Taxes paid to State and Federal governments do not reach Aboriginal people equitably. In fact, many measures, such as the Cashless Welfare Card have a disproportionately negative impact on Indigenous people. Furthermore, monies raised via tax are not controlled by Aboriginal people.
Governments have a responsibility to use taxation to meet the welfare needs of all people living in Australia, including First Nations peoples. But Rent is different to tax: it is paid directly to traditional custodians of the land, both as an acknowledgement of their sovereignty, and as a form of reparation for illegal occupation. Governments should also Pay the Rent.
The idea that Aboriginal people get loads of government money and/or entitlements is a conservative myth. Click here if you’d like to read facts and figures, or here to learn more about how money for Indigenous individuals and communities is accounted for.
Similarly, there is little evidence that corporate money – especially, but not only in the form of mining royalties – benefits all Aboriginal people, largely because financial and accountability practices are structured within colonial frameworks. This issue is discussed at length here.
It is also important to note that only a small number of Aboriginal communities receive such royalties.
In the case of both government and corporate funding, when money comes at all, it arrives with strings attached. Furthermore, funding is explicitly not linked to restitution, restorative justice or acknowledgement of past wrongs. Paying the Rent is about all of these things, and more.
Every non-Indigenous person in Australia is living on land that belongs to Aboriginal people, who have never ceded their sovereignty. This is land we live off, gather on, and might feel we also belong to. For as long as we live in an economy that is based on financial transactions, it is reasonable that we should pay First Nations people for these benefits.
Non-Aboriginal people continue to receive benefits from colonisation, and Aboriginal people wear the costs. Most directly, many organisations and individuals have directly inherited land that was taken from Aboriginal people.
As tempting as it is to believe that wrongs against First Nations people are all historic, the reality is that Aboriginal people still need to resist colonisation on a daily basis. Racism and race hate are daily experiences and Aboriginal people continue to experience significantly poorer health; to die younger; to be separated from their family and community; to be incarcerated; to die in custody; or to suicide. These are not merely legacies of history; they are the products of ongoing government and institutional policies and practices. It seems that governments of all stripes will go to excessive lengths to avoid any measures that might be seen to recognise the need for restitution and land justice.
Tenants don’t get a say in how their landlord spends their rent. When you Pay the Rent, the Aboriginal individual/organisation who takes it has no responsibility to account for that money, nor do you have any right to ask them to.
The Sovereign Body of Indigenous People have complete authority on how the money is spent. See About us for more about the process.
In broad terms, Rent is allocated to both justice and survival needs. Rent has paid for work on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, funerals and other survival needs, and Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR). It is expected that monies will be allocated to campaigns and groups that protect land rights, Aboriginal rights and climate justice. It may also be spent in other areas self determined by the Sovereign Body.
Paying the Rent is one element of restorative justice. Ideally, it would be a part of a Treaty: one of several responsibilities placed upon all non-Indigenous parties as part of an agreement with relevant Aboriginal parties regarding land use and restorative justice.
There are also many acts of solidarity that you can undertake – such as attending community or protest events run by Aboriginal people, and ensuring you have ways to regularly hear Aboriginal voices.
Rent payments are neither donations nor charity. The government attaches many strings to Deductible Gift Recipient status (which is required for tax deductible donations); this would compromise the independence of the Sovereign Body and the expression of its Sovereign right to self-determination. As such, rent payments are not tax deductible.
These are important questions and we have put a lot of thought into how to show accountability without creating more work or placing expectations on First Nations peoples.
We are planning to release more information on the structure and make up of the Pay the Rent collective soon. Please be patient with us as we work on these.
Please add your name to our email list to receive this information about our structure and accountability measures, as well as future updates from the collective.
Though Sovereign Elders from across the country are involved in our collective, we are a group predominantly focused in Victoria. We do not know of any groups current running a Pay the Rent scheme.
If you join our email list, we’ll keep you informed of any group that emerges in your state.
You are welcome to pay your rent to us, as we do support some interstate projects.
You could also pay rent to a local community-controlled Aboriginal organisation, or to get in touch with the Traditional Owners of the Country you live on to find out what you can do.
You may also find Who the rent goes to helpful.