Almost $500,000 in funding earmarked for Aboriginal disadvantage programs was directed towards powerful lobby groups representing cattle ranching and fishing.
At a senate estimates hearing last week, the Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion said he approved the grants to the industry groups for legal fees to formally state how they might be negatively affected by land rights claims.
Before claims are granted to Aboriginal people under the NT Land Rights Act, authorities must take into consideration negative impact to others who are using the site.
But Mr Scullion denied that the grants would allow industry groups to oppose land rights claims.
“No, not at all,” he said.
“It’s about making their position on how they use the land at the moment, about how different determinations may affect their industry in different ways, but it certainly wouldn’t be opposing land claims.”
The grants come from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, a $4.9 billion policy shake up brought in by Tony Abbott to cut red tape but since criticised by Indigenous community groups as a failure.
Mr Scullion approved grants of $150,000 to the NT Seafood Council, $170,000 to the NT Amateur Fishermen’s Association and $165,000 to the NT Cattlemen’s Association.
The move has been criticised by the opposition who says the minister is treating the IAS like his own “slush fund”.
“Minister Scullion needs to explain why money that is specifically for closing the gap and advancing the lives of First Nations People has been given to non-Indigenous organisations to argue they would suffer detriment from land claims,” Senator Malarndirri McCarthy told the Guardian.
“The minister should also explain if other non-Indigenous organisations have received IAS grants to oppose land and native title claims.
“The Abbott-Turnbull–Morrison government has failed First Nations Australians.”
Amateur fishermen in the Northern Territory have been outspoken about land rights, which can lock them out of coastlines and rivers claimed by Traditional Owners.
The cattle and fishing industries have also argued that successful Aboriginal land claims jeopardise their multi-billion dollar industries.