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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2378

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (17:12): In amongst all the fun of the fair that has gone on over the last week in regard to media law reform, there has been an issue related to tax and the tax treatment of native title. I can confess to being one who has been holding out on the government on this legislation, the Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 6) Bill and the considerations around the simple principle of whether capital gains tax should apply to native title determinations. My reasons for holding out are concerns that this is not a bipartisan piece of legislation, which is, in my view, disappointing. My preference by far would be that this were a bipartisan exercise in this chamber.

I have spoken in good faith to several in the Liberal-National Party about why there are concerns in the ranks about this TLAB No. 6 and the native title issues related to tax. My understanding is that there are concerns about the intergenerational issues, based on submissions made by the Mining Council of Australia to a Senate committee—and opposing this legislation looks like the position that we are going to see. Again, in good faith, those concerns about how these intergenerational issues can be better captured and better resolved have been taken up with government. This will address any genuine concerns that a perceived or real capital gains windfall is not just spent by existing elders or traditional owners without any consideration of the intergenerational issues, working on building better and more resilient communities as a consequence of this capital gains tax relief in a native title determination.

I am pleased that there has been work from government on that front. At 2.58 pm this afternoon, a media release was issued from the Attorney-General; the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; and the Assistant Treasurer. They have agreed to put together a Treasury-led working group to examine the tax treatment of native title payments and how they can better benefit Indigenous communities now and into the future. The government has committed to ensure that native title payments provide real benefit to native title holders now and into the future. The working group will explore how to strengthen governance and promote sustainability in the management of native title payments. I am reliably advised that the working group will include native title and taxation experts and industry stakeholders and that a full range of options to help hold, manage and distribute native title benefits will be considered. Pleasingly, this will include the model that has had a bit of airtime publicly and deserves to have more—the Indigenous Community Development Corporation model, which is a product of significant work by the National Native Title Council, the Minerals Council of Australia and community leaders like Marcia Langton from the University of Melbourne, I think—forgive me if I have the wrong university! I am also reliably informed that the working group will report to government on options by 1 July 2013, so it does have a relatively skinny time line.

With these intergenerational issues resolved, I would once again go down that chain of logic and back to the Liberal-National Party to urge them to really consider their upcoming vote. The intergenerational issues, in good faith, are being resolved. Therefore, the greatest option of all, in all issues before this House relating to Aboriginal affairs, is that bipartisan position. I would really urge the Liberal-National Party to reflect on their position and would encourage them to, at the very least, not oppose—and preferably support—this legislation going through the House. There are implications if it does not go through. There will be capital gains implications for native title recipients. I do not think that is the intended consequence of the position of the opposition; I would hope it is not. I would also hope it is not their intention to play the front-of-the-pub politics of tax breaks and land breaks and all the games that can go with an election season.

I think we are in an interesting time in Aboriginal affairs and in this parliament's relationship with our first peoples. We have had some small wins along the way. At the start of every day we now acknowledge country. That is small but significant. We have a bipartisan position now on constitutional recognition, with a two-year sunset. I really hope, regardless of elections, that bipartisanship can hold on to work on an actual question to put to the people, with agreement on that preferably being reached prior to 14 September, rather than having it parked as an issue for one side or the other to try to command or control.

I also think there is some inspired work happening within government in relation to service delivery and capacity building that for some reason is not being talked about as much as it should—grants, programs and government working with community in a place-based approach to community building and capacity building. I think some of the FaHCSIA-led work is really important work within government, working in partnership with community—and government should be really proud of that work. Some of the practical work that is happening in a post-apology environment deserves more airtime.

I would also emphasise some of the other work coming through on native title. I acknowledge that the former Attorney-General is in the House. Without verballing him—well, maybe a little bit!—I will say that I know we have a shared interest in improving the efficiency of the native title court and some of those issues around reversal of the onus of proof, better known as the French amendments. One day, preferably soon, parliament can see efficiency in a native title court as efficiency in any other court and therefore place a status on that and work towards it with some consideration of ideas like the French amendments.

Mr McClelland: Hear, hear!

Mr OAKESHOTT: I acknowledge that 'Hear, hear!' from the former Attorney-General. I was worried that I was verballing him or outing him in some form!

At a local level, the post-apology practical work that is happening is a very strong job strategy in our community. We are now engaged with the Arthur Beetson Foundation and Pathways to the Pilbara, placing a strong emphasis on jobs, not only in local Aboriginal communities but also for the benefit of all businesses and all communities locally. It is taking time, but it is proving to be a successful strategy. Many non-Indigenous businesses are now realising that it makes business sense to engage staff in cultural awareness, to employ Aboriginal staff and to really engage in new markets that in the past not have been engaged with.

As part of a parliament and a time which is post the apology but pre the referendum, I do think there is some good work which can be done now. I lament that many of these issues get put off to the promised land of a later date, with one leader or another referring to them as 'aspirational'. There are real things we can do now. One of those things we can do in about five minutes time. We can vote in support of some intergenerational work at a community level—capital gains exemptions for native title recipients—and therefore help the building of resilient communities amongst Aboriginal Australians right throughout our country.