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Thursday, 5 June 2008
Page: 4677


Mr MARLES (12:14 PM) —I rise to speak in favour of the Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. This bill seeks to amend the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007 and the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. This bill puts in place a number of miscellaneous amendments to these acts, a couple of which are quite significant, and it forms part of the suite of reforms and activity which are currently being undertaken by the Rudd government in relation to Indigenous affairs. I want to recount some of those other measures in a moment.

Turning to the specifics of this bill, it seeks to provide increased flexibility in terms of the length of township leasing arrangements under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. In doing that it will allow for the finalising of the federal regional partnership agreement for Groote Eylandt with the Anindilyakwa people. The amendments will also provide for expanding the power of the Executive Director of Township Leasing so that more varied leases can be put in place for the benefit of Aboriginal people. Also, there will be the creation of 13 national parks on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory which will then be leased back to the Territory government.

The bill amends the two acts through three schedules. The first schedule seeks to vary and create greater flexibility in relation to the leasing arrangements for Aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. Significantly, and this is really the most important aspect of the bill, it allows for the creation of township leases which span a minimum of 40 years and a maximum of 99 years. In putting in place this particular provision, which has been the subject of much discussion, it is felt that the formulation of setting a span of 40- to 99-year leases gives a balance between the rights of people to the collective ownership of the land under the Aboriginal land rights act and, at the same time, the provision of some scope for individual ownership of land through these extended leaseholds. The government believes that providing for between 40- and 99-year leases gets the balance between those interests right.

There are also amendments to this act in the powers that are given to the Executive Director of Township Leasing which will allow for a much greater variety of leases to be entered into for the benefit of Aboriginal people in these areas. This is a very important development in terms of landholding in the Northern Territory. Part of what this will then allow for, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, is the finalisation of the regional partnership agreement for Groote Eylandt, the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. This agreement includes 40-year township leases in relation to a number of communities on Groote Eylandt in accordance with an agreement that was signed between all the parties on 20 May this year. So this is important in providing for greater flexibility of landholding and leases in the Northern Territory.

Schedule 2 provides a number of technical amendments to the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. At its heart there are provisions here which allow for payment amounts in relation to five-year leases. This has particular application for Canteen Creek, where the payments in relation to five-year leases will be amended. This is done in a way which will ensure that there will not be any interruption to the native title claim which exists there.

Schedule 3 of the current bill amends schedule 1 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. This is the amendment contained in this bill which deals with 13 national parks. It will enshrine in law an agreement between the Northern Territory government, the Commonwealth government and the traditional landowners of these 13 parks and reserves that had previously been the subject of land claims under the act. In March 2005, under the Northern Territory parks act, the Northern Territory government requested the Commonwealth to schedule in the land rights act the list of those 13 parks which are included in that parks act and, in doing so, effectively make them Aboriginal land. Upon the successful passage of this bill, the Northern Territory government will lease these parks on a 99-year basis, allowing them to operate as national parks.

That is a summary of the particular provisions of this bill. But, as I said at the outset, the bill forms part of an extensive suite of activity that the Rudd government is engaging in in relation to Indigenous affairs. Of course, that started in this place on 13 February this year with the apology to the stolen generations, which was a momentous occasion in this country and clearly a watershed in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

In entering into such an important step as the apology to the stolen generations, which opens the door for the first time in a significant way the ability for non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians to cooperate in relation to Indigenous affairs, it is important that this is backed up by a raft of practical measures. That has been done by the Rudd Labor government through a program which we have described as ‘closing the gap’. Closing the gap is a very important step forward in terms of addressing the gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia in a range of health and social indicators and, in particular, life expectancy, where there is a 17-year gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

In addition to the apology and in addition to the programs seeking to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia in terms of all of those social outcomes, the budget played a very special role. The budget this year committed $1.2 billion in spending to try and improve the situation of Indigenous Australia. In the Northern Territory alone, there has been a commitment of $666.1 million to improve the situation of Indigenous Australia. This includes $3.4 million for early childhood development services, $74.2 million for leadership and governance programs, $75 million for welfare reform, $113.3 million for health services, $168 million for employment and pre-employment services, $78 million for community safety and policing and $154.2 million to expand various educational opportunities. In total, that is a commitment of $666.1 million to Indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory.

Across the country beyond the Northern Territory there have also been a number of measures put in place in this budget. They include $56.4 million for literacy and numeracy programs, $122.7 million to improve child and maternal health services, $15.7 million for counselling services, $160 million for land and sea country Indigenous partnerships, $41.6 million for the very important Cape York welfare reform trial, $49.3 million for Indigenous drug and alcohol services, $33.5 million to address drivers of Indigenous chronic disease, $10 million to establish the Indigenous Mothers Accommodation Fund, $16.6 million for Indigenous early development and learning services, $29 million for infrastructure investment in Indigenous areas, $7.6 million for national arts and craft industry support programs, $5.5 million for additional funding for resourcing of native title claims and $6.1 million to continue the Australian Public Service Indigenous Employment Strategy.

That is a very long and comprehensive list of activity on the part of the Rudd Labor government in relation to Indigenous affairs. In total, beyond the Northern Territory, that amounts to a commitment of $554 million of spending in relation to Indigenous affairs. Adding the Northern Territory commitment to that, there is a total commitment in this budget of $1.2 billion. That is a very important commitment to addressing Indigenous affairs in this country and to closing the gap. In conclusion, this bill forms part of the suite of activity that is being undertaken by the Rudd Labor government in relation to Indigenous affairs in this country and I very much commend it to the House.