Australian property owners have been urged to start paying a weekly ‘rent’ tax to the traditional owners of the land their homes were built on ahead of Australia Day.
Under the ‘Pay the Rent’ model, homeowners would voluntarily pay a percentage of their income to a body led by Indigenous elders and administered without any government intervention.
One per cent of weekly wages is the level suggested by Robbie Thorpe, a veteran Aboriginal rights activist from Melbourne who ran a similar scheme in Fitzroy in the 1990s.
Government statistics from last August that say the median Australian employee’s earnings were $1,250 per week.
Australian property owners have been urged to start paying weekly ‘rent’ to the traditional owners of the land their homes were built on ahead of Australia Day
Luke Currie-Richardson says the ‘Pay the Rent’ would work as a type of land tax, based only on those Australians who own property paying rent to the traditional owners of that land
So spread evenly, all Australian wage earners could pay a median ‘rent’ of $12.50 a week, adding up to $650 a year.
Mr Thorpe told media the rent scheme is ‘a rational, reasonable, responsible means of reconciling 200 years of unchecked genocide, as far as I’m concerned’.
The ‘Pay the Rent’ tax could apply to Indigenous people too. Anyone who owns property would pay because it would operate as a form of land tax.
Supporters of the scheme include feminist author Clementine Ford and high-profile Greens senator and activist Lidia Thorpe.
‘We need to stop paying lip service to decolonisation and start paying the rent to the first nations people,’ Ford said.
Thorpe said: ‘Pay the rent from grassroots for grassroots. No strings attached to government agenda. It assists sovereign grassroots fight the many campaigns and struggles we face everyday.’
The organisers of a website which already collects this type of rent for traditional owners in Victoria, say the scheme could go further than taxing homeowners.
Australians could also pay extra rent for use of land that one-off events are held on such as weddings to festivals.
Rents for wedding could be calculated at one per cent of the total cost of a wedding, paytherent.net.au says.
With the average Australian wedding costing $54,000 to run, local traditional owners could receive a rent payment of $540 for each wedding.
When a music festival is held, the organisers could pay one per cent of the total income collected as rent.
The organisers of a website, which already collects this type of rent for traditional owners in Victoria, says the scheme could go further than taxing homeowners
‘Pay the Rent’ was developed as a policy by the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation (NAIHO). Pictured above, a NAIHO document
The intention is the money collected could cover extra costs Indigenous people have for health, education and housing and reduce the need for government handouts.
Many consider it a solution to the unpopular and unsuccessful default practice of giving government ‘handouts’ to people in struggling communities.
Collecting rent for Aboriginal people based on the fact they owned it before settlers is not a new idea.
It a rebirth of the ‘Pay the Rent’ plan which has been around for more than 50 years.
Since the 1970s there have been repeated calls by indigenous activists for non-Aboriginal Australians to pay the rent to local landowners.
Mr Thorpe’s Fitzroy ‘Pay the Rent’ group received payment from non-Aboriginal people who passed it on to their Aboriginal counterparts, who then used and distributed the funds as they saw fit.
Eventually it was developed as a policy by the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation (NAIHO).
Both schemes eventually fell by the wayside.
But in recent years a new generation of activists are promoting ‘Pay the Rent’, including Lidia Thorpe.
Collecting rent for Aboriginal people based on the fact they owned it before settlers is not a new idea. It has been discussed since the 1970s.
A Pay the Rent scheme operated in Fitzroy during the 1990s
Another is Luke Currie-Richardson, 30, a a descendant of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabugay peoples and former dancer with the Bangarra Dance Company.
Mr Currie-Richardson says the current model of ‘Pay the Rent’ would work as a type of land tax, based only on those Australians who own 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,’ Mr Currie-Richardson said.
He believes January 26 is an appropriate time for people to consider the choices they have to make a difference – and signing up to recurring ‘Pay the Rent’ instalments is one way of doing that.