VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Developers’ divisive dream: First Peoples’ lands to feed real estate bubble

(Above:  Collage of demolition of Redfern's Block, which began in 2011. All of the original buildings including the flag mural have been removed. Wiki Commons)

Capitalism must constantly expand. Government decisions on when, where and how to develop Australia have always served it.

Brilliant new research, Unshackled, reminds us how 160,000 convicts created colonies and wealth here for British capitalists. On stolen lands. 

Two centuries later, NSW governments led and fed the current residential real estate explosion. To link distant potential housing estates, they sold public assets to fund a spaghetti of tollways under and over the Sydney basin, and freeways on its north and south coasts.

Transurban, which grew from Macquarie Bank, purchased the government-subsided tollways with guarantees of ongoing mega profits. Transurban’s top security holder is Unisuper Ltd, but combined its three bigger US-owned runners up – State Street Corporation, Blackrock Group and The Vanguard Group – could easily outvote it.

This expansion is underpinned by high immigration. While governments locked up or locked out desperate refugees, and living costs soared, immigration also drove up rents and house prices. A review means soon only skilled migrants, earning $135,000 per year, will get visas (or afford housing).  

Last December ABC’s Nassim Khadem wrote Australian residential real estate value “has hit $10.3 trillion”, around three times bigger than superannuation holdings ($3.5 trillion) or listed stocks ($2.8 trillion). It’s a bubble. 

The cry is now ‘More LAND for housing!’ Ten per cent of NSW, including national parks, will soon be transferred to local Aboriginal lands councils. Corporations aim to grab it.

Land is wealth

In 2017, my Driving Disunity, the Business Council against Aboriginal Community revealed the Business Council’s crowned Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council as custodians because it was prepared to sell sacred lands for real estate. It met fierce collective resistance led by First Peoples who came from that land.

Westpac had trained Darkinjung to claim protected environmental land on the NSW Central Coast. It then sold what’s now a massive coastal resort and suburb, Magenta Shores, to BCA member Mirvac, despite huge local resistance. For all this, plus two other developments where 208 lots were sold, just 30 Aboriginal homes (including mobile ones) were built.

Darkunjung now has 1000 potential land claims, but other big coastal and Hawkesbury River headwater developments have already started. Meanwhile, First Peoples and allies mobilise to defend sacred lands.

Westpac shared its template for removing environmental land caveats to 119 other NSW lands councils and claims are multiplying across the state. On Botany Bay, for example, Mirvac has been in talks with La Perouse custodians.

Separate to this, in Sydney Harbour, Goat Island was given to Sydney Metropolitan Lands Council, initially excluding local custodians, who protested. Future plans for Cockatoo Island with First Peoples’ involvement include a  hotel.

Likewise, the Block in Redfern was a famed 1970s Aboriginal public housing project. Despite a 29-month Tent Embassy occupation, it was redeveloped for the Aboriginal Housing Authority for 24 storeys of fee-paying overseas’ student accommodation. The Embassy won 62 affordable housing apartments for First Peoples including families, at 80 per cent of market rent. It excludes those displaced.

'The wealth is in the land’

This story told about NSW flowed on, though with some differences, nationwide.

Native title is not land rights. While its punishing process can provide benefits to individual First Peoples, successful applicants can’t veto mining and gas projects.

On other projects including real estate, proving custodian heritage can be extremely difficult without research skills and ongoing funding. With corporate backing, such problems dissolve, leaving greater division and dispossession, as the BCA-Darkingjung “partnership” shows.

The famed IATSIS map of Aboriginal Australia is based on public sources up till 1994. It shows what it calls ‘Darkinung’ lands in NSW to the west of coastal Awabakal and Kuring-gai lands of the Central Coast. While, among other things, the map emphasises it’s “not suitable for native title and other land claims”, the shift which eliminated Kuring-Gai claims is telling.

Some First Peoples who have faith in corporations will try to share benefits. But, once some environmental land is sold, pressure will be on to sell the rest. Capitalism will pave the world without remorse.

As Kuku Yalanji man John Hartley points out, “The wealth is in the land. Once it’s sold, it’s gone.”

When the bubble bursts, Australian governments will prop up profits not our peoples’ needs.

Unshackled reveals how often convicts rebelled. So too today. First Peoples and their allies will not give up. Our joint enemies become clearer day by day. As strong as they seem, their foundations are starting to crumble. Injustice breeds resistance.