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Mining boom tax incentives needed for native title holders

05 December, 2012

Australia must reform legal and tax laws that stop indigenous people from benefitting fully from the nation's mining boom, leading Indigenous scholar Professor Marcia Langton told an Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference recently.

The 2012 Boyer Lecturer and Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at The University of Melbourne called for a new policy and tax 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 tax incentives for companies entering into partnerships with Aboriginal groups such as native title communities would be the most effective ways to increase indigenous skills and capacity, and transfer expertise to Aboriginal communities.

"Current legal and tax policy barriers preclude the building of an enduring capital base for future generations in Australia," Professor Langton said.

Native title holders in Australia needed a tax framework to encourage investment in capacity-building and to accumulate funds to create a capital base to provide for future generations.

"For example, all Northern Territory Land Councils are income tax-exempt charities," Professor Langton said.

"My research reveals that most of the 'royalty associations' (which are also Aboriginal Corporations) are also charities. Furthermore, the 'beneficial payments' are mainly to charities. So all these 'taxpayers' are paying the Minerals Wealth Tax yet they are entities that are income tax-exempt."

Professor Langton urged the Australian Government, as a matter of urgency, to: "consider our proposals for tax incentives or a tax-exempt indigenous foundation".

"Reform of tax policy and law, and tax incentives are two key challenges in the future," she said. 

"Convincing the Australian Government to legislate the reforms is a third and most difficult challenge."

There was also a huge need to reform State Government actions in this area.

"This is where reform is vital," Professor Langton said.

"We have to tackle this - it should be a major priority for indigenous populations.

"State Governments across Australia have been quite irresponsible in the way they have allowed indigenous people to develop. They don't see indigenous people as part of the economy. They need to remove the blinkers about Native Title. It's been 20 years this year since the Native Title Act was passed and the world didn't come to an end. In fact, it has transformed regions.

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