Indigenous Australians have expressed their concerns over the government’s plan to make northern part of the country an “economic powerhouse.”
Australia’s two-decade economic development plan, known as the White Paper on Developing North Australia, was unveiled by 14 north Australian Coalition MPs on Thursday.
The regional development plan includes $5 billion in concessional loans for building infrastructure and roads and also welcoming international and domestic investors by creating new opportunities in the region.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday the government's plan will lower the costs for doing business in the northern part of the Australia.
"We have set out an ambitious long-term reform agenda for the north because a strong north means a strong nation," he said.
"If the north does well, our country does well.”
The Australian government also plans to simplify land arrangements in the region on the grounds that some of the government’s rules discourage investors and economic development of native title claims.
The federal government will spend $110 million over four years to expedite native title claims in the region and $20.4 million more to encourage investments, collaborating with regional stakeholders.
“I fully understand the passion of Indigenous people to maintain control of their land,” said Tony Abbott, claiming that indigenous people who live in Cape York or East Arnhem Land demand a better economic future for themselves and their families.
But speaking in an interview Australia's ABC TV on Friday, Noel Pearson, an influential Aboriginal leader from Cape York, said that he was afraid that the proposal could be a "Trojan horse" undermining native title claims in the region.
However, Pearson also said that the white paper was a "welcome focus on the north.”
"But this approach is full of threat and full of opportunity," he added.
He also referred to a 1992 court decision which recognised native titles in Australia.
Native titles recognise the rights and interests of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with respect to water, but do not cancel freehold title or pastoral leases.
Pearson suggests that the government should negotiate more with Aboriginal people, who compose a large part of the population and control the greater part of the land in Australia’s north.
Political discussions over opening up the north for economic development, particularly for agriculture, are frequent in Australia.