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Monday, 22 February 2010
Page: 1377


Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (7:51 PM) —I rise to support the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill 2009. This is an important bill that amends various acts in the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio. Today I want to focus on the impact this bill will have on communities in Northern Australia. Previous speakers made reference to other provisions of this bill: trusts, the Child Support Agency, the baby bonus and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. Among other things it will deliver ownership of three parcels of land back to traditional owners. It will also introduce provisions in social security laws to improve the operation of income management.

The consequences of this bill are significant. It will build upon Northern Australia’s economy and address Indigenous disadvantage by delivering parcels of land back to traditional owners. It will provide Indigenous people with greater autonomy and employment opportunities. It will reform the way land claims are dealt with. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia, I am acutely aware of the unique challenges which are faced by the north and the vision, courage, faith, cooperation, blind luck and leadership required to meet these challenges. I am also aware of the goodwill on both sides of the chamber to ensure that we meet these challenges—challenges of better housing, effective education, healthy communities and better jobs.

Schedule 1 of the bill will allow for parcels of land to be granted to Aboriginal land trusts. The land parcels include the Alice Valley Extension (East), Loves Creek and Patta near Tennant Creek. The first two schedules will bring claims over these areas to an end. Previously, the Loves Creek parcel was the subject of a partially heard land claim. It was clear from early in the hearings that traditional Aboriginal ownership was undeniable. Loves Creek belongs to the Eastern Arrernte people and is used to move cattle from the Aboriginal owned Loves Creek Station to the Kunturlpara Aboriginal Cattle Corporation in the Barkly. Delivering this land back to the traditional owners will provide more resources to Aboriginal pastoralists. It will provide better jobs and a better way of running those businesses.

Patta is also the subject of an agreement between the Central Land Council and the Northern Territory government. It will form part of an agreement for settling broader native title claims. The parcel of land known as Patta includes an important site, Devils Pebbles. The Pattu people have been looking after Devils Pebbles for years. The inclusion of this parcel of land will allow the traditional owners to become involved in the management of mining operations in the area. Again, this will be related to economic opportunities, to jobs and to Aboriginal people getting a better go.

The Alice Valley Extension (East) parcel of land is an extension of the West Macdonnell National Park. It belongs to the Western Arrernte people and is part of 13 parks and reserves which were the subject of land claims under the act. This stems from a landmark agreement struck in 2003 between the Northern Territory government and the traditional Aboriginal owners about the administration of tenures and reserves in this area. The granting of this land is quite simply the right thing to do. It will give Indigenous people greater autonomy through potential employment in parks and increase pastoral opportunities which will support local economies. In the three measures that I have mentioned, we will see the opportunity for economic activity in the pastoral industry, in park management and in mining—substantial opportunities for the creation of jobs and real incomes that will drive better conditions for families into the future.

This bill will deliver solid benefits to the tourism industry, enhance conservation interests and provide visitors to national parks in the region with an enhanced cultural experience. The bill recognises the cultural heritage of national parks and the role Indigenous people play in managing their country at both a government and a public level. The bill will continue the process of delivering parks and reserves to traditional owners. It will give the custodians of these places greater involvement in their care and protection along with flexible employment arrangements. The significance of providing traditional owners with tenure of this land and engagement in its future management can no longer be overlooked. The bill will significantly move the native title claims process forward.

Schedule 2 of the bill will change income management provisions in social security law by enabling income management of age pension and carer payments to be included in the Cape York welfare reform trial. In cases where a person subsequently re-enters income management, the amendments will allow outstanding funds from previous income management periods to be retained in their income management account instead of being paid out in cash. In the case of a person on income management dying, the administrators will have additional means to disburse funds to their next of kin.

Existing legislative requirements prevent people in Cape York communities who receive a carer’s payment or the age pension from having their payments income managed. The Family Responsibilities Commission will be able to act on requests for voluntary income management from all customers and order income management to address dysfunctional behaviours. This change is supported by the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, the Queensland government and the Family Responsibilities Commission. It will ensure that income management is both targeted and prioritised. The bill also provides for additional amendments to the Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio. It will improve the operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and provide amendments to the baby bonus.

The government is improving the future for Northern Australia. The Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (2009 Measures) Bill aims to address the very real social issues of the north, including displacement and lack of opportunity for Indigenous people. The bill will work towards improved infrastructure, social investment, Indigenous employment arrangements and giving greater autonomy to the Aboriginal people of the north. It is an outstanding example of how we should be investing in the north by providing more opportunity for Indigenous people. These amendments are necessary. They will improve local economies in the north and introduce social security laws to address dysfunctional behaviour in the region.

I support the bill, and I look forward to continuing to represent the north through my portfolio work. This bill delivers a shared vision—the shared vision that we on both sides of this place have. It is a shared vision for the north and for Indigenous people. It is a demonstration of the continually evolving and developing system of support for families and communities by all sides of politics, as it so often is in this place, in that the things that unite us are so often more important than the things that divide us. I commend this bill to the House.