New Bill enables Aboriginal organisations to lift ATSIC era caveats over housing stock

Prime Minister and Cabinet Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017

This omnibus Bill updates a range of Acts that have an impact in Aboriginal Affairs.  It has component that will be of interest to Aboriginal organisations that hold housing and land assets purchased in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) era.

The bill makes amendments to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Act 2005, or the ATSIC Amendment Act, which will allow the Commonwealth to be more flexible in its approach to caveats that are held over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander grant - funded assets. The Commonwealth uses a range of mechanisms to ensure its rights and interests, and those of Indigenous persons intended to benefit from the grants, are protected. This practice has led to some inconsistent Commonwealth policies, particularly in the treatment of current and legacy interests.

New Indigenous or mainstream grant-funded properties are managed contractually through a risk based approach for time-limited periods of up to 20 years and in line with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. However, properties that were grant funded during the ATSIC era are subject to the ATSIC Amendment Act of 2005, which requires the Commonwealth to keep its interest until an organisation wishes to dispose of the property. This impacts on a number of organisations, like the Murchison Regional Aboriginal Corporation.  Nationally, there are over 420 Indigenous organisations that own 2,850 properties with caveats over them.

Upon ATSIC's abolition in 2005, its interests were split between consenting authorities, who assumed decision - making authority regarding specific properties. The consenting authorities include Commonwealth departments, Indigenous Business Australia and the Indigenous Land Corporation. The restrictions on these assets mean that Indigenous organisations have limited flexibility to deal with their assets and have been restricted in how they can manage their assets. For example, banks will not usually lend against a property that has such a caveat, hence, Indigenous organisations are restricted in their ability to use their assets to access finance or consider alternative approaches to manage their assets.

The amendments allow for organisations to proactively apply for their caveats to be released, which will support an increase in autonomy and economic independence for those organisations or better enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to more freely use their assets for economic development, and reduce red tape for Indigenous organisations.

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