Fake letter scaremongering about Indigenous land claims sparks outrage

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A fake letter deceptively telling landholders to seek legal advice to protect their properties from re-acquisition by Aboriginal traditional owner groups – purporting to be written by a member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria – has been distributed to letterboxes in the state’s north-west.

A spokesperson for the assembly said the letter – which includes a reproduction of an assembly logo and has an upbeat tone – conveyed misinformation designed to create confusion and “unfounded fear about the re-acquisition of land titles”.

“We recommend you seek legal advice, as new Lease Holds may be negotiated as existing Land Titles come under review,” one part of the fake letter reads. “In the lead up to the finalizing of Treaty Negotiations, Land Holders will be offered a one year amnesty, during which time they can explore their options with regards to legal advice.”

It also fraudulently claims: “We are at the next phase of reacquiring land, with the assistance and support of the Indigenous Affairs Minister of Victoria, the Honorable Gabrielle Williams, and the Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians the Honorable Linda Burney.”

The letter was delivered to addresses in the town of Boort, about 100 kilometres north-west of Bendigo.

It claims to be written by assembly member Dylan Clarke, a Wotjobaluk man and the assembly representative of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwajali, Jadwaa, Wergaia, Jupagulk clans.

Clarke said on Tuesday that he was horrified to learn of the existence of the letter.

“The lies in this letter are designed to depict us as something to be afraid of. It’s real ‘coming after your backyard’ bullshit,” he said.

“We’re trying to have constructive conversations in the community and someone is going to extraordinary lengths to poison the goodwill and scare people about all the positive things we can achieve together on the journey to Treaty.

“It’s terribly sad and extremely frustrating.”

Clarke has written to landowners in the area alerting them to the fake letter and saying “the information … that some residents have received is false”.

The emergence of the fake letter comes after the Victorian Nationals leader, Peter Walsh, was accused of spreading misinformation across several rural and regional newspapers after labelling the state’s decade-old traditional owner agreements an “attack on the rights of all Victorians”.

Referring to a recent agreement between the Barengi Gadjin Land Council and the state under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act, Walsh called for Victoria to reassess its cultural heritage protections and “pull back from the brink” of giving Aboriginal groups “sweeping powers to totally rewrite and run everything”.

Walsh, who is also the opposition spokesman on Aboriginal affairs, said the latest agreement was a “stealth attack” and an “attack on the rights of all Victorians”.

The Barengi Gadjin agreement relates to 10,540 square kilometres – or 1,054,000 hectares – of public land in the Wimmera, Mallee and Gariwerd regions of western Victoria.

In his piece, Walsh likened the agreement to the Indigenous Voice, prompting Treaty and First Peoples Minister Gabrielle Williams to condemn Walsh’s statements as “dangerous”, labelling them part of a campaign of misinformation linked to the looming federal referendum on an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

Williams noted the Barengi Gadjin agreement was the fourth signed by the state government and traditional owners. The Napthine Coalition government, in which Walsh sat as minister for water, agriculture and food security, signed the state’s second agreement in 2013.

Assembly co-chair Ngarra Murray said the fake letter had been referred to Victoria Police.

“This is what we are up against, outright lies and deception. You have to think about why the people against the idea of Treaty or listening to First People feel the need to stoop to such low levels, it’s shameful,” Murray said.

Murray said the assembly would work with Clarke and the local community to write legitimate letters to locals explaining the facts and unfolding process for Treaty.

Victoria Police has been contacted for comment.

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