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Wik uncertainty is causing fear and insecurity in the bush

By Lindsay MacDonald - posted Saturday, 12 August 2000

One of the major problems rural Australians affected by native title issues have had in the last anguished four years is that opposition to their real loss of rights has been equated as being anti-aboriginal.

Of all the people I know who are personally and adversely affected by the Wik decision, there wouldn't be any who do not strongly support moves to improve outcomes for Indigenous people, and reconciliation.

Trouble and confusion arises when unaffected urban populations, smug in their safe freehold tenures over what was once aboriginal land, equate reconciliation and treaties with accepting the Indigenous political agenda in its entirety.


While it is true that the Indigenous political agenda seems to present a united Indigenous view, polling among Aboriginal people would very likely reveal a diversity of views among this group, as any other group in the country.

Families adversely affected by the Wik decision are very fearful about the effects of a treaty on their ability to live on, work on and love the land they purchased in good faith. There is no legal clarity about what the Wik decision means, four long years after it was handed down. Confidence in leasehold land tenure seems to now be at an all-time low, affecting the equity of leaseholders. This in turn affects their ability to borrow, improve their land and viability, or plan their futures. It is often suggested that it will take probably twenty years to sort out the resulting land tenure mess. Too long for many, who will be unable to sustain a business plan in the face of such uncertainty.

Treaties have the potential to further complicate the situation, because of the agenda to have customary and tribal law recognised, with a treaty being one of the vehicles. We are often told that indigenous law has its very roots in land. This raises the question of whether leases found to have native title on them will then have customary and or tribal law applying on that land, and who is then subject to that law. I am told that it could mean, in a de facto sense at least, that leaseholders may well find themselves in the future having to operate under two systems of law affecting not just land (as is now the case), but also behaviour. By and large, most will be unable to afford access to Australian law to protect themselves against adverse consequences from conflicts between the two systems.

People generally no longer have any faith in the courts to treat white leaseholders fairly, and have no faith that an unaffected urban media would report their issues fairly. Who can blame them, given recent experiences.

Support or otherwise for treaties must therefore be considered ill-informed until it is spelled out exactly what the impact will be, and on whom. Exactly the scenario you suggest.

Very little discussion has occurred along these lines. The nation would not commit itself to a republic without the detail being defined. It would be dangerous, I think, for anyone to prematurely commit to a treaty for the same reasons, however much one supports the principle.

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About the Author

Lindsay MacDonald is a partner in a family grazing business at Blackall and Charleville in Queensland. She has been active in local community organisations over many years. She has had a particular interest in communications issues as they affect Rural and Remote Australia. As a member of the Regional Women's Alliance, she is a spokesperson for bush families affected by native title.

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