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Outrage over council plan to partner with Aboriginal corporation in Western Australia

Locals are concerned by a West Australian council’s plan to enter into a partnership with an Aboriginal corporation, calling it government overreach and saying they fear being labelled racist if they speak out against it online.

The proposed partnership between the Shire of Esperance and the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (ETNTAC), which appears to be entirely dedicated to Indigenous interests, is due to be voted on during a council meeting at 4pm on May 28.

According to the draft partnering agreement, the two parties aim to “recognise and respect each other’s connection and commitment to Esperance Wudjari Country and will work together to benefit our Community”.

The Shire and the ETNTAC will work together to “increase and sustain First Nations People (sic) participation in training and employment, including for the Shire”, and “support, engage and understand how to increase capacity for First Nations business opportunities” and to achieve a number of other Aboriginal-focused goals, the draft document states.

The partnership proposal was developed during a two-day workshop between the Shire and the ETNTAC in September last year, and was facilitated by Dixon Partnering Solutions, a consultancy firm which brokers partner deals between Aboriginal groups and government bodies or private companies.

An upset Shire resident told Noticer News the proposal was “outrageous overreach”, said that the community had not been properly engaged, and pointed out that the ETNTAC did not even represent all Aboriginal people in the area.

“We are going to be co-governed by a corporation representing one race, and only certain families of that race,” they said.

“And due to the recent community outrage over the marine park we can’t say anything publicly on social media because we will falsely be labelled racists.”

The ETNTAC is one of the four Indigenous groups which would co-manage the controversial South Coast Marine Park, but claims the proposal has led to a “surge in racism”.

Locals unhappy with the proposal’s “sanctuary zones” where only local Indigenous people would be allowed to fish protested in Esperance last month.

ETNTAC chief executive Peter Bednall said before the rally that the debate over the park was “perpetuating a hostile and unsafe environment for Aboriginal people”, and ABC News ran several articles equating opposition to the proposal with racism.

The ETNTAC was registered in 2016 as the Native Title Body Corporate for the Kepa Kurl Wudjari people, who are made up of six recognised family groups. The registered charity has 300 members and 27 employees, and claims to represent several thousand more “traditional owners” of the wider native title-holding population in the area.

The draft partnership agreement does not specific any financial implications for the council, but says that any projects or activities undertaken as a result will be considering as part of the council’s annual budget process.

“Shire Councillors & Senior Management and Tjaltjraak Board & Senior Management will meet annually to have a yarning circle,” the draft document states, noting that the partnership can be updated at any time with partners’ agreement.

Noticer News asked the Shire, the ETNTAC and Dixon for clarification on costs and payments. We also asked the Shire why a partnership was deemed necessary, and how it would benefit non-Indigenous ratepayers, but did not receive a response.

Photo credit: Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (Facebook)

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