Focus on disparity: Langton
Australia must reform legal and taxation laws that stop indigenous people from benefitting fully from the mining boom, indigenous scholar Professor Marcia Langton AM told an indigenous business, enterprise and corporations conference at The University of Western Australia last month.
The 2012 Boyer Lecturer and Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at The University of Melbourne called for a new Native Title framework to encourage investment in indigenous capacity building instead of restricting ways in which mining companies can support indigenous communities.
“Mining companies are ahead of governments in understanding how we can close the gap,” Professor Langton said.
“It’s no longer the triple bottom line. Companies know that if they don’t have a good relationship with locals, their projects could very well end up in trouble.
“Recognition of Native Title in Australia has had a transforming effect on relationships between Indigenous peoples and the resources sector.”
Professor Langton said Australia’s current Native Title system prevented companies from helping indigenous communities in the most effective ways, such as through joint ventures.
“Current legal and tax policy barriers preclude the building of an enduring capital base for future generations in Australia,” she said.
In her presentation Transforming Native Title Rights into Economic Strengths, Professor Langton said many “royalty associations” (which are also Aboriginal corporations) were charities and therefore tax-exempt. Yet, all these “taxpayers” were paying the Minerals Wealth Tax.
“There is an urgent need for a clear and simple taxation framework to maximise the potential economic and social stimulus of Native Title and Native Title settlements,” Professor Langton said.
“Reform of tax policy and law, and taxation incentives are two key challenges in the future. Convincing the Australian Government to legislate the reforms is a third
and most difficult challenge.”
Also speaking at the conference, leading indigenous spokesman David Collard said Aboriginal people did not want to take mining jobs because digging up the land offended their traditional culture.
Mr Collard said the jobs push by mining magnate Andrew Forrest was somewhat “misguided.”
Mr Collard, who coordinates indigenous employment for the National Resource Management program, said Mr Forrest had been encouraging his peers to train indigenous people for resource jobs.
Mr Forrest’s Australian Employment Covenant and GenerationOne programs sought to bolster indigenous jobs across a range of fields – not just mining.
Mr Forrest urged his resources peers to follow the lead of Fortescue Metals Group, which has trained more than 1000 indigenous people, and to train indigenous people instead of hiring migrant workers.
Mr Collard said indigenous people would rather have green- friendly jobs that would “heal the land”, not mining jobs that involved tearing it up.
But Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Nev Power dismissed Mr Collard’s claims.
Mr Power said mining provided indigenous people with opportunities that would otherwise not exist in remote areas.
“We have a perfect partnership where we’ve got mining enterprise in those areas, where we can provide training and support and jobs that give people in those areas an opportunity,” he said.
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