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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 12558

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (6:27 PM) —in reply—I thank members for their contribution, including the previous speaker, to the debate on theNative Title Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2009. The bill is aimed at improving housing and reducing overcrowding in Indigenous communities. This is, of course, essential to the government’s efforts to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. Decent housing ensures a proper kitchen for the preparation of food, and a door that locks keeps out violence and potential trouble. A safe place to sleep for children ensures proper schooling, and a working shower means better health outcomes.

In November 2008, the Council of Australian Governments committed $5.5 billion over 10 years to deliver much needed Indigenous housing in remote Indigenous communities across Australia. Arrangements that provide secure tenure are necessary to ensure that public money is spent effectively on housing and other services. Land tenure reform accords tenants with the certainty and protection of an enforceable tenancy management agreement that is consistent with public housing standards. At present there is no specific future act process—that is, constructing future development in this case—on native title properties for housing and infrastructure development for the benefit of Indigenous communities. State governments have indicated that this creates uncertainty which results in delays in housing and service delivery.

Alleviating poverty and overcrowding in remote Indigenous communities is paramount. To do this, governments must be able to deliver urgently needed services quickly. The proposed amendments will enable infrastructure to be built on Indigenous held land where native title may exist. The bill requires appropriate consultation with, but is not dependent upon, the consent of native title parties. The new proposal goes beyond just housing to also include a limited range of community facilities for public health, education and emergency services. This is a holistic approach that recognises that community health and wellbeing depend upon the availability of all of these public services. In accordance with the government’s commitment to resetting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the new process gives native title parties an opportunity to share their views in relation to the design and delivery of urgently needed housing and public infrastructure, and it provides flexibility to allow the native title parties to choose the level of consultation that is appropriate to each individual project.

The new process strikes a balance between the urgent need for these services and the need to engage with native title parties, and protect native title rights and interests. It also contains important safeguards to ensure genuine consultation with native title parties. Acts covered by the new process will be invalid if the action body fails to comply with the notification and consultation requirement set out in the amendment. This encourages governments to undertake real consultation with the native title parties when planning and developing public housing and infrastructure projects. The quality of consultation will be controlled and monitored by a scrutiny of consultation reports. These reports must be provided by government, detailing how they have complied with the requirements of the bill. Further, the non-extinguishment principle, compensation and consultation mechanisms under the new process will ensure that native title rights are not adversely affected in the long term. The bill will sunset after 10 years. The sunset is approximately in line with the duration of the national partnership agreements on remote Indigenous housing and remote service delivery. The sunset provides an incentive to state and territory governments to deliver on housing and infrastructure commitments in a timely manner.

I will briefly comment on some of the comments that have been made during the course of the debate. In respect to the member for Cook’s comments about the government’s Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program it is important to note that the new process contained in the bill we are debating is not generally applicable to that program. That program applies primarily to land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, which is not subject to the future acts regime in the Native Title Act. However, it is important to note that the Australian and Northern Territory governments are committed to deliver 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds and 2,500 refurbishments of houses in remote Northern Territory communities by 2013.

Work has also been taking place on over 75 housing lots across the Northern Territory, including the Tiwi Islands, Groote Eylandt, Tennant Creek, Wadeye, Palumpa and Gunbalanya. This includes rebuilds, refurbishment works and new houses. By the end of this year we estimate work will be taking place on over 200 housing lots across 15 communities. This includes 50 new houses under construction, and more than 150 rebuilds and refurbishments underway or completed.

As well as the focus on public housing, the government is determined to support as many Indigenous Australians as possible to achieve their aspirations to own their own homes, as well as addressing those issues in partnership to bridge the gap. Although this new native title process is designed specifically to alleviate the urgent need for public housing in Indigenous communities, it must be stated that it neither inhibits nor detracts from the Commonwealth government’s commitment to Indigenous home ownership initiatives. The vast majority of Indigenous community residents are social housing clients and are likely to remain as such for some time to come. The government is pursuing Indigenous home ownership through other mechanisms.

In conclusion, this bill facilitates the delivery of the Rudd government’s unprecedented funding commitment to improve housing and reduce overcrowding in Indigenous communities. The bill will ensure that such housing and infrastructure can be delivered in a timely and certain way, and in a way that respects the rights and views of the native title parties regarding the use of the land. I commend the bill to the House.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.