Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1300

Ms BURNEY (Barton) (11:23): I rise on behalf of the Labor Party to talk to the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017. I want to do this in three parts: I want to reflect on what native title means to Indigenous people; I want to examine what this bill does; but I also want to make comment on how this debate has progressed so far this morning.

First of all, I would like to say that, for native title, this legislation is critically important, not only for Aboriginal Australians but for all Australians. I have some personal connection to the original Native Title Act in the sense that my late partner in life, Rick Farley, was the executive director of the Farmers' Federation when the original native title legislation was being put in place and worked very closely with the then Prime Minister and, of course, the Farmers' Federation and other groups, to bring about what was an absolutely historic piece of legislation—historic in the sense that it, for the first time, put land tenure around Aboriginal occupation and Aboriginal ownership of land. But it also did something else quite remarkable for us in this country: it brought together farmers, environmentalists, and, of course, governments and also Indigenous people. And for a piece of legislation of that importance to do that was remarkable. Through the careful way in which it was negotiated—the very long debate in this place and the incredibly complex consultation process—we ended up with a piece of legislation that, as I said, brought people together. And it established native title land tenure for the first peoples of this country. I think that is a very important point to make. And of course Rick Farley was also a member of the first native title tribunal. So I do have some quite personal connection to this piece of legislation.

Labor is the party of native title and land rights and, as I said, it was Paul Keating who was the Prime Minister when this legislation was first put through. I was also a member of the national Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1997, when the then Howard government launched an unprecedented attack, led by Minister Herron, who was the Aboriginal affairs minister at the time, on that piece of legislation, trying to wind it back. I think that was the most divisive debate that we have seen in this country, on the 10-point plan to wind back native title. So I do know what I am talking about, and I understand the importance of this piece of legislation.

It was the Keating government, as I said, that introduced native title, and I say from the outset that, continuing in that tradition, it is very likely that Labor will also support moves to protect the integrity of native title. The recent Federal Court decision outlined by the shadow Attorney-General had the effect of invalidating currently-operating ILUAs. Indigenous Land Use Agreements have been in place, along with the native title legislation, as a way of establishing the way in which pieces of land with many interests can be used. These ILUAs in many ways provide agreements and direction, particularly for state governments but also for individual Indigenous communities and individual Indigenous nations.

Can I also add to the words that have been said this morning about the clumsy, lazy way in which the Attorney-General has not dealt properly and has not dealt respectfully with this legislation or with Indigenous peoples. There is nothing outrageous, there is nothing wrong, with wanting a consultation process. And there was no need—absolutely no need—for the rush in bringing in this legislation: introducing it last night and then having it debated and possibly decided on today.

So this is a mess of the government's own making—completely disrespectful to Indigenous people, completely disrespectful to the intent and the spirit of native title, and completely unnecessary in terms of the way in which I was treated in this chamber by the Leader of the House for the government. Gagging me was not a very wise thing to do. And it was disrespectful to the spirit of this place and what we have dealt with this week: the fine speeches from both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in terms of the Closing the Gap report; the wonderful ceremony that we had in the Great Hall on the Redfern Statement; the fact that both the government and the opposition signed that Redfern Statement. And then to end the week with this unnecessary, unedifying stupidity was the making of the Attorney-General and the making of the Leader of the House. I am pleased that sense has come into this discussion and decency has come into this discussion on the way in which this legislation is going to be managed today, but it was unnecessary, it was unedifying, and it was certainly not in the spirit of what has taken place in this House over the last few days. If the Attorney-General does not think that this is not going to be well understood out there in the Aboriginal community, then he is making a very big mistake—a very big mistake indeed.

The court ruling in Western Australia has enormous implications for many projects around this country. There are 123 currently registered agreements, and others which are in negotiation. But those opposite have known for months, as the shadow Attorney-General said, that there would be a need for this piece of legislation. They knew for a very long time and did nothing to prepare for that court decision. The implications are far-reaching. Of course Labor understands perfectly well that there need to be amendments to the native title legislation, but what is at hand here is the way in which it has been dealt with by this government: without respect, without integrity, without any thinking about the way in which it is going to affect people, and certainly without understanding of or care for the message that it will send out to the Aboriginal community and the broader community about the attitude of the Attorney-General towards Indigenous people and Indigenous issues.

This is about land tenure. This is about the fundamental thing that underpins Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal people: connection to country; connection to land. It is fundamental to who we are as first peoples. It is also something that transcends for all Australians. All Australians understand in their hearts about country and understand in their hearts about the environment. They understand the way in which we identify ourselves as Australians through country—through the colour of the sand, through the colour of the mountains, through the bush, through rivers and through all of those things that make up our environment. That is one of the ways in which we define ourselves as Australians, and to just push that into the face of Aboriginal people by the way in which this has been dealt with is reprehensible. I will make sure, as Labor will, that people understand that.

I do not want to debate this legislation at any great length—I think the shadow Attorney-General has done that very well—but I do want to say that changes to native title can have huge impacts for Aboriginal communities and private businesses. This parliament deserves the opportunity and should provide the opportunity for consultation with those that will be affected. The Attorney-General's actions fly in the face of the sentiment expressed by the Prime Minister just a few days ago. I have absolutely no doubt—and I have known the Prime Minister for some time—that he was genuine about those sentiments, and he must be absolutely furious at the way in which the incompetent Attorney-General has managed this. How can we possibly consider this legislation given only a day's notice? How can Aboriginal communities consider the implications? How can businesses consider the implications? This is simply ridiculous.

When Labor were last in government, we recognised that aspects of the Native Title Act should be closely examined to ensure that the act continued to operate to effectively serve its key purposes. These purposes include:

(a) to provide for the recognition and protection of native title; and

(b) to establish ways in which future dealings affecting native title may proceed and to set standards for those dealings; and

(c) to establish a mechanism for determining claims to native title …

Those things are fundamental to the Native Title Act, and those things are what Labor put in place when we were in government and recognised native title.

In June 2015, the Australian Law Reform Commission tabled its report, which included some 30 recommendations for changes to the Native Title Act. The ALRC's report included recommendations to change two of the key provisions that are subject to this bill. In keeping with this government's complete lack of interest in Indigenous Australians—or certainly Senator Brandis's—there has been a great failing to respond to the Law Reform Commission's report.

The Leader of the House said:

The convention has always been that the bill should be introduced and then debated the following sitting week, not the next day. Only in the rarest circumstances is the parliament required to have a bill introduced and then debated the next day.

This is not the rarest of circumstances. This bill does not have to be passed today, and I am pleased that sense has prevailed, because Labor will not support legislation which has been introduced in a rush, particularly when it comes to the issue of native title. It is a complex area of law. It is a complex piece of legislation. It has far-reaching impacts not just for the Indigenous community but also for the business community. On that basis, it cannot be rushed.

It is clear from this bill that significant compensation may need to be paid. I watched the advisers box when the shadow Attorney-General said that and I hope that that is being considered. How can you rush a bill like this through with the implications that it has for so many people for compensation and for the way in which we take forward Indigenous issues in this country? It is an insult to the highest degree not just to me but to the parliament, to the people of Australia and, particularly, to First Australians. I do not know the Attorney-General very well, but I hope this is not an indication of how seriously he takes Indigenous issues and how assiduously he applies himself to his job. He is the highest lawmaker in the land. How can he be so sloppy? How can he be so lazy and so incompetent? He has dragged the government into what is now an embarrassing situation. That is what the Attorney-General has done. He has embarrassed his government, he has embarrassed this parliament and he has certainly sent a message to the Indigenous community and the business community that native title, and therefore Aboriginal people, do not matter. I do not accept that from the chief lawmaker of the land. We should be getting better.

In closing, native title is important to Indigenous people, but native title did something very remarkable after the Mabo decision. It, for the first time, created law around the way in which land issues could be dealt with between Aboriginal people, governments and businesses. That is not insignificant. That is not something that should be rushed through and gagged. I take offence—particularly with the way in which I conduct myself: hopefully with grace, decency and fairness—that I would be gagged in this place. I was not going to get up and rubbish anyone. I was going to talk about the legislation and the lack of consultation that came along with this legislation.

I think that there have been lessons learnt today. I hope there have been lessons learnt. Labor will protect native title. Labor will work with the government on making sure amendments go through on the native title legislation for the benefit of everyone. For us to be rushed, for the community to be rushed in this way is completely unacceptable, and I say that very firmly.