By Elise Worthington and staff ABC
New houses in Kowanyama
Since the 19th century, land in the state’s 34 Indigenous communities has been held by Indigenous local councils or trusteeships that prevented private home ownership.
The new laws give Indigenous people the opportunity to transfer the tenure of selected land from communal ownership to freehold title for the first time.
Under the changes councils will be able to set rates for any land moved to freehold.
Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps said the decision to transfer land to private ownership will be left to individual communities, with councils to set rates.
"Queensland is leading the way," he said.
"We are ahead of other states and territories and we are ahead of the initiatives being pursued by the Commonwealth Government to provide equity, dignity and fairness to Indigenous Queenslanders in this country.
"The new legislation delivers not only economic independence and opportunity, but also an enormous boost in confidence in Indigenous communities."
Premier Campbell Newman said the new laws do not prescribe what communities should do.
"It gives them the tools to make the best choice," he said.
"A community can identify to what extent if any freehold suits them and then implement it."
Far north Queensland MP David Kempton said the benefits of the new laws far outweighed any risks.
"If their culture and their historic ties to the land are so high I couldn’t imagine people selling them, but it’s a risk," he said.
"But of course the advantage, the economic and community advantage to people of being able to own their own homes and pass them on to their children and borrow against them to set up businesses – this is the whole process of normalisation and breaking down paternity."
Move ‘towards economic independence’
Indigenous community leader Ray Robinson said the new laws would end a 200-year battle in Queensland.
"They have ownership now – ownership of their own houses and their own land," he said.
"I think that enables them to move towards now economic independence and self-management and self-determination."
They’ll have a piece of property that they can really and truly own. [This] … is very exciting. I never dreamt of this happening in my lifetime.
Palm Island Mayor Alf Lacey
Palm Island Mayor Alf Lacey said 35 Indigenous families were ready to take possession of freehold land on the island.
Councillor Lacey said it was a dream come true for many of the community’s elders.
"It now gives people an opportunity rather than renting for the rest of their lives," he said.
"They’ll have a piece of property that they can really and truly own, which is I think, as far as I’m concerned, is very exciting.
"I never dreamt of this happening in my lifetime.
"A lot of the elders, many of them now passed on, have talked about it for many years."
However, Mayor Errol Neal from the Yarrabah Aboriginal Council, south-east of Cairns, said the new laws were a threat to his community.
Councillor Neal said he was not convinced the changes would lead to economic and community growth.
"It’s a threat of losing the land – that’s the threat and that’s what they don’t understand," he said.
"We were in our comfort zone there and having the threat of losing it would have an affect on a lot of people there."