The federally funded Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) has begun dismantling its cattle operations in Far North Queensland, sparking outrage.
The ABC understands Bulimba Station near Chillagoe and Merepah Station near Aurukun in Cape York are being de-stocked and will be handed back to traditional owners bare.
Crocodile Station near Laura is also being de-stocked but will be retained for the short term by the ILC, due to Indigenous rock art on the property.
The three properties belong to traditional owners but are currently leased to the ILC, which buys and breeds cattle and trains Indigenous people to work on the stations.
In the case of Bulimba Station, the ILC entered a 20-year partnership to establish a major cattle enterprise in 2016.
But less than two years later, it says it will be handing back the property at the end of the year and will help the traditional owners find a “third party” to continue the cattle venture.
Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has labelled the ILC’s move to turn its back on the northern cattle industry as “an absolute disgrace”.
“They are going to take the majority of the cattle off, send them to the meatworks and hand these properties back to the traditional owners so you are basically setting them up to fail, ” Mr Entsch said.
He says a thousand head of prime, breeding cattle have been stripped out of the properties already and are being sold for slaughter at the Mareeba Saleyards, west of Cairns.
Another 7,000 cattle are also expected to be pulled from the properties, before the land is handed back to traditional owners.
The ILC was established by the Federal Government in the 1990s to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people to acquire land and manage assets.
It runs 6 million hectares of cattle country across more than a dozen properties in far north Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia with around 78,000 cattle.
Many of the properties are used to not only breed and fatten cattle, but provide vocational training for Indigenous people.
Mr Entsch said the ILC was failing in its charter to assist Indigenous people.
“They are not there to grab these assets, strip them and hand them back and say too bad, too sad,” he said.
Mr Entsch said he would be speaking to Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion about stopping the sale of the cattle from the three stations.
In a statement, the ILC said it recently “reviewed its investment in agribusiness”.
“In simple terms, the ILC wants to free up capital from operating agribusinesses itself so it can direct its capital into new and diversified agribusinesses ventures in partnership with Indigenous landholders,” the statement said.
“This change in business model will see the ILC rebalance from predominately owner/lease-holder and operator — to a greater role in partnering with Indigenous landholders in the pursuit of agribusiness activities.”
The statement also said it was working with traditional owners at Merepah Station to “identify an alternative third party” to operate cattle on the station from December 2018.