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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17523

Mr SECKER (4:53 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Committee on Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund, I present the committee's report on the 2001-02 annual reports, together with evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr SECKER —by leave—The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Fund on the examination of annual reports for 2001-02 reviews the performance of the National Native Title Tribunal, the Indigenous Land Corporation and the land fund in the reporting period.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Native Title and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fund has a statutory duty to examine the annual report of the National Native Title Tribunal and the Indigenous Land Corporation. This report is prepared pursuant to section 206(c) of the Native Title Act 1993. Section 206(c) of the act requires the committee to report at its discretion to both houses of parliament on matters concerning annual reports to which parliament's attention should be directed.

This, the ninth annual report of the tribunal, covers the financial year 2001-02. It was tabled in the Senate on 11 November 2002 and in the House of Representatives on 12 November 2002. The Indigenous Land Corporation's annual report for the same period was tabled in the Senate and the House of Representatives on 18 September 2002. To assist in its evaluation, the committee held public hearings on 4 March 2003 for the National Native Title Tribunal and 18 March 2003 for the Indigenous Land Corporation in Canberra.

I would like to outline briefly some of the issues which have arisen in the course of the committee's perusal of the annual report for the National Native Title Tribunal. With regard to compliance, I am pleased to report that the National Native Title Tribunal have again provided a report that complies with the requirements set out in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's Requirements for Annual Reports and other formal requirements. In doing so, they have provided a clear statement of their performance for the year under review. The committee has nonetheless made some observations as to matters that could be included in future annual reports.

During the public hearings the committee learnt that the tribunal had set in place a number of strategies to encourage Indigenous employment within the organisation. The tribunal have developed a cadetship scheme and offer two full-time scholarships for Indigenous employees. They have also altered their advertising style, position documents and selection processes to encourage Indigenous employment at all levels in the organisation. The committee has indicated that it would appreciate regular updates on the success or otherwise of these programs.

The committee noted that the nature and volume of the work of the tribunal was not quite as predicted. The tribunal has four output groups and some of the projections were greater than those delivered. The committee commented on these shortfalls. It also commended the tribunal on the transparent and accountable analysis of its performance and the explanation of the variations from the estimated outcomes.

An interest in the number and level of consultants retained by the tribunal has always been expressed by the committee and its predecessors. The committee noted that, in the financial year under review, expenditure on consultants under section 131A of the Native Title Act 1993 had increased again. The committee commended the tribunal on initiating an extended consultancy with the James Cook University which will enable the tribunal to commission the university to conduct research on native title matters affecting the Far North Queensland area.

The work trends within the tribunal were also examined by the committee. It considered where the tribunal was directing its resources and noted that there was still work to be undertaken in the area of claims and that the agreement-making work that took the majority of the tribunal's expenditure remained constant from the previous year. The evidence taken by the committee suggests that this will be the situation for the foreseeable future. Overall, I am pleased to report that the tribunal has again produced an informative and accessible annual report.

I now turn to the annual report of the Indigenous Land Corporation, which also includes the report on the operation of the Indigenous Land Fund. The corporation has a primary responsibility to assist Indigenous Australians to purchase land and also to assist in the management of Indigenous-held land. The corporation's annual reporting requirements can be found in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989. Although the corporation has not met all the formal reporting requirements it has provided sufficient information for the committee to comment on its performance in the year under review.

The 2001-02 financial year was a year of review and restructuring for the corporation. The organisational restructure not only resulted in the reintroduction of the position of deputy general manager but also saw the amalgamation of the corporation's three outputs into one—the assistance in the acquisition and management of land. The committee noted the corporation's reason for this amendment but expressed some disquiet over the change. The committee will continue to monitor the impact on the corporation's operations.

At the public hearing of 18 March the chairperson of the corporation raised the matter of the donation to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to investigate the occurrence of rheumatic fever among Indigenous populations. The corporation's board agreed to the donation at a meeting in August 2001. The committee's comments on this matter in the report are concluded with the suggestion that in the future in such matters the corporation seeks and is guided by legal advice.

In this reporting period, the ILC reports that there was a decline in the number of properties approved for purchase, purchased and divested. The number of acquisitions were half those of the previous financial year, and only 15 properties were divested in the year under review. The report indicates that there has been a deliberate shift in emphasis from acquisition to that based on long-term, sustainable land use planning, including an emphasis on economic planning. The committee noted this shift and indicates that it will continue to monitor the situation. The committee also noted that a matter which has been of concern to both it and its predecessors—that is, the position of Indigenous people living in urban areas and large country centres—is being considered by the committee on social and urban issues. The committee welcomes this initiative.

As a result of the internal status audit of properties, the corporation has given in-principle approval to a new purchase strategy. Properties will be purchased under one of four program streams—economic, environmental, social or cultural. These reflect the language of the legislation. Applicants for properties will be asked to identify their primary purpose in the application. Further, business plans will be required. The committee welcomes these efforts to place the corporation's work in its statutory context and notes the work of the corporation to re-establish its operational and corporate framework.

Finally, I refer to the Land Fund report of 2001-02. The requirements for this report are established by section 193I of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989. The Land Fund finances the operations of the Indigenous Land Corporation. The Land Fund was established in the 1994-95 budget. In 2004, government allocations to the fund will cease, and the intention is that the capital base of the fund will be sufficient to guarantee ongoing operational funding for the ILC. At the public hearing on 18 March 2003, the corporation's acting general manager indicated that the corporation is aware that, from 1 July 2004, it will have to rely solely on the earnings from the Land Fund. This has led to a number of strategies designed to assist in planning. The committee is of the view that the corporation is prepared for the transition.