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Indigenous people in Eden calling for just recompense 20 years after Olympics

While Australia celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Sydney Olympic Games, Indigenous people in Eden are commiserating 20yrs of struggle to receive just compensation for the theft of land taken in the interests of an international sporting event.

In the late 1990s the New South Wales government encouraged and supported the federal government`s exploitations of Aboriginal people through the taking by force of Aboriginal freehold lands. These lands were taken from the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) through compulsory acquisition in order to accommodate Defence operations in Eden on the far south coast of New South Wales and to make way for the Sydney Olympic Village in Homebush.

Although Homebush in Sydney was seen as the preferred site to host the 2000 Olympic Games, there were problems with this location. The problems associated with the Homebush site was, at the time, the existence of an army munitions and armaments facility. To this end, the Defence were kicked out of Sydney to make way for the Olympic village and for this reason the Defence and the New South Wales and the Commonwealth governments conspired to take lands from Aboriginal people at Eden.

The Commonwealth Government of Australia on behalf of the Defence compulsorily acquired, portions of the Eden Local Aboriginal community subject lands pursuant to lands acquisition Act 1989, by way of imposing restriction on the said land. This compulsory restrictions acquisition was carried out without the prior, free and informed consent of the Aboriginal community. These Aboriginal land losses allowed for an alternate defence wharf establishment. This wharf now serves to meet the needs of a large cruise ship industry in Eden, and export and in-port trade, all which generates income and jobs within the state of NSW and generates income for the Australian federal government reserve. The NSW governments and big business inherited billions in tourism and accommodation facilities. Moreover, for hosting the Sydney Olympics, the NSW government acquired a major sporting complex, and road and rail infrastructure for Sydney. All of these gains were acquired at the expense of losses to the Eden Local Aboriginal community lands holdings.

However, the story doesn’t end there.

Following compulsorily acquisitions, Australian Defence made the Eden LALC an offer of compensation to the amount of $175,000 to cover losses incurred through the imposing of these restrictions. The compensation consisted of two parts:

Part (A) the Australian Defence were to pay the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council a cash compensation for the application of the Defence explosion restriction arcs being placed over Aboriginal lands.

Part (B) the Australian Defence government committed to liaise with state governments for the addressing of the outstanding Regional Forest Agreements matters, as just-terms compensation to cover the negative cultural impacts to the Eden Aboriginal community lands.

The Eden LALC rejected the Defence offer and instead requested $3 million cash compensation from them for the compulsory restrictions acquisitions. The Eden LALC also reiterated the need for a just term’s compensation from the NSW State government for the negative cultural impacts to Aboriginal lands.

The Defence later forwarded a letter in which they reaffirmed their offer of $175,000 and stated that if this offer were rejected then any subsequent offer would be to the amount of seventy-eight thousand dollars only. The Eden LALC where then forced to accept a subsequent offer $2mil dollars less than requested. Further to this, the NSW State Government then broke their commitment to progress the outstanding Regional Forest Agreement matters. The presence of the wharf is illegal under terms set out by the Commonwealth and NSW state government.

The seizure of Indigenous lands at Eden also represents a breach of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. Article 30.1 states that ‘Military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories of indigenous Peoples, unless justified by a relevant public interest of otherwise agreed with or requested by the indigenous People concerned’. The Eden LALC do not believe the need to host the Olympic games constituted a special public interest for the Defence and therefore believe the Defence committed a major human rights breach by exploiting Aboriginal people for non-military purposes.

The land in question was acquired by the Eden LALC in 1999 under the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). The NSW Forestry commission gave the Eden LALC the land in exchange for the Indigenous community endorsing extension of the commission’s logging licence and their wood chipping licence. The land overlooks and is connected to the ocean in the third deepest natural harbour in the world. It is culturally significant to Indigenous people on the far south coast; it is connected to the Bundian Way and is a traditional Aboriginal campsite. When the land was compulsorily acquired by the Defence it significantly lowered its value in ways that continue to impact the Indigenous community in Eden.  First, explosion zones placed over the land means that the Eden LALC are prohibited from building certain structures including training centres and dwellings that could attract large groups of people. Second, the stigma attached to Defence operations in the area, including the fear of explosion, has diminished its natural beauty and its value as a desirable and sought-after location. Third, any cultural activities undertaken on the land, including cultural celebrations like corroborees, run the risk of being marred by omnipresent symbols of Indigenous dispossession:  Imagine a big battleship cruising by in the midst of a corroboree.

The Sydney Olympics was a global celebration of international goodwill and friendship that transcended national borders. The 20yr anniversary of the Sydney Olympics is an opportunity to reflect on what the then IOC president famously call ‘the best Olympics ever’. For the Eden LALC, the 20-year struggle for just compensation has resulted in the slow erosion of relations between the LALC and the federal and state government. A good, working relationship with state and federal governments is fundamental to the health and well-being of Aboriginal communities. In the pursuit of friendly relations between government and Aboriginal people, the recommendation is, that the out-standing compensation matter be addressed.

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