Handing back control over remote areas to the traditional Indigenous land owners could help improve the overall health of Indigenous peoples, according to health experts.
"Over the past 30 years, there has been a steady growth in research indicating that Indigenous people who regain ownership and control of their traditional lands enjoy improved health," says Ms Nicole Watson, Senior Research Fellow at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, University of Technology Sydney.
In her article published in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Ms Watson suggests recent changes to land rights could have a negative impact on the health of Indigenous populations.
The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill, passed in mid-2006, gives traditional owners the choice to grant 99-year leases over townships to a government body, which can then grant subleases independent of the traditional land owners.
Ms Watson suggests these recent amendments may take away control from the traditional owners of the land.
"Although the health impacts are impossible to predict, early reports of lack of consultation and the use of infrastructure as an enticement into the scheme are cause for concern," says Ms Watson.
"It appears that Indigenous groups who not only regain ownership of their traditional lands, but also exercise control over their affairs, enjoy improved health."
In a related MJA article, Dr David Scrimgeour, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Adelaide agrees that traditional land ownership is linked to improved Indigenous health.
He disputes the suggestion of some commentators that the poor health of Australia's Indigenous population is due to policy that has forced people to live in remote communities, preventing them from benefiting from the mainstream economy.
The evidence shows that poor Indigenous health is a problem in both rural and urban areas, he says.
"What is needed is more support for programs to improve the health and wellbeing of all Indigenous people, wherever they choose to live," says Dr Scrimgeour.