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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 12552

Mr TURNOUR (6:05 PM) —I rise to support the Native Title Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2009. This is important legislation in terms of the Rudd government’s commitment to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy. We are making record investments in health and education and we are also making record investments in housing. To roll out our housing initiatives we do need to introduce this legislation and get it through the House and the Senate. I recognise the contribution of the member for Kennedy. We both represent significant Indigenous communities in North Queensland and Far North Queensland and I know we are both passionate about wanting to improve the lives of those people in our electorate.

The bill will amend the Native Title Act 1993 to allow the expeditious construction of public infrastructure, especially housing, in Indigenous communities. It will do this by including a new future act process to ensure that public housing and infrastructure in discrete Indigenous communities can be built expeditiously following consultation with native title parties but without the need for Indigenous land-use agreements, ILUAs. It is important legislation. We are making record investments as I have said across education, health and a range of different areas to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy. These are practical measures and we have a $5.5 billion commitment to build new Indigenous housing over the next 10 years.

The apology was important to Indigenous Australia in recognising past wrongs and wanting to move forward, but as we step forward we need to make sure that we have the right processes in place to ensure that we can build housing in communities like Hopevale, Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, Aurukun, those in the northern peninsula area and other parts of my electorate. This legislation balances the need for the urgent investment in infrastructure, specifically social housing infrastructure and some community infrastructure, whether that is health, education or emergency services type infrastructure, that is needed in the community, with the need for proper consultation and involvement with traditional owners.

I spoke to the Cape York Land Council in relation to this legislation at a recent hand back of native title areas in Kowanyama. I know the Attorney-General was down there for that hand back the day before me and I was there for the national park hand back and had some discussions with the Cape York Land Council about these issues. They obviously have some concerns in relation to the rollout of this legislation to ensure that there is proper consultation with Indigenous traditional owners and that they are respected. They also recognise—and I think this is broadly recognised across communities—that within communities within the townships themselves there is a need for real investment in housing and tenure reform. The federal government has said that we are committed to building additional housing—$5.5 billion over 10 years—we are committed to investing in new roads and other community infrastructure to really improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but to do that we need to get some certainty and some security around tenure. This legislation is very much about making sure that we can expedite and achieve that process.

The legislation does have a sunset clause. There is a 10-year national Indigenous partnership agreement that we are working through with states and territories. As the member for Kennedy and others have mentioned, the COAG process is very important in rolling out our investments in communities. It is critically important that we make sure that we do this urgently. Not only do we need to do it urgently to ensure that we actually see houses built and this infrastructure happen but to do that we need to create more certainty of tenure to underline that. We also need to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in the construction of those facilities and some of those houses. I know that Minister Macklin is very much committed to that.

We have not necessarily been very happy with some of the outcomes that we have seen over the past 12 or 18 months in some areas in relation to that, but we are working towards making sure that we have very good involvement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the construction of any of these new houses that we build. I am very much committed to that. I know that Minister Desley Boyle in Cairns is very much committed to that as well. Both of us at times battle with some of the government agencies around this. I can assure you that both the federal and state government—and I know the member for Kennedy is committed to this as well—want to make sure that Aboriginal people are involved in the construction of those houses and facilities.

In relation to that, the state government has established a new office in Cairns, the Remote Indigenous Land and Infrastructure Program Office. I think it is great that it is based in Cairns. This is going to enable people to be closer to the majority of remote communities in Queensland, which are on the cape or the gulf—areas like that. There are some in southern parts of Australia, but Cairns is much closer to most than Brisbane, so I congratulate the minister for locating the office in Cairns. It is very much an office that is about bringing together the different state agencies to work on cutting red tape and expediting what happens in communities.

I know that in the last week or so there has been a roundtable with mayors, and they have raised certain concerns about the rolling out of the state’s plans in relation to the housing initiatives, but they are very much federal government initiatives and we want to work in partnership with the state government and with mayors and local communities to make sure that we can see this housing delivered in a very expeditious way. That is very much what this legislation is about. It is about recognising that native title and some of the issues around native title need to be expedited as part of that process.

The office in Cairns will be very much about working through some of the tenure issues. I share the aspirations of many Indigenous people. I was up in the Northern Peninsula area recently and was talking to a teacher up there, James Matysek. He is a local Indigenous man, and he has been teaching in the school up there for six years. He would like to buy his own house in Bamaga, but obviously he cannot; there is no ability for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to buy or own their own house in these communities because the tenure does not allow that. The state government has a program whereby after six years you cannot live in teacher housing anymore; you need to move into community housing. Obviously in rural communities people can go and buy their own houses and the like, but in Indigenous communities it is a real problem. So he had to get himself onto the local council social housing list. He would like to buy his own house. He has that aspiration now, but there are many other people that would like that now, and there will be many others down the track who will aspire to purchase their own house as we close the gap, create more employment opportunities for people and build economic activity and enterprise in communities. Currently that is not possible.

This legislation is very much about initially cutting through some of the issues around red tape and making sure that the rights of traditional owners are balanced with the need to build this infrastructure. The longer term aspiration must be not only about the 40-year leases and the social housing but also about the ability of people to own their own home so that people like James Matysek in Bamaga can do that.

I have a letter here to Mr David Glasgow, the Commissioner of the Family Responsibilities Commission, from a group of 70-plus residents in Hopevale who are raising real concerns about the move to tenancy management by the state government and now the new rules where they pay 25 per cent of their income in rent. There is a large amount of income going to the state government in rent to manage, maintain and support this social housing. What members are saying is, ‘If it’s that amount of money that we’re now paying, the houses aren’t in the best condition.’ The federal government, through its housing stimulus and its commitment through the national partnership agreement, is investing more in housing and we are upgrading housing, but a number of these people would like to buy their own houses, similarly to James Matysek up in Bamaga. They cannot do that at the moment. They are recognising that 25 per cent of their income goes to rent. A lot of them are working in Hopevale, in the government operations in their own communities or in the supermarkets, the butcher shops and other things.

We are seeing communities starting to be transformed through our ‘closing the gap’ agenda. We need to make sure that we implement legislation that ensures that we get some certainty around social housing. Particularly in terms of the land and infrastructure program office, the state government looks beyond the social housing agenda into the longer term agenda, which is around certainty for 99-year leases and the like for these sorts of individuals.

I congratulate the Family Responsibility Commissioner, David Glasgow, and the members of the FRC in Hopevale—Desmond Bowen, Estelle Bowen, Brian Cobus, Victor Gibson and Doreen Hart—who I met with recently in Cairns as part of a workshop they were having to raise this issue with me. I contacted the member for Cook, Jason O’Brien, to discuss this issue and also the Indigenous Coordination Centre. The ICC, through Mike Fordham, is organising a meeting in Hopevale on 30 November to enable these issues to be worked through and for the Land and Infrastructure Office to explain to local people what the future holds in terms of the rollout of the Pride of Place Program, which is a very important part of our welfare reform trial. The office will also explain what is happening in terms of the tenure changes that we are looking to achieve through this sort of legislation and the ability to build more social housing.

What I am saying to Minister Boyle and to these members who have written to Commissioner Glasgow and others and have raised it with their FRCs is that they are looking for aspirations that are really beyond social housing. I really think it is important that we do not lose track of that agenda and that we do not just create another social housing framework in these communities. We need to look beyond that. Even though this legislation deals specifically with social housing, we need to also continue to be thinking forwardly about those 99-year leases so that we can give certainty to those sorts of people.

Mr Katter —Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

Ms Saffin —Is the member for Leichhardt willing to give way.


Mr Katter —The state government when they overturned my legislation in 1991 promised that they would replace it with the machinery to take up private ownership. It is 19 years later and they still have not done it. I plead with the member for Leichhardt to use his influence inside the government to get the federal government to do it. The state government is not going to do it. After 19 years they are not going to do it, Jim.

Mr TURNOUR —I thank the member for Kennedy. I know he is a passionate advocate for this area. I do understand the issues he is talking about. I talk to Minister Boyle regularly about this and I know she talks to Minister Macklin. This new land and infrastructure office has only just been established. They have effectively got up and going in the last month. I will be continuing to press that, Member for Kennedy; you do not have to worry about that. You have heard through my comments today the sort of vision that I have, which I think many of us share in terms of the longer term aspirations for Indigenous people.

The Attorney-General is here to wrap up in a minute, but I would like to thank him for the involvement and engagement he has had in my electorate and community. Last year he came up and met with the Cape York Land Council, which I greatly appreciated. He also met with Minister Wallace in Brisbane following on from that to see what we can do to get the federal and state governments to work more effectively together. I know that they really appreciated it in Kowanyama when he would go up and visit the local communities for the handback. I look forward to my constructive partnership with him. He made some very worthwhile comments in the introduction of this bill and I look forward to his comments in a minute in his closing remarks around the bill.

I just want to again emphasise that this is very much about ensuring that we can expedite the rollout of our commitment to social housing and other community infrastructure. We do understand that we need to balance the traditional owners’ rights and respect for them. The Attorney-General has put requirements into this legislation, and he can have influence in how those consultations are undertaken with traditional owners. There are specific time periods involved in that. There needs to be a consultation report that is produced as part of that.

In some ways this is going to create, and is creating, some angst in communities, with mayors and councils concerned about their roles into the future. My commitment is to work with the Attorney-General, Minister Macklin, Minister Boyle and the local governments and their CEOs as well as their broader communities to make sure we can roll out this investment in housing. It is $5.5 billion over 10 years. It is a significant investment. It is part of our commitment to closing the gap. Whether it is in housing, community infrastructure, health or education, the Rudd government is making record investments in these practical measures. Also, the first order of business when we came to Parliament House—and I was a very proud new member of the Rudd government—was to apologise to Indigenous Australians. We really are getting on with the job of implementing practical measures while we recognise and respect the needs of traditional owners and the wrongs that have been done in the past as we build a brighter future for Indigenous people. As I like to say in my electorate of Leichhardt, ‘What am I all about? Building a better future for Leichhardt.’ This legislation is very much about that. I commend the bill to the House.