The key attribute of Local Government is 'community', this being the conglomeration of people who reside in a particular area. It is the combining of our different capabilities, aspirations and beliefs that creates the rich fabric that is our community.
In our democratic system, freedom, justice and equity are often taken for granted but have they always been put into practice? As a nation, we cannot deny major blemishes, particularly in the treatment of indigenous Australians. Throughout our short history as a nation, Aboriginal people have not faired well. Recent moves to redress past injustices through the Mabo and Wik decisions are attempting to rebuild bridges giving reconciliation real meaning.
As we open our doors and host the rest of the world at the 2000 Olympics, all Australians must be able to stand up and say they are proud of what we have achieved. If recent moves to extinguish native title for pastoral leases succeed, then our credentials for tolerance, fairness and justice could well be thrown out the window. This issue could prove to be so divisive our national identity and international reputation could well be left in tatters.
Those State and Territory leaders, who together with the National Farmers Federation, now call for 'exclusive occupancy or possession of pastoral leases' ignore the fact that the December Wik case reaffirmed traditional Aboriginal native title rights only where it did not conflict with the terms of the pastoral lease. This is the very heart of Aboriginal culture that clearly provides for coexistence through sharing the land rather than direct possession of it.
To help bring some reason into the debate, the Local Government Association of Northern Territory is planning a Native Title Forum. Here all stakeholders, Aboriginal groups, the Farmers Federation, Mineral Council and NT Government, will be invited to present their views. LGANT is to be congratulated for its initiative because, only through a sensitive and meaningful process of negotiation involving all stakeholders will this issue be satisfactorily resolved.
At last December's National General Assembly, Local Government reaffirmed unanimously that it wholeheartedly supports community tolerance manifesting in practice as multiculturalism and reconciliation with our indigenous people. Councils around the nation have since reaffirmed their own commitment to community tolerance, translating this into practice within their own localities through various initiatives and programs.
Lismore City Council, featured in this edition of FOCUS, is a great example. It has a number of programs under way ensuring its indigenous population can participate fully in community life, while at the same time building greater cross cultural understanding.
Those advocating the extinguishing of native title must not be allowed to push the reconciliation process off track.