times, Wayne Bergmann, has told a major business conference in Perth.

Mr Bergmann, one of Australia’s foremost advocates for Indigenous self determination through economic empowerment and opportunity, said Native Title laws were stacked against traditional owners in favour of industry.

He said some government workers told industry to use the Native Title Act to get whatever they wanted without Native Title agreements. He said the Future Act provisions of the legislation were a “national disgrace”.

“The legislation provides no incentive for companies to make agreements with Aboriginal people,” Mr Bergmann said.

“After six months companies can get their titles without an agreement, without paying compensation.

“In the Native Title Act, it is like the government says: ‘OK industry, you just have to pretend to try and negotiate with traditional owners for six months—but don’t worry too much. If those humbug blackfellas want to protect parts of their environment, their culture or they want bloody jobs, you can get out of all that!’

“So, after six months, the system effectively gives companies a get out of jail free card. After six months industry can legitimately say: ‘Oh well, we tried to work with the blackfellas’.

“Industry can then push ahead with no deal, no consultation and no involvement with traditional owners. They can bulldoze culturally important sites. They can damage waterways. They can fly workers in. They just have to wait out the six months.

“It sounds like a joke, it sounds like no government would do something so dodgy to some of our poorest, most despairing citizens.”

Mr Bergmann was delivering the keynote address at the Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference at the University of Western Australia last Thursday night (December 1).

He said the unjust laws were counter productive and led to welfare dependency in Aboriginal communities.

“If you invest in companies that are prepared to get access to Aboriginal land without Aboriginal consent, without fair compensation, without binding commitments to employment and training, without commitments to business and contracting, without local jobs, then you’re leaving us on welfare and on the social dysfunction treadmill,” he said.

Mr Bergmann said Australia needed industries that were progressive, considerate of the environment and culture, and which would partner with Indigenous people on an equal footing.

He said there had recently been a revolution in the mining, oil and gas sector with some companies courageously stepping out of the traditional, profit-driven mode and being prepared to work with traditional owners.

The former chief executive officer of the Kimberley Land Council  said the next decade must be about defining economic independence for Aboriginal people to ensure they work and run businesses.

He said Native Title could hold a key and Aboriginal people should not feel ashamed about using their natural wealth, their country, and their expertise in land use to their advantage — so long as it wasn’t done at the expense of people, culture and country.

“I believe that if the balance of Native Title is right, it can provide an agent for change through Indigenous economic independence,” he said.

A Nyikina man, Mr Bergmann is the founding Director of KRED Legal and the chief executive officer of KRED Enterprises in WA’s Kimberley, an organisation that is driving social change by creating employment and training opportunities that affirm Aboriginal cultural and social values.

Wendy Caccetta

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