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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1303

Mr WYATT (HasluckMinister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health) (11:38): I rise to speak on the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017. I was around at the time when discussions on native title commenced and I remember sitting with Rob Riley, who has since passed away, and Peter Yu, Dennis Eggington and many other great leaders, talking about what the Native Title Act would mean and the opportunities it would create. The other important element was the empowerment in many forms not only in terms of determining use of land but in determining opportunities to create economic empowerment in a way that meant that we sat as equal partners within those negotiations with all parties.

The Mabo and Wik decisions and the Native Title Act were probably salient points in the history of this nation. They changed the relationship between all Indigenous Australians and all entities of Australian society. They created a sense of understanding that registered across the whole of Australian society. Whilst many may have reacted with unkind responses—I did hear a state premier who made the comment 'there goes our backyards' under native title—that was never the intent.

The act had served Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities well up until 2 February, when the full Federal Court handed down the McGlade v Native Title Registrar decision, which then had unintended consequences that had not been thought of. The McGlade decision created uncertainty in the native title sector regarding the status of areas of the ILUAs. That meant that area ILUAs registered without the signatures of all RNTC members, including members who were deceased, were agreements which did not meet the requirement for ILUAs as defined under the act and that area ILUAs lodged for registration which did not comply with McGlade could no longer be registered.

And so it is obvious and natural that a government would respond by looking at the remedy to ensure that all of these agreements have the status that is expected by those Indigenous communities and areas where these agreements have been entered into. Certainly in phone calls I have received land councils have asked that we do something to remedy the outcome of that decision and have supported any legislation required to address the issue of uncertainty created by the Federal Court.

To this end, the Attorney-General has proposed that the amendments to the act will achieve the following. They will secure existing agreements which have been registered on or before 2 February 2017 but do not comply with McGlade. I think that is a very relevant, salient point to give absolute certainty to all of our traditional owners and all of our communities who have native title agreements that are in train and that have been negotiated in good faith between all parties. They will enable the registration of agreements which have been made and have been lodged for registration on or before 2 February 2017 but do not comply with McGlade and will clarify who must be a party to an area ILUA in the future unless the claim group determines otherwise.

Those are important changes. They do not alter the intent of the Native Title Act. They give certainty in Commonwealth legislation to the agreements that have been struck. None of us ever foresee the decisions and ramifications of the full Federal Court and what the implications are until those decisions are handed down. Whilst we might have some prior knowledge of what might be an unintended consequence, we cannot act on that with the degree of certainty implied until those decisions are made. I hope that in this debate we focus on the amendments that are being suggested. I certainly have heard criticism of the Attorney-General, which is not the basis for the change. From what I ascertain from talking with colleagues on both sides, everyone is in agreement with the amendments that are needed to remedy the implications of the recent Federal Court decision. Their commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across this nation has not altered. On that basis, I hope that we would focus on the amendments proposed and not on the peripheral matters that I hear being raised.

The certainty that is needed is not only with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but also with those parties who have entered into the agreements, so that they can plan the way forward as agreed and honour those commitments.

This bill will move through this House, it will complete its journey and then it will spend time in the Senate, where for the next four weeks consultation will be occurring through the committee process within the Senate. I think that is an important element of this whole debate, because it will allow others to contribute to the impact of this decision and also for them to present their point of view on the importance of these amendments being moved expediently through the parliament, both this chamber and the Senate, to enable their planning and their consideration of land use to proceed in the way that had been planned.

When we tackle this complex issue and take it from personal perspectives, then I think we demean the value of the amendments, and I would hope that the rest of the debates that I hear are about the way in which we, collectively, in this chamber, support those amendments, which will make a difference to the decision that arose out of the full Federal Court.

When I look back on the Closing the Gap targets and our failure to meet them and when I look at the economic pathways and opportunities that are available to Indigenous Australians through native title land use agreements, I see an avenue bringing together opportunities for all of us to effect the changes that will close the differences in the levels of disadvantage that have prevailed in this country for so long. I certainly appreciate the comments made by my colleague the member for Barton in terms of what land means to us, what country means, the beauty and the richness of connection to country and the relationship that is important to all Indigenous Australians. But, equally, we have to also acknowledge that, when the Indigenous land councils express a view that they want government to make the amendments so that they can continue with their negotiations, that is also an important step in listening to the voices that prevail, who have negotiated these agreements over a period of time and who can see the economic advantage that is important to the people they represent.

I ask all colleagues in this House to focus on those very particular issues. And, whilst there might be views about the Attorney-General that are being expressed, they are not the primacy of this debate and the debate of this legislation. What we need to do is demonstrate that we are totally committed to the way in which the intent of native title—as negotiated in this chamber over a lengthy period of time, and Paul Keating's commitment and stance on what was being pushed for and eventually achieved, gave a great opportunity to create those economic pathways. But it is not just economic pathways; it is also the importance of country. Having native title means that association continues and becomes very critical in the way in which our culture continues to maintain its existence with Mother Earth and the surrounds that have been important for periods in excess of 60,000 years.

I would ask all members to focus on the amendments, to allow the Senate process of consultation over that four-week period to occur and to collectively stand together. I ask Labor to stand with us on this, in terms of the amendments, because, as my colleague sitting opposite me the shadow assistant minister for Indigenous health knowns only too well, when we are out in communities and sitting in the red dirt, talking to people, land is always raised. The use of land has always been paramount in many of those discussions.

I know that there will be individuals and groups that will be disappointed with the full Federal Court decision, because what they see is the potential for an opportunity to slip away. On the basis, I would ask that we give credence to the process in this House, but that we focus on the amendments and that, equally, we stand together to ensure that this bill passes through to the Senate, so the Senate is able to do its committee work and then deliberate in its considerations.

I also ask the Greens to stand with us on this issue. I know that Senator Rachel Siewert has played a significant role in being a champion for many of the things that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aspire to. I know that, when she has been out within the communities, her heart and her soul are enmeshed within the thinking of those discussions. She and I have had some great conversations about many of the issues that have arisen out of peoples' reliance on country, their reliance on land and their reliance on the opportunities. So I would also ask the Greens to stand with us on this one, to right a wrong, in one sense, to make the amendments ensured through both Houses, so it gives back to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the certainty they deserve and the certainty they have always anticipated and expected with native title.