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Thursday, 5 June 2008
Page: 4676

Mr ABBOTT (12:08 PM) —I do not intend to long detain the House on the Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008, because it is a bill with which the opposition is in substantial agreement. There are three elements to this bill. The first and most important element of the bill is to extend the term for which township leases can be given. Instead of providing simply for 99-year township leases, this provides for leases to be any length between 40 years and 99 years. It has long been the view of the coalition parties in government and in opposition that Aboriginal land should be not just a spiritual asset but an economic asset as well. It was for this reason that the government as part of the intervention last year provided for the possibility of township leases of 99 years. It has also been an article of faith amongst the coalition parties both in government and in opposition that homeownership is an important contributor to a functioning civil society and that homeownership is good for the individuals who own their homes and also for society as a whole because the more that people have a stake in their communities through homeownership the better. Again, the former government’s 99-year township lease provision was designed to enable at least some Indigenous people living in remote Indigenous communities and not so remote Indigenous communities to have a form of homeownership. This was a measure that was introduced by the former government last year as part of the intervention. It was a very good measure. It was supported by the then opposition, now the government, and now we have a bill before the House to amend it in a significant way.

I was initially anxious about this particular bill but, on the assurance of the government that they are not about limiting access to township leases and they are not about limiting the ability of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory to obtain a form of homeownership but are in fact trying to maximise the number of communities where this is possible, the opposition is happy to support the bill. I would like to stress, if I may, that the coalition parties’ view is that these township leases should be for as long as possible. I would be disappointed in the extreme if officers of the federal government were to encourage a 40-year as opposed to a 99-year lease; nevertheless, I do accept that for many Indigenous communities this is a radical step, it is a dramatic change, and it may well be easier to get these kinds of leases accepted if they are for a shorter term. I certainly want to see the number of communities that go down this path maximised. On the basis of the assurances from the government I think that that can happen with the amendment before us. The second element of the bill simply makes it easier for the five-year leases that were proposed under the intervention to go forward and makes it easier for payment arrangements to be entered into.

The final element of the bill is to transfer title for 13 national parks. My understanding is that this was originally agreed to in 2003 by the former government, but the agreed-to transfer did not actually take place. I do have some concerns about the future management of these parks should ownership change, and I would want to be assured that these national parks will continue to be well managed by the Northern Territory government and will continue to be open to all for free with this transfer of title. So I will be seeking further assurances from the government on this point, and the coalition parties reserve their right to seek to amend this aspect of the legislation in the Senate if these assurances are not forthcoming. I see no reason why these parks should not continue to be managed by the Northern Territory government and continue to operate on the current basis, notwithstanding the transfer of title. I trust that those further assurances will be forthcoming, and on that basis I am happy to support the legislation.