07/03/2014 - 14:03

Noongar business boost

07/03/2014 - 14:03

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The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council says funds from a likely Native Title agreement with the state will provide its members with a much-needed boost for business development.

Noongar business boost
Glen Kelly says the proposed settlement for native title claims in Perth and the South West is the boost Noongar communities need to get started in business. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council says funds from a likely Native Title agreement with the state will provide its members with a much-needed boost for business development.

The council is involved in final consultation over the state government’s proposed $1 billion settlement offer relating to native title claims for land in Perth and the South West.

Negotiations began in December 2009 and the offer was put on the table in July last year.

Last month, the draft Noongar Recognition Bill was released for comment, which will formalise the settlement package and recognition of the Noongar people as traditional owners.

In releasing the draft Bill on February 26, Premier Colin Barnett gave the Noongar community six months to decide if it wanted to finalise the agreement.

South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council chief executive Glen Kelly told Business News he was confident a resolution would be reached within that timeframe.

“The negotiation process is really difficult because there’s just such a huge subject area – there’s 10 areas to consult on which all interact and are subject to different laws,” Mr Kelly said.

“The parties have become wary because we’ve been doing this negotiation, effectively, for four years.

“It’s been really difficult … but at the same time we’re just about finished.”

Among the 10 areas within the settlement package is a commitment from the government to pay $50 million over 12 years into a specially established perpetual trust.

Those payments will be indexed to inflation, which Mr Kelly said would result in the total payment increasing to about $1 billion.

In addition, $120 million would be paid to six regional corporations for the development of economic activity and administrative support.

Mr Kelly said that funding provided significant opportunity for economic development and business activity, which Noongar communities had struggled to establish due to a lack of financial and infrastructural support.

He said funding would initially be spent on social-focused infrastructure, such as shelters and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, but there was strong support for building sustainable business activity.

“Some regions will have a better chance than others because there is much more economic activity, such as the Perth metro area or the stretch of land towards Bunbury,” Mr Kelly said.

“I think they (corporations) would be really gung-ho to have a lot of business interest and they’re quite free to have subsidiary (businesses) that deal with land development, or contracting for mining or whatever it may be.”

Corporations would likely need support to establish businesses, which Mr Kelly hoped would come in the form of non-indigenous businesses being open-minded about contracting to emerging Aboriginal players.

While consultation with the 4,000-strong SWALSC membership continues, Mr Kelly said an investment policy was being finalised to guide the future perpetual trust in how to invest the annual instalments of $50 million.

“We don’t want the investment policy of the trust to be out of kilter with the values of Noongars … we don’t want it rushing off and investing in arms in Russia, for argument’s sake,” Mr Kelly said.

A fully qualified board of directors would be established to oversee investments.

The state government has asked the federal government to fund 75 per cent of the settlement costs, but said the agreement would not be jeopardised if Canberra declined to become an active party.

In that case, the state government would pay the settlement from consolidated revenue.

If the settlement goes through, Noongar communities will also be granted 320,000 hectares of Crown land.

A home ownership scheme would also be established, as well as a cultural centre to provide cultural learning for the WA community.

 

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