Australian landowners have been told to start paying a weekly ‘rent’ tax to Indigenous groups based on their ancestral claim to the land.
Under the “Pay the Rent” model proposed by a celebrity-backed campaign of the same name, landlords would voluntarily donate a percentage of their income to an organization run by Indigenous elders and administered without any government oversight or intervention.
One per cent of weekly pay is the level suggested by Robbie Thorpe, a veteran Aboriginal rights campaigner from Melbourne who ran a similar program at Fitzroy in the 1990s.
Government statistics last August show the median earnings of Australian employees was $1,250 a week.
Australian homeowners have been told to start paying weekly ‘rent’ to traditional owners of land their homes were built on before Australia Day
Luke Currie-Richardson says ‘pay the rent’ would work as a type of property tax, based only on Australians who own property paying rent to the traditional owners of that land
Thus evenly distributed, all Australian wage earners could pay a median “rent” of $12.50 per week, or $650 per year.
The program could then be extended to all users of the land – people organizing weddings or concerts would also be encouraged to hand over money.
Mr Thorpe told the media that the rent system is ‘a rational, reasonable and responsible way to reconcile 200 years of unchecked genocide, as far as I’m concerned’.
The “Paying the Rent” tax could also apply to Aboriginal people. Anyone who owns property would pay because it would work as a form of property tax.
Supporters of the program include feminist author Clementine Ford and senior Greens senator and activist Lidia Thorpe.
“We need to stop pretending to talk about decolonization and start paying rent to first nations people,” Ford said.
Thorpe said, “Pay base rent for the base. No conditions attached to the government’s agenda. It helps the sovereign base fight the many campaigns and struggles we face every day.
Organizers of a website which already collects this type of rent for traditional landlords in Victoria, say the scheme could go further than taxing landlords.
Australians could also pay additional rent for the use of land on which one-off events are held, such as weddings or festivals.
Rents for a wedding could be calculated at 1% of the total cost of a wedding, says paytherent.net.au.
With the average Australian wedding costing $54,000, local traditional landlords could receive $540 in rent for each wedding.
When a music festival takes place, the organizers can pay 1% of the total income collected as rent.
Organizers of a website, which already collects this type of rent for traditional landlords in Victoria, say the scheme could go further than taxing landlords
“Paying the Rent” was developed as a policy by the National Indigenous and Islander Health Organization (NAIHO). Pictured above is a NAIHO document
The intention is that the money raised could cover the additional costs that indigenous peoples have for health, education and housing and reduce the need for government subsidies.
Many see it as a solution to the unpopular and unsuccessful default practice of giving government “handouts” to people in struggling communities.
Collecting rents for Aboriginal people on the basis of their ancestors claiming historic ownership is not a new idea.
It’s a revival of the “Pay the Rent” plan that’s been around for over 50 years.
Since the 1970s, Indigenous activists have made repeated calls for non-Aboriginal Australians to pay rent to local landowners.
Mr. Thorpe’s Fitzroy “Pay the Rent” group received payment from non-Indigenous people who passed it on to their Indigenous counterparts, who then used and distributed the funds as they saw fit.
It was eventually developed as a policy by the National Indigenous and Islander Health Organization (NAIHO).
Both programs were eventually discontinued.
But in recent years, a new generation of activists are promoting “Pay the Rent”, including Lidia Thorpe.
Collecting rent for Native people on the basis that they owned it before the settlers was not a new idea. We’ve been talking about it since the 1970s.
A Pay the Rent program operated in Fitzroy in the 1990s
Another is Luke Currie-Richardson, 30, a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabugay peoples and a former dancer with the Bangarra Dance Company.
Mr Currie-Richardson says the current ‘pay the rent’ model would operate as a type of property tax, based only on Australians owning property paying rent to the traditional owners of that land.
‘[With] those funds, we can fund our own health, our own education, our own housing,” Currie-Richardson said.
He thinks January 26 is the right time for people to think about the choices they have to make to make a difference – and signing up for recurring “Pay the Rent” installments is one way to do that.
WHY SOME INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS WANT YOU TO ‘PAY THE RENT’
Australia is founded on lands that were stolen from indigenous peoples. The wealth generated by this theft is distributed disproportionately. Not everyone who lives here today, or who lived here in the past, has benefited equally from the continued dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Indeed, many are deliberately and deeply marginalized from the power and spoils of colonialism. However, some uncomfortable facts remain:
Every day, people eat food grown on Indigenous lands or harvested from Indigenous seas; they drink the water that flows through or under the native lands. Every day people who are not indigenous to these lands take shelter in houses built on them; they socialize, congregate and form a family and a community here. Every day, business is conducted on these lands for the benefit of non-Aboriginal people. Every day, Indigenous lands are traded for profit.
This land has never been empty; the sovereignty of First Nations peoples has never been surrendered. Despite centuries of genocidal attempts that continue to this day, Indigenous peoples have managed to retain and nurture their culture and ties to the country. At the same time, the health and well-being of Aboriginal people has been devastated; Indigenous people are much more likely to be incarcerated, over-policed, to die in custody, to have children separated from their families, and are more likely to die prematurely from preventable diseases or commit suicide. Although governments and individuals have said Sorry to the Stolen Generations, they have taken no meaningful action to repair or prevent further damage.
Paying the rent is a step towards recognizing these facts. It is part of a process in which all non-Indigenous people – individually and collectively – must engage if we are to move forward towards justice, truth, equality and liberation for First Nations peoples.