How did private company get native title land for real estate development?

By ERWIN CHLANDA

A native title holder says there should be an investigation into the ownership of the land in Mt Johns Valley now being developed as a residential estate.
William Craig says he and his sister Connie, both from the Antulye estate group, have been fighting for four years to get clarity about the deal.
The process by which the land came into the possession of LAE Nominees Pty Ltd needs to be investigated, he says. The town’s native title body Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation (LAAC) had authority over the land and was the party to do a deal in its regard with the NT Government.
The land, in Stephens Road, between the golf club and the ranges, became the subject of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) in 2006 between LAAC and the NT Government.
The agreement covers some 14 hectares, former Crown Land. In exchange for extinguishing native title over the whole block, about half (7.2 hectares) was given as a Crown Lease to native title holders.
In fact, LAAC could nominate a recipient of the land, and it nominated LAE.
But Mr Craig says it is unclear how that nomination was made, as he has not been able to find any LAAC meeting minutes, correspondence or resolutions relating to this issue.
Unlike the case with an earlier ILUA, at Stirling Heights, in the western part of the town, the Mt Johns land was never the property of LAAC, but went straight to LAE, a private company over which LAAC has no control.
LAE Nominees has two directors, Darryl Pearce (recently sacked as the CEO of Lhere Artepe Enterprises Pty Ltd) and Andrew Ross.
Both LAE shares are owned by Lhere Artepe Enterprises Pty Ltd, another private company over which LAAC has no control, and which is the developer of the Mt Johns land.
“At a meeting of the Antulye estate group in Alice Springs late last year I asked who gave permission for LAE to be nominated,” says Mr Craig.
“I asked the question thought the chairman, Ian McAdam [now the chairman on LAAC].
“Representatives of the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Companies were present.
“Mr Pearce answered: ‘No-one did. There was no meeting. We just went ahead and did it.”
Issues around these multi million dollar deals have been at the core of bitter disputes between local native title owners for several years.
The NT Government will not say what form the “nomination” of LAE by LAAC took. We should ask LAAC, says a spokeswoman.
A clause in the ILUA says: “Subject to Lhere Artepe’s nominee, LAE Nominees, showing to the reasonable satisfaction of the [Northern Territory] Minister that it has a demonstrated capacity to undertake the development, the Territory will grant to LAE Nominees for no monetary consideration, a Crown Lease for the development of Area A.”
LAE’s “capacity” is clearly in doubt: the development is now well past its due date for completion.
An engineering company engaged in the project, CDE Civil, in which Lhere Artepe Enterprises Pty Ltd is understood to have a majority interest, is in liquidation.
Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton, and Lands Minister at the time, Delia Lawrie, said in a media statement in September, 2009: “Following the signing of the historic Land Use Agreement … the Mt Johns Valley development will … offer a range of blocks including 23 single dwelling blocks, four multiple dwelling blocks and land for construction of up to 50 units.
“The first blocks will be for sale off the plan next month with work on the subdivision development to begin by the end of the year and housing construction expected in the second half of next year [2010].
“As part of the ILUA, Lhere Artepe will provide significant Indigenous employment and training opportunities while the construction of houses will provide a boost to the Alice Springs economy.”

DRAWING: Architect’s impression of units at Mt Johns subdivision.

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