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New bill waters down Howard lease scheme

A bill was passed in federal parliament yesterday that will water down the Howard Governments controversial 99-year lease scheme for Aboriginal communities.

The lease scheme was introduced by the coalition in the hope it would stimulate economic development in Northern Territory townships. The Tiwi Island township of Ngui however was the only community to sign a lease before Labor won office.

The Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008, will amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to allow for township leases as short as 40 years.

NT Labor senator Trish Crossin said the changes would allow Indigenous landowners the ability to negotiate more flexible lease arrangements, having more say in the lease terms and length, or sub-leasing arrangements.

The changes pave the way for the finalisation of 40-year leases over three remote communities on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The legislation also makes minor changes to NT intervention laws, allowing streamlined compensation payments to landholders whose land is compulsorily acquired under five-year leases.

The grant of 13 further areas of Aboriginal land to be operated as national parks will also be allowed.

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