Mr GUYULA (Nhulunbuy): Mr Deputy Speaker, existing sovereign rights and Madayin law, Northern Land Council consultation practice, Gunyangara 99 year lease, Gove peninsula land ownership.
It is well known that I am an advocate for a treaty between Australian powers and my Yolngu nations, which makes up the majority of the Nhulunbuy electorate. A treaty to me means real law based recognition from Australian governments for my people’s sovereignty. The right to control our land and the right ot govern for ourselves.
Indigenous people in the Northern Territory have already had success in receiving recognition of sovereignty from the colonial powers. This was achieved through the federal parliaments Northern Territory Land Rights Act 1976. This act protects our right to land ownership and self-governance of the land, for example determination of land ownership and consultation towards land use agreements are a decision by traditional law; in our language this is called Madayin.
Madayin law is a complete system of law. Central to this system is the Ngarra institution. It is our institution of nationhood. Many now consider Ngarra to be analogous to a parliament. For example, one way or another, all senior governing leaders have their authority confirmed here, or decided from this space.
I have received the title of Djirrikay, judge, from this institution and am confirmed as a Liya-narra’mirr. Women may be acknowledged as Gon-ganmirr. Also, the reputation of Djungagaya, managers, both men and women, are proved here.
This means when Yolngu society meets to make decisions, our approach is conciliatory, aiming for general consent amongst the group, but with seniority taking effect. If we cannot make a decision all together in the citizen’s forum, called Garma, we might withdraw to the forum of elders, called Dhuni. If they cannot make a decision in Dhuni, the Ngarra authorities might need to meet separately to break the impasse.
Sometimes, according to our philosophy, we might just leave it until an answer develops and everyone is satisfied and in harmony. No decision can happen in absence of the consent of Ngarra authorities.
Another important element of the Madayin law is our groupings. We divide ourselves into Bapurru, clans, Ringgitj, alliances, and the moieties of Dhuwa and Yirritja. Our citizenship to these groupings are inherited through our fathers. The only exception to this rule is when a clan’s male line fails it converts its inheritance through the mother’s line (to the Gutharra) before reverting to the father’s line again. All of these groupings have associated rights to land. Bärpurru clans are the primary land ownership jurisdiction, with each clan bequeathed an estate from the beginning. They also have the right to open the Ngärrá institution. The Ringgitj alliances also have rights to land use along tracks between estates, and also over small plots within estates.
On another level the whole of Yolngu land is divided between Dhuwa and Yirritja. These groupings also claim jurisdiction over their citizens. For example, criminal behaviour is regulated with regard to these groupings.
I am a clear supporter of the Land Rights Act. It is moderate respect of the Yolngu Nations sovereignty. We do not want to lose it and see it watered down by amendment or practice. A bad amendment to the act is section 19A(3) which concerns 99-year township leases. It means that if the NLC fails to consult properly a 99-year lease cannot be challenged if it is already approved by the trust. One can easily imagine how this clause leaves Indigenous communities open to outside corruption deals procured by friends, not lawful process.
On a practice level for some years now it has been clear that the government entity established by the act to advocate for our will, the Northern Land Council, is not following it obligations to land rights law. For example, the NLC fails to follow Madayin law when it does not acknowledge the Ngärrá institution as a political entity. Instead, the NLC says Ngärrá is just religious. Instead, it pretends that leadership is somehow otherwise empowered, but cannot explain how. One can imagine the chaos that ensues. Who, for example, makes a meeting authoritative?
More, the NLC does not consider Ringitj-alliances in their consideration of land ownership. The NLC operates with a lazy approach to traditional Aboriginal ownership, working only with Bapurru clans, and they make their own law entirely, when they subdivide ownership into sub-clans.
Yolgnu jurisdictions do not work like that. The basic Yolgnu governance structure is Bapurru clan, not family based. Outsiders cannot divide a clan and say they have a land use agreement. The detail is that Ringitj groups own land rights under Madayin law. According to the Land Rights Act, that makes those Ringitj-alliance groups traditional Aboriginal owners. The NLC cannot just ignore this and make up their own terms.
However, ignore is what the NLC has done. According to media reports, the NLC board last week agreed to a 99-year lease at Gunyanara. Despite the media proclaiming this deal as some kind of success, it is in fact a case of top to bottom lawlessness.
For starters, the land in question is not Gumatj owned land. If Gumatj do have a claim it is as one clan amongst several.
Mr GUYULA (Nhulunbuy): Mr Deputy Speaker, I continue on from last week. According to media reports, the NLC board has now agreed to a 99 year lease at Gunyanara. Despite the media proclaiming this deal is some kind of success, it is in fact a case of top to bottom lawlessness.
For starters, the land in question is not Gumatj owned land. If Gumatj do have a claim it is as one clan amongst several within Ringitj-alliance. They cannot own it alone. It is possible that they are Djagamirr caretakers for this area but it is a certainty that under Madayin law there are clans with a higher priority claim to ownership. Lamamirri and Warramirri, by many accounts, top the list.
The consultation for Gunyangara 99-year lease is also revealing. To the best of my knowledge the NLC conducted affective community consultations in Galupa, Yirrkala, Galiwinku and Gapuwiyak, but not in Gunyangara itself.
At Galupa, Yirrkala and Galiwinku we have been informed that there was clear disagreement to the application. We do not know what happened at Gapuwiyak. Lamamirri and Warramirri also made themselves known during these meetings, and claimed their status as traditional Aboriginal owners, not just an affected community. The NLC ignored their status.
The consultation was then finalised over two days in Gunyangara. The meeting was Gumatj only. Some Lamamirri paid their own way to get to this consultation but were denied the right to speak and possibly even enter the meeting. Under instruction from members of the Gumatj Corporation, NLC restricted the meeting to the Gumatj clan only.
Lamamirri kin who approached the NLC to protest the exclusion of Lamamirri gutharra were told they were not TAOs by the NLC staff.
The whole consultation for the Gunyangara 99-year lease was finished with four weeks, not in 10 years like some media reported. The deal is so raw that there is not a constitution for the proposed entity that will take control of the lease.
In contrast, the 99-year township lease consultations with Gunbalanya’s TAOs lasted something like two years. I know this because I visited these people during the consultation.
The point seems to be that if the NLC wants something it will happen. It does not matter if you have the right TAOs or if you are following the law. It does not matter if everyone is confused or upset. The attitude of the Darwin-based NLC is that it knows best. When amendments like 19A(3) exist, the context is ripe for systems that fun on deals for mates.
We are now left to clean up the mess of the recent 99-year lease deal. The whole Gunyangara Island and the mainland sites of Wartjaba, Gorrkpuy, Galupa nd Ngarrariyal will now be held under a 99-year lease to a corporation currently without a constitution. This is not satisfactory.
The agreement sees the handover of land by people who do not own it. It sees the demolition of other people’s rights, refined over thousands of years and then earned again with many decades of struggle under colonial government.
This agreement sees the exchange of fair Madayin law for weak corporate law. The NLC needs to stop and to start listening. This matter, the Gunyangara 99-year lease is just a symptom. The whole Gove Peninsula remains under a cloud of NLC denial. Against repeated attempts to make corrections, the NLC has for decades maintained that Gumatj and Rirratjingu are the traditional Aboriginal owners of the bulk of the land on the Gove Peninsula.
This is wrong. The real traditional owners of the Gove Peninsula, bar pockets and tracks of Ringgitj alliance land, are the Lamamirri—inherited by their Gutharra—the Dhudi Djambarrpuyngu and the Dhurili.
Rirratjingu and Gumatj are not TAOs of Gove; they are part of the management of the land only. They are Djagamirr, caretakers. I am not saying this on my own. This is what the law says and it is the testament of all the clans involved, including Rirratjingu and Gumatj. We Yolngu people want to unite, not fight in courts like the NLC forces us to do.
This issue is very important. The NLC determination in Gove was precedent setting. It throws out all matters of land ownership in our region. For example, if Gumatj and Rirratjingu – who are Djagamirr caretakers by Madayin law – are determined by the NLC to be TAO’s in Gove, what stops other Djagamirr caretakers from being named traditional aboriginal owners elsewhere?
The only way forward for the majority of my electorate is protection under the Madayin law. We must have room to be ourselves and to decide for ourselves. Amendments like 19A (3) do not allow for the rule or law, they attract corruption instead. NLC deciding that a 99 year lease is right for us and pursuing it without pause for the law is not allowing us to decide for ourselves. It is also an attack on our sovereign rights and could create lawlessness for generations.
It is time for the NLC to get straight with the law; the Land Rights Act and our Madayin law. It is time for the NLC to accept the political status of our Ngarra institution and its authorities. It is time for the NLC to accept the jurisdictions of Ringgitj alliances. It is also time they acknowledge the proper land ownership of Gove peninsula without excuses, to acknowledge the Lamamirri Gutharra, the Dhudi Djambarrpunyngu and the Dhurili. I do not know what will happen with the Gunyangara 99 year lease. If the land trust has not signed it off, they should not. If there are legal processes available to challenge the decision to accept this proposal, they should be considered. If that is not possible, the constitution of the proposed corporation has to match the rights provided to our people under Madayin law; anything less is an act of contempt for Yolngu society. Thank you.