A campaign to urge non-Indigenous Australian property owners to pay traditional landowners a “weekly rent” has met fierce opposition, with One Nation leader Pauline Hanson leading the charge against the move.
The scheme, Pay The Rent, would operate as a voluntary weekly payment to a facility run by Aboriginal elders and administered without government interference.
The scheme, which is running quietly in Victoria, encourages non-Indigenous people to pay a percentage of their income to Aboriginal people out of respect for their ancestral land claims.
“Decisions about the distribution of money paid into this fund are made solely by a sovereign body composed of indigenous people from a range of clans and nations,” the Pay The Rent website reads.
“That means the money always and only belongs to the indigenous people.”
Feminist author Clementine Ford and Green Senator and activist Lidia Thorpe are among the high-profile figures who have expressed their support for the program.
However, the proposal also drew strong backlash, with Senator Hanson even going so far as to urge others to sign a petition to “stop the rental tax.”
A statement shared by the leader of One Nation reveals that her party “strongly condemns” the proposal for non-Indigenous Australians to “pay a race-based rental tax”.
“The rental tax regime would result in millions of Australians being pushed further into poverty as their rents skyrocket or families pay more on their ever-rising mortgages,” the statement said.
Ms Hanson’s testimony branded the system as “deeply flawed and unjust” and a “form of discrimination”.
“One Nation believes this proposal is a distraction from the real issues facing Indigenous communities, such as poverty, unemployment and crime,” the party notes.
“Rather than proposing a controversial and divisive race-based rental tax, One Nation is calling on Australians to unite as one country and reject the pro-apartheid craze of the left.
“This scheme is the worst form of discrimination and not a solution to the problem of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”
At the time of publication, the petition shared by Ms Hanson had garnered just over 400 signatures.
The movement was also met with backlash online, with one person suggesting it caused “madness and division” among Australians, while another branded it “extremely manipulative”.
“It’s this kind of stuff that makes people vote NO in the referendum,” said one social media user.
Another added: “It’s one thing to solicit contributions to programs that help reduce disadvantage for indigenous people, it’s quite another to tell people they owe rent because they’re on land.” are upon which they had no choice.”
Others suggested that multi-million dollar companies should be the ones “paying the rent”, not the average Australian.
“We’re talking about paying the rent, but why the average person? Isn’t that in itself a racist policy? Why not the wealthy corporations and individuals who live supremely comfortable lives behind tribal lands? Bigger win and they SHOULD be the ones paying the rent,” one person wrote.
“Not enough” to just pay the rent
Under the voluntary program, decisions about the distribution of the money paid would be made by a “Sovereign Body” made up of indigenous peoples from different clans and nations.
“That means the money always and only belongs to the indigenous people,” says the Pay The Rent website.
The money raised would go to indigenous people to help them cover housing, health and education costs while reducing the need for government grants.
The program was widely viewed as a promising alternative to government handouts being injected into struggling communities.
Clementine Ford was quoted on the website as saying Australians must “stop paying lip service to decolonization and start paying rent to First Nations people”.
Lidia Thorpe said the program means “there are no strings attached to the government agenda”.
“It helps the sovereign base fight the many campaigns and struggles that we face every day,” she said.
The website also states that for non-Indigenous Australians just paying rent is “not enough”, noting that agreement, advocacy and solidarity with actions to defend and support land justice are also needed.
Australia finally “mature enough”
Cara Peek, a Yawuru/Bunuba woman and lawyer who co-founded Cultural IQ, an organization that provides culturally appropriate training in Australian businesses, said Australia is ready to start discussions about financial redress.
“People are often looking for a way to support Indigenous communities and to acknowledge the historical nature of our lived experiences as first peoples,” Ms Peek told news.com.au.
“A pay-the-rent scheme is also quite poignant because owning property in this country is a privilege, and as much as people struggle with mortgages, many people can’t even get a mortgage or a bank loan. That is the case for many Indigenous Australians.”
While previous systems had only been tried only to lose momentum later, Ms Peek said there is now a “valid argument for a repair mechanism”.
“It would be a piece of the puzzle, mind you, but it’s something that could really allow people who can afford it to contribute to the progress of the first humans,” she said.
“This nation is now mature enough to have these talks. They may be robust conversations, but they need to be had.”
– with Brooke Rolfe
Originally posted as Backlash over call to pay weekly rent to Indigenous Australians