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Thursday, 24 May 2007
Page: 10

Mr BROUGH (Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to establish an office of Executive Director of Township Leasing to hold 99-year leases over townships on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

In February 2005, the Northern Territory government proposed that the Australian government amend the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act to facilitate 99-year leases of Aboriginal townships to allow for certainty of land tenure for housing and commercial development.

The government initiated the township leasing scheme in amendments to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act last year to enable Aboriginal people to have the same opportunities as other Australians living in towns.

Traditional owners of the town of Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory have in principle agreed to arrangements for a 99-year lease of the township. The formal grant will proceed once the statutory processes of the Land Rights Act have been completed.

A senior traditional owner of Nguiu said: ‘We will now be legally entitled to play a direct role in the administration and development of our town, now and into the future. We have not been in that position since Nguiu was first established nearly 100 years ago.’

Negotiations for other township leases are underway and it is expected that further leases will be agreed in the near future.

It was the government’s understanding that the Northern Territory government would establish an entity to hold township leases, issue subleases, collect rent and administer township leases. However, this has not yet occurred.

The Land Rights Act contains provisions allowing the Commonwealth to establish an entity to hold township leases. These provisions were inserted into the amendment bill last year to anticipate the possibility that a Northern Territory government entity would not be in place when the first township lease was ready to be granted.

The government is therefore acting to establish a mechanism through which the Commonwealth can hold and administer township leases. The bill allows for the appointment by the Governor-General of an Executive Director of Township Leasing for a term of up to five years. The terms and conditions of the executive director would generally be set by the Remuneration Tribunal. The bill allows for the termination of the appointment of the executive director by the Governor-General in certain circumstances.

The bill provides that the executive director would be assisted by departmental officers as well as consultants engaged by the executive director. The bill also contains reporting requirements for the executive director.

It remains the government’s view that township leases would best be administered by the Northern Territory government. The amendments made to the Northern Territory Land Rights Act last year allow for the transfer of township leases from the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory. Accordingly, the bill provides for the repeal of the provisions related to the executive director if and when township leases held by the Commonwealth are transferred to an entity established by the Northern Territory government. I make it clear that that would occur only with the approval of the traditional owners who have entered into the lease arrangements. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Plibersek) adjourned.