Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6352

Indigenous Affairs

Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:24): My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. Can the minister update the Senate on the government's commitment to pursue reforms to land tenure arrangements in remote Aboriginal communities and report what progress has been made in negotiations for township leases in the Northern Territory?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:24): I thank Senator O'Sullivan for the question. This government went to the last election with a commitment to work with local communities to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander landowners can pursue economic development on their own land. We did this because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were telling us that they wanted to make better use of their land and make the decisions themselves, to be able to use their land to pursue homeownership and commercial development and, particularly, in their words, to create job opportunities for their own.

For too long, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander landowners have been land rich but dirt poor. That is why I have reinvigorated township leasing as the government's preferred leasing model to support economic development on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory, and we are making good progress. Last month, I travelled to Gunbalanya to sit down and talk again with the traditional owners. Together, the traditional owners and I signed an agreement in principle on the key terms of a township lease. This is a significant milestone in the negotiations and, I have to say, is a credit to the persistence of traditional owners, who have been asking to negotiate a township lease for many years.

I am also pleased to be able to report that negotiations with traditional owners at Pirlangimpi and Yirrkala are progressing apace, and I am looking forward to working closely with these communities in the coming months.

Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:26): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you, Minister, for that comprehensive answer. Will the minister also advise the Senate what opportunities those reforms will deliver for remote Aboriginal communities? How will these reforms lead to more Indigenous economic development and homeownership?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:26): The township lease model has actually proven that it can support the aspirations of Aboriginal people in the context of business development and homeownership. On the Tiwi Islands, where they have a township lease, 15 families are buying their own homes. Traditional owners have built a fantastic shopping complex that they own, and they did not get this on some dodgy loan from the government. The loan for that shopping centre came from a commercial bank, as every other Australian business would expect it to happen.

We have made sure that local people can get leases in commercial time frames so they can use their assets to engage the mainstream economy and create jobs. Township leases deliver this as they can go ahead and at the same time traditional owners can be paid rent. These are voluntary leases that are the decisions of traditional owners. Governments and land councils should not be the gatekeepers on development. It is time that local peoples were the drivers at the seat for economic development in their local communities.

Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:27): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister outline to the Senate how these government initiatives compare to previous efforts aimed at enabling Aboriginal people to better use their land and to develop economically?

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (14:27): It was the Howard coalition government that introduced township leasing reforms, delivered the township lease at Wurrumiyanga in 2007 and laid the foundation for the township leases on Groote Eylandt.

Sadly, under the former Labor government, township leasing was obviously not considered a priority and progress stalled. Labor stated they supported the policy, but in terms of the outcomes they clearly dropped the ball on any negotiations. Traditional owners in communities like Gunbalanya and Pirlangimpi were waiting on the former government to come out and talk to them about land rights and leasing, and it simply never happened.

I would like to also at this stage acknowledge the work of the Queensland government and Premier Newman on the introduction of freehold reforms in Aboriginal communities. They are to be commended. These reforms build on other reforms like the Doggett reforms, introduced by Mr Katter.

Governments across Australia must ensure that land rights support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and this Commonwealth government is committed to do that job. (Time expired)